Mazda Motor Logistics Europe is the European distribution centre for Mazda spare parts. Spare parts arrive from Japan and are distributed from the warehouse in Willebroek to the Mazda dealers throughout Europe. The company implemented a RFID solution from PHI DATA for recording and tracking cages and containers, so-called “Returnable Transport Items” (RTIs) in which spare parts are transported.
Employees of Mazda Motor Logistics Europe empty the metal cages that arrive in the warehouse on a daily basis and store all the spare parts in the warehouse. The emptied cages are sent off again to the Far East. The spare parts are subsequently distributed from the warehouse to the various European dealers – also in cages or smaller containers. These cages and containers must be returned to Mazda Motor Logistics Europe. However, sometimes containers disappear and sometimes they get damaged. Until recently Mazda Motor Logistics Europe used barcodes and scanners to identify incoming and outgoing cages and containers. For this purpose, employees of Mazda Motor Logistics Europe were required to scan and record every incoming and outgoing cage or container manually. This time-consuming activity was prone to error due to the human factor.
Mazda Motor Logistics Europe was therefore looking for a solution that would reduce the number of manual operations and recording errors and accelerate the recording and tracking of the cages and containers. The company opted for a solution from PHI DATA: a system of RFID tags and labels, smartly placed ports and antennas, and custom-made software to connect to the existing WMS system. PHI DATA fitted all incoming and outgoing cages and smaller containers with a RFID tag or label. A printed “shipping label” was also affixed to the departing cages. These labels contain all the information about the products in the cages.
Strategically placed readers with antennas automatically register the products at the dock doors by means of their RFID tags and labels. The employees then set the cages to ‘IN’ on the WMS system. The unique numbers of the assets enable the employees to know exactly which cages they are dealing with. This also enables warehouse operators of Mazda Motor Logistics Europe to have a good overview of the cages that are located in the warehouse. The same approach was used for the outgoing cages with spare parts: they move through the gates where antennas register the labels and tags, the cages are set to ‘OUT’ and the Mazda Motor Logistics Europe employees know immediately which cages were sent to which dealers. This enables employees to clearly see which dealers must return which containers and how long the cages are in transit.
“Since the process involves both incoming and outgoing products within the same warehouse, this was a rather complex exercise”, explains Charlotte Peeters, Engineer at Mazda Motor Logistics Europe. “Together with PHI DATA, we started looking for the right tags and labels, as well as the right place to affix them on the cages and containers. The precise placement of the antennas and finding the right power settings, right transmission power and right signal strength, was not an easy task. After the tests we achieved a 100% ‘read rate’ and there were no so-called blind spots”.
By means of a custom-made software package by PHI DATA the RFID solution also communicates with the Mazda Motor Logistics WMS system so that all incoming and outgoing movements are automatically registered. In addition, an App was developed for the forklift driver. This App provides an overview of the number and type of cages or containers loaded or unloaded. The forklift driver also receives a warning when a cage or container is loaded on the wrong truck. The system has been fully operational for a couple of weeks.
“This new way of working is a giant leap forward. Loaders and unloaders save time because no scanning is required at all and human error is minimized as much as possible. Since we implemented the RFID solution, the monitoring of cages and containers has been significantly simplified. Another advantage is the fact that you can now see in real-time when a product has indeed physically left the warehouse to the dealers and is not simply recorded as having left on paper”.
“We are extremely pleased with our cooperation with PHI DATA”, states Charlotte Peeters. “They have the technical knowledge and experience of such RFID projects. In addition, they were able to offer us a fully integrated solution – a complete package of hardware and software. PHI DATA thinks with us in terms of expanding the process. We are looking forward to other RFID applications to reduce manual scanning in the entire warehouse. This solution not only ensures that the cages and containers can be traced and recorded but also the parts themselves”.