Land Rover trials RFID to track parts

Land Rover is taking part in a $1.2 million (600,000) pilot to test the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to better track the movement of parts.

In the trial, real-time information from RFID tagged parts can be shared among workers and transferred to mobile phones, PDA's and web-based tracking software.

Each container or part has an RFID tag, which wakes up when it enters a localised range and begins transmitting. This range is localised, so the tag is not transmitting all the time. Once it transmits the information though, software systems alert the end-user of where the parts are in the building.

"On-time, precision delivery of components is integral to our plant's efficiency because disruptions in the supply chain can slow or even halt vehicle assembly," said Jonty Cook, Land Rover's head of inbound logistics.

The pilot, which is part of a larger RFID development project at the University of Warwick, will end in March. Afterwards, the organisations involved hope to roll out the scheme throughout the West Midlands to all other auto industries. It is hoped the technology will spread to industries where the movement of high valued parts is important, such as the rail and aerospace industries.

The region represents 60 per cent of the UK's car manufacturing base in the West Midlands. The UK government launched a $64 million (32 million) premiere automotive research and development (PARD) program in 2004, and was meant to encourage innovation, modernisation and development in the area.

"The West Midlands has been struggling recently and the output from this project alone has been proven to raise the capabilities of small organisations to be more competitive," said investigator fellow at Warwick, Philip Foster. "Generally industries will benefit from this type of research."

The University of Warwick started their development project in 2005, funded by government grants. After a period working on the technology and what was needed, the university decided to work with RFID solutions provider Savi after an 18-month evaluation. The trial at Land Rover began at the end of last year.