Silicone manufacturer Dow Corning needed a scalable, flexible platform to support asset visibility within the supply chain. Dow Corning now has that, thanks in part to Microsoft BizTalk RFID, cutting delivery windows by 97 percent and reducing costs by U.S.$450,000. With a faster, cheaper, and more accurate process, trailer tracking and inventory accuracy have improved, and trailer asset utilization has increased.
In cars, they’re everywhere, from the roof panel to the tires. You’ll find them in sealants and sunscreen, utility poles and utensils. Got a pad of sticky-notes on your desk? They’re in there, too.
“They” are silicones, compounds with properties that make them useful in countless products throughout homes, offices, hospitals, factories, schools—even roads. Silicones are everywhere—and no one knows this better than Dow Corning, whose 7,000 products make its name seemingly synonymous with the substance.
Dow Corning was an early adopter of radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to help track those products in their manufacturing plants. The company built an RFID lab to simulate its plant environment and selected RFID readers and other hardware for plant use.
Now Dow Corning wanted to expand its use of RFID to drive process improvements—for example, in the transportation of products between facilities, which was grounded in manual processes such as check-out at one facility and check-in at another, plus rekeying information into the company’s SAP business system. Human error was always possible with these processes. In addition, the comings and goings of tanker trailers carrying the silicone might be recorded at the end of a shift, hours after passing the plant gates, so the SAP business system could contain misleading information about a trailer’s location or a shipment’s status.
These processes were ripe for an overhaul and Dow Corning was ready for an enterprise wide RFID platform. With a successful project, Dow Corning would not only streamline and automate distribution, but also gain visibility into the status of tanker trailers, increase productivity, and reduce costs.
Dow Corning invited RFID vendors to compete for its business. Some proposals were too expensive or required extensive customization. Others did not provide interoperability with SAP. Still others included middleware that did not meet performance requirements.
After testing the finalists, Dow Corning chose Microsoft BizTalk RFID and Microsoft SQL Server data management software, running on Windows Server. BizTalk RFID worked with the company’s existing hardware. It integrated workflows seamlessly into SAP. Dow Corning was able to take advantage of the Microsoft-based server infrastructure and development expertise it already had. BizTalk RFID also met the company’s needs for high performance and scalability, low cost, and rapid application development.
To implement its solution, Dow Corning turned to SPR Consulting, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that specializes in Microsoft-SAP interoperability. Together, they built a pilot deployment spanning a manufacturing plant and a distribution center. RFID readers were placed around the facilities to capture trailer loading, departure from the factory, arrival at the distribution center, unloading, departure from the distribution center, and arrival at the factory. Lightweight BizTalk RFID edge servers were deployed at each location to collect and process real-time RFID data from the company’s existing Reva network appliances. The Reva devices were easily integrated with BizTalk Server.
The solution was expanded to include the company’s OSIsoft PI System installation for management of process time-series data and events. When OSIsoft captures data about the loading or unloading of a trailer, the solution notifies BizTalk RFID to create delivery documentation that is forwarded to SAP.
“BizTalk RFID gave us the tools to grab the RFID events we wanted and discard the ones we didn’t,” says Chris Kabat, Vice President of Connected Systems at SPR Consulting. “We used BizTalk to pass that information to SAP and tie our physical read events to our SAP business process.”
With its initial deployment on BizTalk RFID, Dow Corning has improved manufacturing benchmarks, gained visibility into trailer use, and achieved significant return on investment (ROI).
Cycle Time Cut; Tracking Accuracy Up
By automating the tracking of trailers, Dow Corning has cut cycle time—the time it takes for a trailer to complete a roundtrip between the factory and the distribution center. It has also increased the accuracy of trailer-tracking data. Inventory accuracy has increased, according to Gene Sumption, Portfolio Manager for Global Manufacturing Automation at Dow Corning. “The increase we see in inventory accuracy could be crucial to operations,” he says. “It could mean the difference between uninterrupted operation and putting the production process on hold.”
Visibility into Trailer Use Saves U.S.$450,000
The estimated arrival times for trailers, formerly set with 12-hour windows, now can be estimated to within 20 minutes of arrival, a reduction of 97 percent. Dow Corning can accurately adjust the size of its trailer fleet according to need, resulting in a $450,000 savings during the pilot by avoiding unnecessary purchases and maintenance.
TCO Reduction and increased ROI
Dow Corning reassigned 1.5 full-time employees to higher-value tasks. Together with the other savings and gains, that amounts to a total cost of ownership (TCO) reduction for the pilot. As Dow Corning deploys the solution elsewhere, it stands to save millions of dollars.
“We have three plants ready for this technology, and we’re looking into tracking other types of containers in our supply chain as well as additional operations within the plants,” says Dave Zuwala, Technology Steward for RFID Technologies, Dow Corning. “We’re just beginning to understand how important this could be to the company.”
When the company is ready to extend the solution, its technology will be ready. “We not only automated this business process, but built a solid platform for future RFID initiatives at Dow Corning,” says Kabat.