Right Things, Right Tote, Right TIme

Right Things, Right Tote, Right Time

Crotty Corporation needed to meet General Motors' quality and inventory control standards in order to maintain and grow their car visor manufacturing business. And, Crotty's new system had to stand up to the harsh environment of a typical automotive plant. The solution--a bar code driven system that identified and verified visor packages for each make and model of GM car or truck.

QUINCY, Michigan--Crotty Corporation, located in southwest Michigan, is a small company that manufactures visors for the Big 3 Detroit automakers. In 1996, General Motors requested that Crotty institute a compliance marking program to improve quality and efficiency. The new bar code driven system now handles more than 163 permutations-assuring the right things end up in the right totes at the right time.

General Motors represents the majority of Crotty's business, said Bonnie Saddler, Electronic Data Processing Manager. "The compliance marking system recommended by GM's quality improvement program would also increase our internal quality and efficiency, so we had many reasons to respond." On the upside, Crotty could reap the internal benefits of a bar code system as well as meeting their customer's request. On the downside, if Crotty placed the wrong visors in the wrong totes, they risked losing business.

The program's objective was to provide GM with 100 percent quality satisfaction, but where to start? "We're a 53-year-old, family-owned company with $50 million in annual sales and 700 employees. We did not have the resources to embark on such an ambitious program ourselves, but with the help of our VAR, Business Computer Connections (BCC), we were on our way to a bar code labeling program that would meet GM's request and meet QS-9000 quality standards."

Bar Code System Way to Go

The labeling challenges started with airbags, explained Ann Lown, Plant Manager. "U.S. Government regulations determined the proper position for the airbag warning label that had to be located upside down on the passenger visor. It was imperative that the proper label be placed in the proper visor location. We had to develop an error-proof system that would assure that the right label was going on the right visor. We already had 53 different part numbers in the system, and airbags tripled the number of part numbers. We resolved that a bar code printing system was the way to go."

Crotty began by implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning package from JBA International, Detroit, a large ERP provider to automotive manufacturers. Business Computer Connections, Livonia, Michigan, provided the bar code printing, scanning and data collection systems. The system, created by BCC for JBA, integrates easily into Crotty's AS/400 computer platform and the ERP package.

"We understood GM's needs to have the right product for the right car be placed in the right tote, and we designed a bar code data collection solution utilizing a Sato bar code label printer," said John Newman of BCC. "We specialize in automotive Tier One solutions-heavy grease, heavy metal solutions that will stand up to most heavy-duty auto manufacturing environments. The Sato bar code printing system had to handle the grease and grime, while providing the streamlined logistics, efficiency and return on investment."Right Product,

Right Place, Right Time

At the packaging stations, Crotty installed Symbol Technologies' 5300 flatbed, tabletop scanners so the visors' product ID label is scanned as they come out of manufacturing. The packaging clerk scans the customer name and part number, and the software package knows what parts should and should not be in the tote. Data on the Master Label-product description, standard pack size, and number of products in the tote-is displayed on screen. If the operator scans the wrong bar code or there are too many parts in the tote, an error message is issued. The computer screen changes colors and the PC beeps, indicating a correction is needed.

Once the software verifies that the correct parts are in the tote, it signals the Sato printer to print two 4"x 6" Master Labels for the two sides of the full tote. The Sato CL408 thermal transfer bar code printer was chosen for its industrial performance and metal-enclosed casework that holds up better in an industrial environment. The tote is then sent on its way to GM plants in the U.S. and Canada.

Up and Running in an Hour

Training was easy, added Lown. "We had classes for everybody on the line so they knew how to scan, print and affix the labels to the totes. The new program was up and running in less than an hour."

#1 Benefit-Meet Customer's Need

The primary benefit is that Crotty, a Tier One GM supplier, is meeting the needs of their customer. To maintain their Tier One status, Crotty must provide 100 percent quality product, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If for some reason a Crotty product would be responsible for shutting down a GM assembly line, Crotty would have to pay for the lost production-a huge consequence!

"We want our customer to be happy and we want our employees to manufacture and label products correctly. We can't look at what the new system is costing us-we look at what it's not costing us if the wrong part number gets on the wrong part. It's the cost of poor quality that we're saving, so GM doesn't have to stop all our shipments and sort things out on the line."

By automating their processes to meet customer compliance standards, Crotty also reaped benefits internally.

  • Increased efficiency-Products are bar coded and scanned for induction into the automated conveyor system, thereby increasing efficiency, tracking and control.
  • Increased productivity-Products can be moved faster, easier and at a lower cost.
  • Increased accuracy-Eliminating data key entry errors saves the time and money required correcting them.
  • Increased information-Crotty now has production numbers to update product files on the mainframe computer, vastly improving ordering and inventory control.
  • Increased business-On-time, on-target deliveries reduce costs and provide the competitive edge needed to gain more business.

Growth for the Future

The new system is so successful that there are now five packaging stations in Quincy and the project has migrated to the installation of five packing stations in the Gainesboro, Tennessee, plant and three in the Celina, Tennessee, plant.

In the upcoming months, Crotty wants to develop a program to automatically receive finished goods into their inventory system to further increase control and boost efficiency. "Advanced technology such as scanning and bar coding builds a straight line to profitability that will help us compete and win in the new millennium," concluded Lown.