The Getrag-Ford transmission plant in Cologne, Germany, assembles six different transmission types for vehicles manufactured by Ford, Mazda and Volvo. The 2-million-square-foot factory-jointly owned and operated by Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) and Getrag Group (Untergruppenbach, Germany)-produces approximately 1 million transmissions annually for shipment to Argentina, China, Europe, Japan, South Africa, Taiwan, the Philippines and the United States. 

To further streamline its lean production processes, the company recently implemented a new material-flow replenishment system from wireless infrastructure provider WhereNet Corp., a subsidiary of Zebra Technologies (Oakland, CA).

The WhereNet system tracks the exact time of every part request, automatically prioritizes the requests and sends instructions to material handling drivers-whose vehicles are equipped with vehicle-mounted Wi-Fi terminals-telling them where to pick up and deliver the parts.

The system also alerts both Getrag-Ford and its suppliers when parts are needed on the assembly line, resulting in synchronous material flow across the supply chain, reduced inventory and higher productivity.

Available in 16 different languages, including German, the Getrag-Ford system employs a wireless messaging infrastructure comprised of 220 active RFID WhereCall buttons, each of which is uniquely associated with a part number on the assembly line; a network of 12 wireless WhereLAN location sensors; and five Akerstrom mobile computers mounted on the plant’s fleet of part-replenishment forklifts.

“The WhereNet material flow system moves us a long way toward our ultimate goal of a completely forklift-free production operation, as we are now operating leaner than ever before,” says Getrag-Ford logistics and material handling supervisor Ralf Vierkotten. “Production-line employees no longer need to leave their workstations to help search for parts or to help material control determine the correct part. All they have to do is push a WhereCall active RFID button, and the system notifies all the required parties-from the line side to the forklift driver to the internal warehouse-that more parts are needed. This ‘intelligent’ automated system supports our lean manufacturing processes as we benefit from real-time inventory consumption and can execute replenishment orders just in time.”

Implemented in about 90 days, the system has improved labor productivity and material handling efficiency by about 20 percent. It has also helped cut forklift trips by about a third and reduced on-hand inventory from local suppliers from seven days to two days, providing $750,000 in savings with respect to inventory carrying costs.

Finally, the system has improved floor space utilization, increased the visibility of plant-floor demand and almost completely eliminated production downtime due to parts shortages. As a result of the success of the WhereNet system, Getrag-Ford is expanding its use both in the Cologne plant and at a number of its other production facilities.

For more on parts tracking and replenishment call 408-845-8500 or