Uflex Improved Inventory Tracking by 90%, Customer Satisfaction

Ravi Ramakrishnan, CIO Uflex is a multi- billion packaging company serving as a one stop shop for all flexible packaging needs across varied industry sectors. key business challenges Inventory tracking in a process plant is a big challenge as there is continuous inflow and outflow of material and physical stock taking is nearly impossible. There may be differences in physical material flow and the flow inside the system due to human errors, reconciliation errors or system downtime globally. With over 1000 MT capacity per day in global manufacturing plants running on Oracle ERP it was sometimes difficult to reconcile physical and system inventory leading to write offs, lost inventory and finally lost opportunities. This created a need for a self-aware intelligent monitoring system to track our 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 project is about smart objects powered by BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) to 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 a IoT framework is something not many have achieved globally. It also helps using movement tracking the flow of material in the system and best of all gives a single button inventory at different locations and countries. Using BLE technology, it circumvents the limitation of a traditional RFID technology and helps 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 2 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 a LED bulb. The other end consists of a Android Tablet which mounted on hand based bracelet and a finger ring shaped low weight BarCode 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 despatched. The architecture employs Arduino processor boards , BLE beacons , Android powered 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 also has a lot of potential in achieving world class manufacturing efficiencies.     Business benefits The benefits are immense resulting in break-even ROI in less than 2 months. Earlier inventory tracing was a problem in  a process plant with continuous in flow (Plant Production) and out flow of material (Dispatch to customers).Physical stock taking required plant shut down, rolls tracing in huge warehouses took lot of time leading to wrong rolls and customer complaints and costly returns. 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 The benefits 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 Since the key users were part of the proposed strategy and part of the trials change could be easily managed with a participative approach of all the stake holders. The rollout was done and since there were no parallel system comparisons did not arise. Finally since now physical stock and system stock was both managed by IT assets any deviations were flagged off on daily basis. Future plans   Future plans vary from using it for Energy Savings , Plant Maintainence , 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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