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Motor-Home Maker Uses Wi-Fi to Track Production

Hymer has deployed a real-time locating system combining wireless networking equipment from Siemens Communications with Ekahau active RFID tags and software.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jun 11, 2007European motor-home manufacturer Hymer is using a Wi-Fi-based real-time locating system (RTLS) to help track the assembly of its motor homes, then locate finished vehicles awaiting shipment.

The company has opted for an RTLS that combines wireless networking equipment from Siemens Communications and Wi-Fi-based active RFID tags and software from Ekahau. Hymer decided to implement the technology at its campus in Bad Waldsee, Germany, so it could quickly locate specific motor homes (also known as caravans) in a vast parking lot containing more than 700 slots.

Hymer is using a Wi-Fi-based RTLS to track the assembly of its motor homes.

"All the caravans are white or silver, with the same body structure," says Christian Hellman, product manager for HiPath Wireless at Siemens, who worked directly with Hymer to implement the RTLS. "The delivery person from the transport company [that delivers caravans to customers] has to bring the right caravan to the customer; the challenge is how to find the caravan very [quickly]. Today, it takes sometimes over one hour to find the caravan." The implementation is complete, and is expected to go live in July.

Hymer wanted to install a single network system able to provide coverage both in the parking lot and within the factory. The manufacturer opted to use products from Siemens Communications and Ekahau because the two companies had already worked together as partners in other Wi-Fi-based RTLS installations. Recently, the vendors further strengthened their relationship in a reseller agreement that tightens integration between their products (see Siemens Communications Partners With Ekahau).

In addition, Hymer is also starting to use the Siemens/Ekahau solution to track the assembly of caravans in the factory. The system lets the company determine a specific caravan's location during final production, while also optimizing manufacturing processes. "It will be able to set up orders at the right time," Hellman says, as well as "deliver the right materials to the right location at the right time." The RTLS will also enable Hymer to more tightly control caravan movement through production, he adds, by allowing vehicles to move through specific gates and onto other processes as they are ready to do so.

Hymer's motor-home assembly plant in Bad Waldsee, Germany.

Using Velcro, the company affixes an Ekahau battery-powered T301-A Wi-Fi tag—Ekahau's third-generation active Wi-Fi tag, which supports standard 802.11b/g and has an average battery life of five years—to each caravan's steering wheel. The tag has a dust- and water-proof enclosure so it can be used in various environments, including outdoors or in manufacturing plants. Each tag has a unique ID number, associated with the caravan to which it is attached. The tag collects the transmitting power, or signal strength, of nearby Wi-Fi access points. It then transmits that data, along with its ID number, to the access points, which pass it on to the Ekahau Positioning Engine (EPE), a server that calculates the tag's location in real time.

More than 140 Siemens Communications' HiPath Wireless Access Points—which are enterprise-class dual-band (802.11a/b/g) Wi-Fi assess devices—have been installed at Hymer to date, both in the factory and around the parking lot. Those in the parking lot, Hellman says, were customized to stand up to the weather.

According to Hellman, Hymer plans to integrate the RTLS with its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at a later date so it can leverage the location and assembly data with its order-management software and other applications. This will allow it to automatically update the status of orders with data collected during assembly to indicate a caravan's stage in the production process, as well as when it's finished and the date and time the transport company picks it up for delivery.
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