Ford deploys WhereNet wireless system in truck plant

Ford Motor Co. announced Tuesday that it has deployed WhereNet Corp.'s WhereCall real-time parts-locating system in its new F-150 truck plant at its River Rouge facility in Dearborn, Mich.

The wireless parts-replenishment system is expected to help Ford reduce inventory and increase productivity, according to Gary Latham, director of business development and industry marketing for Santa Clara, Calif.-based WhereNet's automotive group.

By moving to the wireless real-time locating system, Ford will be able to move from "push-based" scheduling -- where everything is scheduled to be put in the assembly line at a certain time -- to pull-based, or consumption-based, material replenishment, Latham said.

"It's a form of lean manufacturing -- it allows the parts to arrive just in time for assembly," he said.

When supplies on the line start to run low, the line-side operator presses a button on the WhereCall pendant that sends a request specifying the type of material required and where it's needed, according to Latham.

"You have a material operator who assembles the vehicle, and as he's assembling the vehicle he's going to consume parts from a storage bin, and as he consumes those parts -- at a predetermined reorder point -- he will press a simple button on a wireless pendant and it triggers (a) signal for more parts of that type to be brought to that location," Latham said.

There is also higher labor productivity because people aren't searching for who needs what part -- the system takes care of that, he said.

Ford has been a WhereNet customer for more than four years, and WhereNet systems are installed in more than 60 Ford plants around the world, according to Tom Bacon, vice president of the automotive division at WhereNet. "We are excited to expand our presence at River Rouge and to play a technology role in the manufacturing of Ford's F-series," Bacon said in a statement.

"The River Rouge facility is a showcase for Ford Motor Company," Bacon said. "With projected annual capacity of about 250,000 F-150 pickups, Ford needed a wireless system that could deliver efficiency and flexibility gains to optimize its production processes along the assembly line."

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