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RFID Cuts Queue Waits, Boosts Truck Turnaround Times at Indian Plants

By Claire Swedberg
Ashok Leyland has deployed a UHF system from Vicinity RFID to automate the arrivals and departures of trucks delivering and picking up materials at three plants, and has thereby cut average turnaround times by more than two hours.

Ashok Leyland is the second largest medium, heavy and light commercial truck and bus manufacturer in India. The company is employing a radio frequency identification-based solution to automate its inbound and outbound processes as materials and manufactured parts flow through its facility.

Since the system was taken live at the end of last year, the company says it has reduced the amount of time that drivers of inbound trucks spend checking in and receiving instructions by approximately 60 percent. It also reduces man-hours related to recording each arriving vehicle by about 50 percent. In addition, the company reports, the average queue time for drivers has been decreased from 15 minutes to less than two minutes.

The solution, known as Autonomous Gate-in to Good Receipt Note (GRN) and Gate-out, is provided by Vicinity RFID Pvt. Ltd. The system is implemented for inbound vehicles carrying raw materials and components, as well as for outbound vehicles carrying components or parts to other manufacturing facilities.

Veeramani K M
Ashok Leyland, headquartered in the city of Chennai, reports annual sales of about $2.5 billion. The company sold around 175,000 vehicles for the fiscal year ending in 2018. It had been seeking a way to increase its efficiency, and subsequently its productivity, by reducing the incidence of bottlenecks at the inbound and outbound gates where materials used in vehicle manufacturing flow. Those gates were traditionally manned by employees who visually identified and authorized the movements of goods and materials.

Because the process was manual, validation of what was received or shipped, as well as when, required many man-hours for the tracking and collection of data. What's more, since data had to be input manually, when time allowed, the company's management had little real-time visibility into when vehicles carrying particular loads actually traveled through the gates. "The company was facing hurdles to streamline the closed-loop movement between suppliers, vendors on one side and their own factories at the other side," says Veeramani K M, Ashok Leyland's deputy general manager.

To create an automated solution that could both provide visibility and boost efficiency, the company established a team of employees from its supply chain, logistics, warehousing, security and IT departments. The team then worked together to identify their requirements and select a solution provider. Although they considered both high-frequency (HF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) technologies, Veeramani says, "UHF Gen 2 was a natural choice because of the flexibility of both short- and long-range configuration, and being a standards-based technology." Vicinity RFID was selected as the solution provider.



The solution consists of ThingMagic M6 readers from JADAK, RFID tags, and Vicinity's AgileRFID middleware integrated with the vehicle manufacturer's SAP software. A large LCD/LED display was mounted at two sets of gates for drivers and security personnel to view the vehicle information as each vehicle passes.

Vehicles that deliver and pick up materials from the plant are each assigned a reusable RFID tag with a unique ID number linked to the driver's company and the vehicle's information. Vicinity RFID and Ashok Leyland custom-designed hard plastic hangtags that can be suspended from a vehicle's rear-view mirror inside the cab.

Udaya Kumar Ah
When a truck arrives at the plant containing inbound materials, its driver first stops at the entrance gate "validation window" and holds his or her RFID tag within read distance of the ThingMagic M6 reader installed at that location. The reader captures the ID number and forwards that information to the AgileRFID middleware application, which is seamlessly connected to Ashok Leyland's SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supplier relationship management (SRM) portal software.

The software compares the collected data against supplier receiving schedules, validates the vehicle's arrival and displays instructions on a gate monitor indicating what the driver should do nextsuch as entering the plant or waiting, for example. If the display is green, the driver proceeds to the boom barrier and once again presents the tag at an RFID reader. The barrier gate opens and the truck moves in to deliver the shipment. If, on the other hand, the display is red, the officer stationed at the gate checks the system to investigate the discrepancy and can manually allow the truck to enter, if appropriate. The read event data is then stored for historic reference.

At the receiving dock door, personnel utilize ThingMagic handheld RFID readers to capture each driver's tag ID number. The vehicle's arrival is confirmed in the software, and the specific goods expected with that vehicle are linked to the RFID tag so that the system can indicate which goods have been received. Workers then unload the shipment.

Once unloaded, the vehicle is released to proceed to another delivery area within the plant, or the system generates an exit document so the vehicle can leave the plant. As the driver departs, the tag is read once more at the boom barrier, thereby validating his or her departure and releasing the boom gate to open.



Ashok Leyland manufactures parts that are, in some cases, shipped to other plantsa process known as an inter-unit transfer. In this case, tags are also used to validate when goods leave the facility for another plant. The driver is validated upon arriving to pick up goods. Then, after being loaded, the vehicle can proceed through the barrier gate, and the system updates data regarding which goods are being removed, based on the vehicle's tag ID.

The solution was piloted for two months at the company's oldest plant at Ennore in Chennai, beginning in October 2017. The firm installed the exterior gate readers and the boom barriers, along with LCD screens to route traffic. The readers were also installed at approximately 14 different receiving areas within the plant.

Anandkrishnan Palanidas
Due to the complexity of the supplies- and parts-management system, Veeramani says, the middleware's integration to the existing software needed to be seamless. "The major challenge for Ashok Leyland and Vicinity RFID," he states, "was to categorize the various types of shipments into the respective categories."

Each category had its own specific set of integration layers, Anandkrishnan Palanidas, Vicinity RFID's director, explains. "They had to be mapped in the Vicinity AgileRFID WebAPI integration layer," he states. This required many meetings and discussions with the IT and SAP teams. In addition, Ashok Leyland needed to be able to quickly expand the solution's use to its other locations. "The system was designed in such a manner that it can be scaled across multiple plants and multiple stores geographically in a plug-and-play model."

The system has reduced truck waiting times for both suppliers and customers, Ashok Leyland reports. In fact, the company adds, the average turnaround time for trucks at gate validation has dropped from 30 minutes to fewer than five minutes. "The data is captured automatically, without error," says Udaya Kumar, Ashok Leyland's manager for sourcing and supply chain, "and the need for manual labor at the gate is reduced by about 50 percent." The company has also found that truck drivers suffer less stress, and that manual entry work has been reduced as well.

The solution is now permanently deployed at the Chennai facility, and is currently being installed at two more plants. By the end of 2018, the company intends to have the RFID solution in place at all five of its plants. According to Vikas Modi, Vicinity RFID's director, the firm expects the plug-and-play solution to require less than two weeks for each location.