How Uflex Improved Inventory Tracking by 90%

Leverages Bluetooth Low Energy to track and transmit information about their immediate environments which are critical to the shelf life and FDA compliance of their products.

Uflex is a multi-billion packaging company that serves flexible packaging needs across varied industry sectors. The company faced the problem of inventory tracking which poses a serious challenge in a process plant with continuous in-flow (Plant Production) and out-flow of material (dispatch to customers). Physical stock taking required plant shutdown and rolls tracing in huge warehouses took a lot of time leading to wrong rolls, customer complaints and costly returns. Key business challenges Inventory tracking in a process plant is a big challenge given that physical stock taking is nearly impossible. There may be differences between the physical material flow and the flow inside the system due to human or reconciliation errors or system downtime globally. With over 1000 MT capacity per day in global manufacturing plants running on Oracle ERP, it was at times difficult to reconcile physical and system inventory leading to write-offs, lost inventory and even lost opportunities. This created a need for a self-aware intelligent monitoring system to track their rolls of flexible packaging material which could be tracked in huge warehouses and on stacked layouts with or without a line of sight and through layers of insulating material which could render radio signals useless. Details of the project The company launched a project which is about smart objects powered by BLE () to help them track and transmit information about their immediate environment which are critical to the shelf life and FDA compliance of their products. ‘BLE is a new technology and integrating it to achieve intelligence and efficiency as part of an IoT framework is something not many have achieved globally,’ says Ravi Ramakrishnan, CIO and Head IT Global - ‎Uflex. It also helps using movement tracking the flow of material in the system, and the best of all, it gives a single button inventory at different locations and countries. Using BLE technology helps circumvent the limitation of a traditional RFID technology and build a base to what can lead to eventual adoption of smart manufacturing of Industry 4.0. The system consists of BLE beacons powered by a cell lasting for two years. It has inbuilt sensors for temperature , pressure, impact, GPS and also is a two-way device which can not only transmit information but also receive information and act on it, eg. light up an LED bulb. The other end consists of an Android tablet which is mounted on hand based bracelet and a finger ring-shaped low weight Bar Code scanner can help an operator reach a roll exact location. Also, each roll identified by the reusable beacon and the barcode monitors its entire life cycle and can be traced till the time it gets dispatched. The architecture employs Arduino processor boards, BLE beacons, Android apps and finally open source Apache big data framework of Cassandra database. Network connections are provided by existing Cisco WIFI points and development tools are primarily Android Studio and Google Location SDK. The project, due to lack of too much expertise in the IoT space, was done in-house and using low investment open source tools and reusable beacons. ‘The project serves as a base for the introduction of a no-desktops layout where people will tap their phones and create packing list (using the BLE near proximity mode) and this also has a lot of potential in achieving world class manufacturing efficiencies,' says Ravi Ramakrishnan. Business benefits 'The benefits are immense,' says Ravi. 'This helped us ROI break-even in less than two months,' he adds. Earlier, damage to plastic flexible packaging films due to high temperature or roll-not-detected beyond usable shelf life was a problem. ‘Current sensors detect optimum environment and hence eliminate roll detection and damage issues. Each roll is self-aware --if we select list of rolls matching parameters they will automatically light up the LED and hence be detected,’ adds Ravi. Inventory Tracking: 90% improvement over manual cycle counting using barcode in terms of time and accuracy and feasibility. Faster Time to Fulfill: Around 50% reduction in time to trace a roll and over 1000 rolls are shipped every day globally. Customer Satisfaction/Reduced Complaints: Reduction of complaints by almost 25% for faulty roll delivery. Change management strategy The key users were part of the proposed strategy, part of the trials change was managed with a participative approach of all the stakeholders. Since physical stock and system stock were both managed by IT assets, any deviations were flagged off on a daily basis. Future plans The company has big plans around this deployment which include using it for energy savings, plant maintenance, breakdown prediction, freight movement, environmental monitoring, health and safety of workers all connected by intelligent objects transmitting to a data network.


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