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Connecting Smart Logistics

Smart logistics is all about orchestrating the internal movement of parts, incoming materials, tools across production lines, and outgoing delivery. For both standard and custom production lines, smart logistics plays an important role to ensure a smooth end-to-end process that reduces the WIP (work-in-progress) inventory and improves customer satisfaction.

Internal Logistics

Investing in smart logistics is a natural progression after enabling smart production activities. Automatic guided vehicles (AGV) play a key role in streamlining logistical activities and it’s important that the communication to and from the AGVs are reliable. Not only do the AGVs need to communicate with each other, but your smart production line must also speak to the AGV Distributing System, which is connected to the WMS (warehouse management system) or the MES (manufacturing execution system). By connecting sensors, gateways, industrial computers and wireless systems to AGVs, the AGV Distributing System can direct the AGVs to move the WIP assets to the next stage in production, therefore streamlining the process and decreasing WIP inventory.

Your shop floor drones can move anywhere from the warehouse, auto-storage/retrieval system (AS/RS), or tooling storage to perform programmed tasks. This includes refilling/feeding materials or replacing tools, all with seamless mobility whenever the smart production lines send material shortage or changeover signals to the MES. For the production line to communicate with the AGV distribution system, serial gateways, protocol gateways, and wireless devices are used to send the information. For this to happen, RFID is used to sense the product ID and send it to the WMS and ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, which then communicates with the AGV distributing system to dispatch AGVs to the production line via connected serial gateway, protocol gateway and wireless networks.

Once the communication takes place, the AS/RS system can pick up the product for shipment. Wireless access points are used to transmit the information back and forth between the AS/RS and AGV distribution system to accommodate the mobility needs of the AGVs. Therefore, when designing how this network is setup, be sure to look for redundancy features for your wireless network so communications aren’t dropped with the constantly moving equipment and potential signal interferences. By doing so, you will enhance the reliability of your internal logistics network. 


External Logistics

Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing is an inventory strategy companies use to increase efficiency, decrease waste, and reduce inventory costs by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process. In a traditional mass production model, this method requires producers to accurately forecast demand. In a smart factory with mass customization, the customer order, and the inventory and supplier systems are all connected to streamline the schedule of incoming materials to be “just-in-time” for the production process. By employing JIT, outgoing deliveries to customers will also have a more reliable schedule. 

To achieve the JIT manufacturing strategy and on-time delivery, your external logistics must be able to communicate to internal production activities to streamline the end-to-end process. Similar to your internal logistics, supply chain vehicles and TMS (Transportation Management System) must also communicate with the warehouse and production line. Thus, the TMS should be connected via Ethernet to other systems such as the ERP, MES, WMS and AGV Distribution Systems. This means that your entire operations from machines, to production lines, to internal and external logistics, should all be speaking to each other and working as a team. Without this synergy, your “smart factory” will be operating as isolated units and won’t be able to work as efficiently as those that are. Once your manufacturing and logistics are working in synergy, you can auto-dispatch and coordinate vehicles to schedule incoming materials and outgoing delivery to the customers, streamline the end-to-end process, and further enhance your customer’s experience.     

An example of how this can work is by connecting coil sensors and IP cameras to the industrial computers and wireless systems that control the opening of gates at loading docks. The cameras should recognize the license plates of supply chain vehicles and open the gates when necessary. The plate numbers will be verified through a plate recognition system in the control room via Ethernet switch and wireless systems that are setup to direct vehicles to a designated dock through a panel PC that connects to TMS.

 

The supply chain vehicles will then go to the designated dock and be identified by RFID sensors connected to the WMS. A panel PC that is connected through a serial gateway and the wireless network will then update incoming and outgoing schedules for the warehouse manager while notifying the WMS to automatically asks the AGV Distribution System to dispatch AGVs to receive materials for the outgoing shipment.


 

There are several components that complete a smart logistics system, but it can be achieved by understanding the areas your application needs to be built or upgraded. For help with streamlining the end-to-end process and enhancing your customer experience, you can reach out to us to discuss your requirements and the level of smart logistics integration you are looking for.

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