Ford's Land Rover division and Savi on Monday launched a pilot programme to use radio frequency identification (RFID) to better synchronise the delivery of components from multiple suppliers to the SUV maker's main assembly plant in Solihull, near Birmingham.

California-based Savi is a Lockheed Martin company and provider of RFID-based asset management technology. It is supplying hardware and software to enhance visibility, inventory management, and asset use, and to reduce losses, assembly plant disruptions, and time spent locating assembly parts.

The second phase of this pilot enables 18 suppliers and Land Rover to better locate, track, and deliver stillages (specialised steel conveyances) that carry bumpers, front grilles, suspension parts, sunroof assemblies and vehicle bodies, among other parts.

Active RFID tags are attached to stillages as they leave supplier facilities, and the tag is linked with the car parts carried by the conveyance. Fixed readers are placed at loading and unloading docks, entrances and exits of the suppliers and Land Rover's assembly plant. Whenever a tagged stillage passes by a reader, the shipment is logged and location information is transmitted to designated users. Exception alerts are sent when stillages do not arrive when and where they are expected.

Real-time information on RFID-tagged assets is shared among the partners and is automatically transmitted to mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and web-based tracking software.

"On-time, precision delivery of components is integral to our plant's efficiency because disruptions in the supply chain can slow or even halt vehicle assembly, and we believe [the RFID technology] can improve these operations," said Land Rover's head of inbound logistics, Jonty Cook.

The project has been sponsored by the University of Warwick, and is funded by GBP600,000 ($1.2m) from the UK government's GBP32m($64m) PARD (Premiere Automotive Research and Development) grant.

The PARD programme, launched in 2004, is intended to increase the competitiveness of the West Midlands automotive industry by encouraging innovation, modernisation, and technology development. The region is home to 60% of the UK's car manufacturing base.