Meritor shifts asset management into high gear
Automotive equipment provider turns to "smart" lockers to solve problems with misplaced and damaged scanners.
By Ben Ames
Name a company with a fleet of commercial trucks, trailers, or defense or industrial vehicles, and it probably sources some of its automotive parts from Meritor Inc., a 111-year-old manufacturer based in Troy, Mich. Meritor supplies drivetrain, suspension, and braking systems and components for manufacturing, service, and maintenance operations run by global clients such as AB Volvo, Navistar International Corp., Kenworth Truck Co., and Mack Trucks.
One of the key nodes in the company's fulfillment network is its DC in Florence, Ky., which serves as the distribution hub for its global aftermarket business. From the site, Meritor ships out orders for heavy truck components to customers throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
Keeping the 440,000-square-foot Florence DC operating smoothly is critical to Meritor's business, so the company recently upgraded its warehouse management system (WMS) while adding voice-directed picking devices and new handheld scanners. However, managers soon realized that simply investing in the mobile devices wasn't enough. They also had to find a way to manage those assets. The mobile devices were frequently being misplaced or accidentally damaged, and workers sometimes failed to fully charge the batteries. What the operation needed was a system for tracking the units and ensuring they were in good working order at the start of each shift.
In 2015, Meritor installed five asset-management lockers from Cincinnati-based Apex Supply Chain Technologies LLC. The automotive company's 80 warehouse associates now gather at a locker location before their shift and scan their ID badges to retrieve handheld scanners and fresh batteries. At the end of the workday, they scan their badges again to return the equipment.
The lockers create a record of each transaction through Apex's cloud-based inventory tracking platform, recording who checked out each piece of equipment, when it was returned, and whether it was plugged into a battery charger. Importantly, it also alerts an asset-control technician if equipment isn't returned or a device is damaged so that it can be sent out for repairs right away. "The system provides all that information to an administrative person on our operations team, and she interfaces with an outside person who does repairs," said Steve Ammerman, director of operations and industrialization at Meritor. "So I know who's got what scanner and which scanner needs to be fixed. It really is a hands-on system."
Meritor uses four Axcess 6000 asset-management lockers for its handheld devices and a MegaStore 9500 high-density dispensing system for battery management. Together, the lockers and associated software platform have helped the company get damaged scanners back in use within days instead of weeks and identify employees who have had equipment checked out for more than 12 hours. On top of that, the new system has helped extend the life of the scanner equipment by ensuring that every battery kept in a MegaStore cabinet is fully charged before it is used on a shift.
"We can ensure that batteries are returned, charged, and dispensed as needed," Ammerman said. "Previously, employees were picking up half-charged batteries, but now all devices are fully charged for an eight-hour shift."
About the Author
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
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