Using Location Data in the Automotive Industry, From Production Line to Showroom Floor
The automotive industry has long been a proving ground for technologies focused on a number of different aspects of the production process. With its especially open attitude towards innovation, it should come as no surprise that the auto industry provides ample opportunities for automation based on location data to drive real-time asset tracking and data analytics.
The challenges of automotive production start well before the assembly line. Warehousing, supply chain and other issues must be addressed and managed well in order to avoid backups, bottlenecks and, worst of all, downtime. With so many interconnected procedures and just-in-time philosophies at work, orchestrating smooth workflows depends more than ever on visibility into each step and stage, from components and steel coming in one door to four wheels rolling out of another.
These logistical challenges are increasingly being met with the assistance of Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) based on location data gathered everywhere across the production facility. This information is used to streamline processes, better coordinate complicated procedures and provide visibility into highly complex operations.
But the applications of location data don’t stop when a shiny new car is added to the plant’s daily production total. There are benefits from RTLS in other, post-production stages of the automotive life cycle, from dealer to end users with fleet operations.
So start your engines and let’s look at how advanced tools focused on indoor positioning are adding value, cutting costs and streamlining processes at multiple points in the path from the production line to the parking lot.
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The factory floor
Even the simplest and most humble cars on the road are the result of a hugely complex industrial process. In an industry that often doubles as a laboratory for every imaginable experiment designed to squeeze out inefficiencies and increase productivity, asset tracking delivers comprehensive visibility into even the most complex operations.
Let’s start with managing the flow of orders through the facility. While they may all look the same as they make their way, station by station, towards the end of the process, each car on the assembly line has its own order status and priority. Using RTLS, tracking that progress is easier than ever. With real-time visibility into the position of every car on the production line, managing or reconfiguring their places is easier should it be necessary to move late orders forward or optimize their position to meet deadlines. Also, alerts can be set up to make stakeholders aware of any vehicle that hasn’t moved beyond a certain point or fails to meet some other predefined performance metric. Overall plant efficiency and production is boosted by avoiding delays and failing to assign the right priority to certain orders.
Vehicle assembly involves a precisely orchestrated sequence of steps through fixed stations. A breakdown or backup at one of those stations can quickly snowball into a chain reaction that echoes further down the line. With RTLS, you can get advanced warnings using predefined alert levels set to activate when assets haven’t moved or haven’t moved enough in a given time period. This can be enough to address a small problem before it turns into something more difficult to manage as it impacts work stations further down the line.
Inventory and component tracking is fundamental to a process where a hundreds of parts have to be stocked, transported to the factory floor and delivered to work stations spread over what is often an enormous facility comprised of multiple, separate areas and even buildings. Location data can inform decisions about resupply traffic priorities and give stakeholders real-time information about the location and status of any piece of tagged inventory. When questions about restock times and component locations can be answered instantly, it saves time and ensures the smooth ongoing functioning of assembly operations. There’s no need to waste time searching or wondering when and if parts will arrive when you can get live updates on the location of exactly the pieces you need.
Many of those components, as well as certain tools and other assets in the production area, are rather high-value. RTLS can also be configured to track them with the aim of mitigating loss and unnecessary replacement expenses. This can be done not only in terms of instant location and inventory data (how many there are and where), but also with geofencing capabilities that can enable alerts when certain assets are moved beyond predefined virtual borders. Location data can add a dimension of asset security that is impossible with conventional measures.
The world of RTLS is going beyond Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth is well established as the industry standard in wireless communication platforms and for good reason. Driven forward by the applications made possible through its extreme energy efficiency, BLE has become the default choice for solutions across all verticals. It dominance is also attributable to the ideal balance of features it offers, trading extreme performance in any one area (with the exception of energy usage) for an above average rating in a longer list of performance metrics. It also helps to be easily integrated into an existing global ecosystem of Bluetooth-enabled devices that allow anyone to interact with RTLS applications.
