High levels of co-operation must combine with hi-tech advances to deliver greater efficiencies in lineside supply chain management. Yet the task of getting the basic constituent components that make up the vehicle to the production line at the right time – and in the right sequence – requires a level of technology, foresight and planning that is perhaps even more impressive.

Zebra Technologies is one of those companies heavily involved in supporting manufacturers and automotive suppliers in the refining and sequencing of delivery capacities. For several decades now the use of controlled, carefully phased parts delivery and lineside management has allowed substantial cost savings and enhanced productivity. Zebra has developed supply chain tracking technologies that optimize manufacturing fulfillment and allow real time location and wide area asset traceability. Early RFID (radio frequency identification) systems have given way to state-ofthe- art software to provide application matched solutions in the most challenging of environments.

A more efficient supply chain remains the goal for all those working together to model and administer the complex logistic and delivery requirements of modern marketresponsive production. Zebra RTLS solutions use real time location system (RTLS) tags communicating through wired ethernet or wireless Wi-Fi-compliant LAN.

The technologies on offer have moved on from passive RFID asset tracking, to an RTLS solution that offers greater flexibility, encompassing presence determination or full RTLS location. The system can be integrated with parts replenishment functions to provide an automated lean manufacturing process. Key to the achievement of cost-saving and enhanced efficiency is the ability to have information where you need it and when you need it. To improve logistical performance all aspects of the enterprise across and between sites – and across the supply base –must be responsive to system integration and purposeful planning. Automotive manufacture has often led the way in Just-in-time and Just-in-sequence parts delivery ,but in order that these technologies can be usefully applied it is essential that a sequenced production schedule can be adhered to rather than being disrupted due to the need for reworking or quality issues.

Analytics key to efficiency
To transform productivity, in-depth analysis of workflows is required. Zebra cites as a case study the attempts of a US automotive assembler and sequencer to drive out waste and generate continuous process improvement. It used Zebra’s expertise to develop sensor-based control systems within the workplace that would collect information in real time and allow the level of planning and control that they felt was necessary. Using RTLS and RFID technologies, a hardware core was established that, linked with the companies existing systems, allowed the key material replenishment metrics to be captured and appropriate efficiencies to be introduced. Once again the key to these developments would seem to be not just new improved technologies or operating systems, but an understanding of workflows and a dismantling of barriers to the most efficient utilisation of labour and equipment.

Specialist material handling
Many of the most important contributions to high productivity and efficient lineside management come from packaging and materials handling specialists. HSM Services is perhaps typical of the specialist companies that have developed handling solutions for the automotive sector. The materials and systems necessary for in-plant component movement and appropriate lineside availability includes lineside turntables, lifting tables and multi-height pallet-presenting equipment. Alongside there are the more mundane but essential items such as bogeys, trolleys and dollies, all of which need to be carefully specified, designed and manufactured.

The sheer scale of the task facing those involved in automotive logistics becomes clear when you look, for example, at DHL’s experience as Land Rover’s logistics partner. With close to 150,000 vehicles emerging from the Solihull plant every year, the site holds less than one day’s stock and receives over 1,300 deliveries each week. With 15,000 part numbers for the Range Rover and each car built to a bespoke specification, the supply challenges are obvious. Linefeed operations are complicated by the fact that – in common with most manufacturers’ facilities – the site has evolved over many years. Even minor changes in plant layout due to maintanence or operational reasons can create significant difficulty in the carefully planned logistics arrangements for efficient lineside delivery. Such changes place a premium on effective and timely coordination between manufacturers, suppliers, transport partners and logistic controllers.

Appropriate forms of contract are essential to allow transparency and trust to develop and to ensure that all partners can share in both the risks and the rewards of any new developments. Open book contracts are widely used in the sector and a successful development requires continual reappraisal of the most appropriate identification, marking and tracking technologies for every application.

Alongside sophisticated control mechanisms, an important role is played by the suppliers of the seemingly mundane but essential containers, pallets and customized packaging materials. They are an integral part of the task of ensuring the efficient delivery, storage and utilization of the many fragile and complex parts uses on the production line. Interactive Packaging Solutions is perhaps typical of the companies that support the automotive sector, providing custom solutions to the delivery of delicate components lineside.

Component protection systems enable sequenced delivery of components from supplier to end user in a closed loop system as well as control solutions managing component flows to maximise efficiency. Similarly, IMP, as an approved supplier to leading OEMS, is experienced in producing cost-effective dunnage solutions that use a wide range of materials to reflect the character and complexities of the components which are to be housed and protected en route to the line. With space often at a premium and damaged components both a cost and interruption to the smooth flow of production, effective control of the materials coming to the line is paramount.

Stock control and sequenced supply
Controlling processes to provide a synchronous material flow is a complex task. It requires detailed lineback planning to establish appropriate stock levels and material flows at every stage of the supply chain. Equally crucial is the feedback loop that allows timely response to the inevitable interruptions or overruns that will occur in such a complex process.

Newline Computing describes its PASS package – which is used with suppliers to Renault – whereby planning, stock control and sequenced supply functions are coordinated and error-proofed especially at the point of dispatch. The planning element involves requirement schedules transferred via EDI with documentation received electronically. The whole system is structured in favour of automated processing but with the capability for manual override.

The warehouse management system allows stock control functions to be highly automated, with backorders generated and barcoded pick-lists produced automatically along with automated pick-face replenishment location. At each stage, appropriate management information is generated allowing detailed monitoring and control to be exercised. Sequenced supply is generated by a direct x25 link to Renault which identifies each vehicle about to be launched for manufacture with just-in-time messages received in sequence of manufacture. At each stage messages are validated and barcodes produced, while the system has extensive errorhandling protocols in place. WiFi scanners operate in real time with the application to ensure accuracy of supply Specialist s companies serving the automotive industry – such as GEFCO – seek to work with suppliers and manufacturers to generate integrated transport plans along with stock management and effective lineside delivery solutions. Other services respond to special circumstances and needs and can include delayed model differentiation ex-works or off-site in the contractor’s location. The aim is to offer a comprehensive and flexible service to manufacturers at times of significant change.

Develop both technology and trust
Recent studies of lineside supply by Munich-based academic Florian Klug has contrasted the “pull” and “push” principles in automotive logistic supply and has argued that the key issue is finding the optimum balance between these two principles. It is the contrast between centralized predetermination and control having to give way to collaborative working.

As others have noted, perhaps a key to these developments lies in the construction of trust relationships alongside the technologies appropriate for control of material movement. “Traditional centralized control principles are set to be replaced increasingly by decentralized and modular networks that are cooperative orientated, autonomous and indirectly coordinated” according to Klug. For this indirect coordination to work, levels of human trust and adherence to common values play their part. All parties in a complex working relationship, as exists between suppliers, sub-contractors and manufacturers, increasingly need to share not just information and working methods but also a common approach to the benefits of change.