Major Tier 1 Automotive Supplier Automate their Headliner Manufacturing Facility

 In order to win their new contract with Ford Motor Company, a major Tier 1 automotive supplier needed to completely automate their headliner manufacturing facility, and do it fast.

A multinational firm, Grupo Antolin manufacturers a variety of components for the automobile industry.  Antolin's headliner manufacturing facility, located in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, is one of the largest suppliers of headliners to automobile manufacturers in the world.  When an increase in production demands at the Kentucky facility required a change in their manufacturing system, Grupo Antolin turned to Connect Inc. and Microscan to pick up the pace on the floor.


A few years ago, Ford Motor Corporation announced it wanted Grupo Antolin's headliner facility to convert to an in-line-vehicle sequencing (ILVS) system in which suppliers build, assemble and ship parts in the same order they are assembled at the Ford plant.  Ford was the facility's largest customer. The Ford contract also meant Grupo Antolin would need to increase its annual production by 500,000 headliners and accommodate at least 80 new component styles. 


To accomplish this task, Antolin decided to transition to a demand flow-based manufacturing process.  The company wanted a fully automated solution with robotics and pick-to-light bins that could be controlled from a single data source.  After extensive research, Antolin selected Connect, which recommended its PowerNet Data-Linc family of Windows-based software development tools.  Microscan fixed-position bar code scanners were selected for accurate data capture.



The assembly process begins when Ford sends an EDI data file telling Antolin how many finished headline stock-keeping units (SKUs) need to be assembled and shipped during the next six days.  Antolin builds the parts, which will go out in the order in which Ford will assemble the parts into the vehicles.


Once the headliner substrate has been removed from its mold, it is labeled with an initial bar code used for inventory tracking.  It is scanned and hung in a style rack.  The scheduling program prompts the operator to print another label with the finished headline SKU bar codes in a pre-determined sequential order that corresponds directly to the sequential assembly order at the Ford plant.


The wireless software directs the printing of a serialized SKU label, and sends a digital signal through the wireless I/O system to the RPT robot indicating successful receipt and label printing.  The substrate is then moved to a sequence rack and transported to the Rear Wire Harness Assembly Station.


The substrates are removed from the sequence rack and are placed on an assembly fixture, where the automated work-in-process (WIP) begins with data capture.  An unattended Microscan MS-850 fixed-position raster scanner reads the bar codes on the finished headliner SKU label and then serially transmitted to host software using the Ethernet I/O controller.  The host compares the data against the finished headliner SKU Bill of Material file, and then informs the robot through a binary code which glue pattern to use.  At the same time, a digital signal illuminates a "pick-to-light" bin signaling the appropriate wiring harness to be installed.  An assembly worker then removes the designated wiring harness from the illuminated bin and places it on the glue pattern applied by the robot.  The reduction in inventory is automatically registered.


This data collection and work-in-progress tracking is repeated at each station throughout the assembly process.  The entire operation is controlled by software and wireless communication.


"The U-152 [Ford ILVS] project is the most complicated line we have ever attempted," stated William Copeland, project engineer for Grupo Antolin.  "Yet we had few problems in design, installation and startup.  Ford changed our start date at least 6 times, and we were ready each time."


In addition to enabling Grupo Antolin to meet Ford's ever-changing requirements, the system has brought key production benefits as well.  Antolin has reduced their staff by 13 people and cut production from three shifts to 2½.  As a result, the company is making plans to replicate this production process in its 15 plants worldwide.  "Ford has ILVS training and status meetings that I attend frequently," commented David Conelius, Grupo IT Manager. "They use our U-152 line as [an example of] one of the best ILVS startups." 


This case study  was written and provided by Susan Snyder, responsible for research and public affairs for Microscan.  In addition, Susan manages Microscan's global applications training program.  Microscan is a world leader in the development of fixed-position bar code and 2D readers.  First introduced at ScanTech in 1997, Microscan's 2D Data Matrix reader Quadrus was the first fully integrated Data Matrix reader to combine a light source, camera and decoder into one compact unit.  For more information on Microscan or their products, please visit