Lift Truck 54, Where Are You?
Wireless asset tracking at a DaimlerChrysler body panel plant is saving money and encouraging other plants to roll out the same system.
You might think it would be hard to misplace a 10-ton hi-lo lift truck, but at DaimlerChrysler's Warren, Mich. stamping plant, it used to happen all the time.
The plant makes body panels for Dodge and Jeep vehicles and ships them to a nearby assembly plant, and to assembly facilities in New Jersey, Missouri and Mexico. The Warren factory covers two million square feet (nearly 46 acres) and an outdoor storage area—plenty of room for a hi-lo to go missing.
The problem, says Material Handling Manager Dan Bluemer, was that operators would borrow the hi-los from other departments and drop them off wherever they happened to be when their shifts ended. Others, at quitting time, would drive the vehicles to the door closest to their parked cars and leave them there. Multiply that by 175 hi-los and "mules" (tractors that pull dolly trains around the plant) and three shifts, you can understand that locating the vehicles sometimes could take awhile.
It also could slow production. The hi-los and mules are used to move materials around the plant—from the stamping presses to assembly lines, for example—and to storage and shipping areas. A lost vehicle can hold up the entire manufacturing process. Bluemer and Material Handling Supervisor Tina Winkelblech needed a way to locate the hi-los that was faster than sending a supervisor out to look for them.
Another practice also needed simplification. OSHA rules demand that only trained personnel operate the hi-los, and it requires a daily inspection of brakes, lights, hydraulic fluid levels and tires. Although OSHA doesn't insist on a steady stream of data, proof of compliance must be available for periodic audits, and vehicles that don't pass inspection must be pulled out of service. The paper-based system originally used at the Warren plant got the job done, but it was slow and awkward.
Finally, Bluemer and Winkelblech needed a way to monitor hi-lo usage, to keep track of hours of operation and hours of lift time so the plant's maintenance department would know when to bring the vehicles in for scheduled repairs. Originally, says Winkelblech, maintenance personnel had to physically inspect usage meters on each vehicle.
Two years ago, Dan Roguz, then production control manager (since retired), went to DaimlerChrysler's IT department looking for a way to automate vehicle monitoring and OSHA compliance. When he found out it would take years to develop the system he needed internally, he began exploring third-party solutions and narrowed the field to two possibilities. I.D. Systems, a Hackensack, N.J. maker of wireless asset management solutions, got the go-ahead. What tipped the scales in favor of I.D. Systems, recalls Bluemer, was its ability to analyze vehicle usage, a feature the plant is currently beginning to explore.
I.D. Systems' approach consists of wireless Asset Communicators (ACs) attached to each of the plant's vehicles. User-ID- and password-protected, the ACs allow only authorized staff to operate the hi-los. They display the OSHA checklist, and won't start until the operator completes it. Finally, they monitor usage of each vehicle.
|Full Facility Coverage (Data uploaded in real time as vehicles move through network of System Monitors.) Asset Communicators (AC) on vehicles monitor and record critical data (operator identification, engine hours in motion/idle, starts/stops, impacts, battery status, life activity, etc.). ACs communicate via RF with System Monitors (SM) mounted in fixed locations around the facility. A System Monitor Gateway links the data from ACs—including real-time vehicle location—to management computers. System software provides a graphical user interface.
The ACs communicate via RF signals to a network of System Monitors (SMs) placed among the plant's rafters. The SMs, in turn, communicate with a gateway that's hardwired to a network server. Software from I.D. Systems analyzes the information from the ACs and reports it to the network's eight users.
The Warren plant operates what it calls a plant network, separated by a firewall from a second network that handles more general functions and is, in turn, tied into DaimlerChrysler's WAN, a massive network that links company facilities worldwide. In order to keep performance from degrading on its larger networks, the company has a policy of isolating smaller, point solutions such as I.D. Systems'. Bluemer notes that I.D. Systems is creating an interface to the plant's total maintenance system, and that could tie into the larger networks in the future.
A GPS-like system lets Bluemer locate each vehicle on a map of the plant. "There's a screen that lets you view all the pieces of equipment at any given time, or you can single out an individual piece of equipment and see where it's located within the plant," he says. The system also gathers and stores OSHA compliance information automatically, and maintenance supervisors can remotely shut down hi-los that don't pass the checklist or have enough hours on them to require scheduled maintenance. Once a vehicle is shut down, only maintenance staffers can start it up again.
The installation was I.D. Systems' first in a stamping plant environment, Bluemer notes, and of course it was the Warren plant's first experience with remote vehicle monitoring. "We went to school on them and they went to school on us," he says. It took six months to get the system installed and debugged. Environmental issues—dusty conditions and big temperature changes when the hi-los left the building—presented some problems initially, and some of the System Monitors had to be replaced.
"We accept a few hitches when we take on new things here," Bluemer says. "We're the pilot plant for a lot of things at DaimlerChrysler, and when you're the first one out the chute, you expect a few problems." In fact, two other stamping plants are following the Warren facility's lead. One, in Twinsburg, Ohio, is in the final stages of implementing I.D. Systems. A second, in Sterling Heights, Mich., is close behind.
I.D. Systems reckons it's saving the Warren plant around $200,000 a year on an investment of $380,000, or about $2,200 per vehicle. Bluemer admits, however, that most of the return so far is soft savings—for instance, time supervisors save by not having to track down hi-los, or time maintenance people save by not having to check meters manually on each vehicle.
Real, bottom-line savings may not be far off, however. "I can run reports that tell me how long an operator was in motion, when he logged in, when he went on break," says Winkelblech. "I can take a particular area—the guys who load our trailers, for example—and see if those drivers are fully utilized. There are reports I can run that might tell me that on a given day, I'm only using 150 of my 175 vehicles. We're starting to look at these things to see if there are some potential hard savings in our fleets and personnel."
Team Leaders: Dan Bluemer, material handling manager, and Tina Winkelblech, material handling supervisor
Location: Warren, Mich.
Web Site: www.daimlerchrysler.com
Easily locate hi-lo lift trucks in two million square foot plant.
Make sure—for OSHA purposes—the hi-los are operated only by trained workers, and that OSHA safety inspection procedures are followed.
Monitor vehicle usage for preventive maintenance.
Scope: System covers 175 hi-los and mules in the plant and in outdoor storage and shipping areas.
Equipment/Platform: Asset Communicators (wireless RF tracking and monitoring devices), System Monitors (wireless receivers spaced throughout the plant), Windows PC server and eight Windows clients.
Solution: A wireless system that meets goals and includes software for management tracking and data analysis.
Products: Industrial vehicle monitoring solution from I.D. Systems.
Costs: Approximately $380,000. The Warren plant was a pilot installation for I.D. Systems. Costs at other DaimlerChrysler stamping plants in which similar solutions were installed were higher.
Annual savings of approximately $200,000, mostly in soft costs.
Detailed OSHA compliance records.
Fuller utilization of plant vehicles.
Better scheduling of preventive maintenance.
Future Challenges: Plans are to use I.D. Systems' analytical tools to determine actual vehicle usage with a view to using vehicles and personnel more efficiently. Current user ID/password security to be replaced by the same proximity badges equipment operators use to enter the plant.
Lessons Learned: Expect a few hitches when working with a new vendor on a new application. Use the knowledge gained to smooth implementations at other plants.