There are, however, a number of technology platforms that are proving themselves to be better suited to the needs and circumstances of particular RTLS use cases. Take Ultra Wide Band (UWB), for example. After focusing on consumer electronics earlier in its development, UWB has since pivoted to asset tracking solutions. By transmitting its signal over a wide segment of the radio spectrum (hence the name), UWB achieves a low spectral power density, meaning that it is very unlikely to interfere with other signals being transmitted at the same frequency. This is a useful feature in crowded industrial spaces with multiple active wireless networks in operation. Also, by using an extremely short but powerful signal burst, UWB transmissions can penetrate obstacles and manage well in environments filled with metal objects, all while delivering the same rates of positioning accuracy and energy use as BLE.
A crowded industrial space filled with metal parts? Sounds like an automotive plant. Will UWB become the primary tech platform for auto industry RTLS solutions? Time will tell, but it’s good to know that you have options when it comes to selecting the appropriate technology for your location data-based deployment.
Managing large numbers of cars as part of a fleet presents another logistical challenge where RTLS can help. As in other fields and use cases, the data gathered from monitoring logistical processes involving fleet vehicles can be converted into useful information for improved operational efficiencies.
Although we often think of fleets as something that end users of cars set up—rental cars, governmental entities, large commercial operations, etc.—they also exist before the leave the production facility. All those new cars rolling off the production line have to be stored somewhere, often for an extended amount of time, before they’re shipped to dealerships and end customers.
With RTLS, those cars can be located instantly without the time-consuming need to access logs or manually-recorded lists of where cars were temporarily parked. Keeping track of all vehicles and their current location at all times is simple with location data, eliminating delays in locating particular orders and optimizing staff labor time.
For fleets owned by end users, the same functionality applies. Cars returned to massive lots can be automatically reentered into available inventory, while those that leave a geofenced area are marked as taken or otherwise unavailable. Again, staff time is minimized while the reliability of real-time inventory information is enhanced through the elimination of human error.
Historical data can provide insights about which cars are over/under-used, helping to better distribute client or driver assignments and avoiding additional maintenance costs as a result of overuse. Parking patterns can also be better optimized to match demand, customer preferences or anything else.
Moving to a sales-oriented context like a car dealership, many of the same benefits and functionalities just described above can serve to enhance the customer experience and improve general operational efficiency here as well.
Starting with the obvious applications of RTLS, dealerships can access real-time inventory information along with vehicle locations at all times and generate instant audit reports at any time.
Sales staff can instantly access the position of individual cars or use filters to feature cars that meet certain search criteria, a major time saver on exceptionally large lots and a useful tool to help the sales effort. Success in car sales is often a question of choosing between alternatives rather than a simple yes or no on a particular model. When sales staff can more easily locate those alternatives, the chances for conversion increase.
Dealerships can also use RTLS to get feedback from customers without asking for it. Sensor-enabled tags can record customer interactions with cars on the sales floor, for reliable data representing interest, or lack thereof, in particular models. After collecting a sufficient sample size, historical data will clearly show which models get attention and which don’t. From there, it’s a simple step to optimizing the selection featured to customers entering the showroom and adjusting inventory accordingly.
Dealerships are also often paired with service and repair centers. In a situation that starts with customers who aren’t typically happy to be there at all, RTLS can help to mitigate that frustration and help service staff exceed customer expectations. The source of customer frustration is usually a lack of awareness of how long their visit will last and the lack of status information about their car. Using RTLS, dealerships can not only use location data for their own purposes, but easily make it available to customers. While this may not do much to speed the process along, the simple act of engaging the customer can make the experience less frustrating than it might otherwise be and lead to greater client satisfaction.
Regardless of the business context, location data delivers a level of visibility into processes that is otherwise impossible. Through monitoring and archiving digital representations of physical movements, you can recreate flows and patterns in a way that gives you the opportunity to identify areas for improvement. The limitations of real-time manual observation have been broken and RTLS makes it possible to not only see what couldn’t be seen before, but to do it on the scale needed to encompass the complex operations of modern industry.
Whether applied to the automotive industry or any other vertical, RTLS lets you boost productivity while reducing inefficiencies through optimized workflows. If you’re wondering how location data can help your business download our free Essential Guide to Asset Tracking Solutions.