So what does automobile production have to do with a pearl necklace? A seemingly far-fetched question. At first glance, the two have nothing in common. Still you might find yourself at an automotive conference walking past a group talking shop about pearl chains. And the group is actually talking about the topic of automobile logistics. It is because the precious piece of jewelry has something in common with the industry’s complex processes: The simple model of this chain represents the Pearl chain model of automobile logistics.
In this concept, the exact production sequence of orders is usually determined several days prior to production. The high number of car models in automobile production results in a vast amount of parts which make the individual processes quite complicated. A solid production order sequence is essential and one of the goals of the pearl chain model. The term “frozen zone” describes a period beginning after the definition of the pearl chain – the sequence can no longer be modified. The automobile production isn’t typically affected by short-notice changes. Thus the pearl-chain model provides suppliers with planning reliability over several weeks. The fixed sequence furthermore increases on-time schedule accuracy as well as processing speed. Warehouse stock can be optimized despite highly varying production. A better capacity is ensured and overload peaks are avoided. Sounds really easy and promising. Or does it?
Simple principle, difficult implementation
Even though the pearl-chain model appears to be simple in theory, its realization is actually quite difficult. When processing orders, disruptions such as quality problems or a missing purchased part can put the sequence at risk. If an order arrives too early or is delayed somewhere along the pearl chain, all delivered parts must be rescheduled accordingly. The fact that parts are usually provided according to the Just in sequence (JIS) method, which is a further development of the just-in-time strategy, presents yet another challenge. The supplier not only has to consider the amount of parts needed, he or she must also regard the order in which they are to be provided. For example, using the just-in-sequence strategy, exterior mirrors for final vehicle assembly can be delivered and attached at the time when the car bodies are arranged as ready-made pearl chains on the final assembly line. The mirrors are then already sorted by color in the transport container according to the sequence of their corresponding cars on the assembly line.
The chain is kept together by its segments
Being a central part of planning, the sequence creation affects almost all interfaces of automobile logistics, from delivery, production and warehouse management through to the sales department. In order for all parts to be provided in the right time and at the right place in production, reliable transport of parts is essential as well. Smooth material flow – regardless whether toward a plant or within a plant – must be ensured to keep the pearl chain together. Hence, it is important to coordinate supply control and internal logistics with the production schedule in the same way. That is the only way the pearl-chain method can work. A delayed truck carrying just-in-sequence parts or a misdirected transport can interrupt the pearl chain. For example, a container with mounting parts, which is delivered to the assembly line too late or at the wrong sequence interval, can bring the production process to a halt. A disruption of logistics procedures can therefore greatly affect the overall efficiency of the pearl chain.
Consequently, the importance of intelligent systems for internal logistics processes is increasing in the automobile industry. Because only with their help, can the complexity of automobile logistics be mastered efficiently with respect to the pearl-chain principle, and smooth material flow within and toward a plant can be realized. In fact, in a recent conference report released by Automotive Logistics, industry experts noted the growing importance of such systems for the efficient planning of complicated logistics processes.
It is important that automobile manufacturers, suppliers as well as logistics companies have the same goal, ultimately strengthening the pearl chain. Despite the increasing complexity of logistic processes, quality and efficiency must be improved. Even though the pearl chain appears to be a very simple strategy for logistics and production, it is much more complex than it first seems. A lot of different boundary conditions have to be taken into account in order to make optimal planning decisions or optimally schedule transport processes. By using decision-intelligent systems, all processes of the pearl chain – from plant logistics through to logistics of the auto terminal – can be planned and coordinated in an optimized manner. Intelligent systems optimize resource use, reduce costs and efficiently plan all operative processes in automobile logistics.
Do you have experience with using the pearl-chain principle in logistics? Did you use an intelligent system for its implementation?