Vehicle manufacturer car assembly line

From Manual Processes to Real-Time Tracking: How a North American Vehicle Manufacturer Overcame Efficiency Challenges

The Problem

A large North American vehicle manufacturer’s light truck assembly plant found it challenging to move assembled trucks through its post-assembly repair process promptly and efficiently.

At any one time, a hundred or more vehicles might be awaiting repair, parked in yards alongside hundreds of other fully assembled trucks. Various systems and approaches had been tried, but the only approach that seemed to work best was to rely on printed lists maintained in spreadsheets, supplemented by colored tags hung from vehicles’ rear-view mirrors, indicating the broad nature of the repair required.

When a specific vehicle was scheduled for repair, personnel would search for it manually, comparing the vehicles’ VINs with the VIN printed on the list. While effective, it was an approach that wasn’t efficient, as the plant’s recorded ‘time taken to locate’ metrics regularly revealed that the time taken to locate a given vehicle was both too long and too variable. Productivity suffered.

The search time and its inevitable variability also adversely affected the plant’s ‘mean time to repair’ metrics. Again, productivity suffered: at times, repair stations would stop work, waiting for a specific vehicle to be located and delivered.

Finding a Solution

During a regular meeting of the manufacturer’s company-wide internal advanced technology group, which aimed to explore technologies applicable to all divisions, it was discovered that a sister division was using Cognosos’ real-time tracking technology to track its assets within plant operations. 

The read-across was obvious: the same Cognosos technology could assist with tracking and locating vehicles awaiting repair. 

And so, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, Cognosos was invited to demonstrate its asset tracking technology at the plant in question, focused on the specific repair process use-case. The decision was made very quickly to adopt the Cognosos solution, and the implementation was undertaken. 

Why Cognosos?

Members of the manufacturer’s internal advanced technology group and its in-plant operations staff were unequivocal: the Cognosos solution was the first real-time tracking technology they had seen working reliably.

They were also impressed by the caliber of the Cognosos team, their industry experience, and how they responded to the manufacturer’s questions and concerns.

Together, it comprised a compelling package—which explained the speed of the technology assessment and the speed with which the eventual decision to proceed was taken.

Solution Implementation 

The Cognosos solution comprises three core aspects: equipment, software, and in-service support. Delivery of all three began in October and the system was live by December.

The equipment comprised about 2,000 GPS tracker tags, a number of ‘gateways’—essentially a router with long-range antennae which receives the location signals transmitted by the tags—and a number of ‘activators,’ which are the devices that provide the tags with location data in contexts where GPS data is not available, such as inside buildings.

The solution includes software components such as smartphone apps for Apple and Android, the Cognosos portal for accessing the dashboard, a Cloud data repository, web-based reporting applications that analyze stored data, and REST APIs for exchanging data with the manufacturer’s enterprise system applications if needed.

Finally, there’s the support element: a dedicated project manager and support provider who serves as the director of customer field operations. Additionally, customer operations engineers are available as needed, and customers have unlimited access to Cognosos’ support team via email or phone.

The repair application duly went live within a month.

Operational Impact and Hard-Dollar ROI

Once live, the Cognosos solution quickly delivered a significant reduction in the time-to-repair metric, a 5–10% reduction in dwell time, and a 20% reduction in the number of vehicle moves per repair. The manufacturer’s in-plant operations team calculated the impact at an annual half-a-million-dollar cost reduction.

But more was to come: post-pandemic, shortages of automotive components were endemic, and many automotive manufacturers saw a substantial increase in their ‘built-shy’ ratio—the industry-standard term for vehicles that are assembled with missing minor components which are to be added later, once available.

‘Built-shy’ was also an issue at the truck assembly plant in question, so an extension to the Cognosos solution was procured to help track built-shy vehicles as well as their required components.

Based on these outstanding results, a decision was made to extend the Cognosos tracking solution across the plant’s finished vehicle logistics operations and remote storage yards, with this fuller implementation going live in the late summer of 2021.

It will be the first of many. The manufacturer intends to roll out the Cognosos solution across its North American plant network, with a targeted completion date of 2024.

If you want to learn more about how Cognosos’ real-time vehicle visibility can support advanced tracking for finished vehicle logistics, download our guide, The Alignment Advantage: How to Improve FVL Efficiency and Profitability“.

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