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Motorcycle Maker Powers Up With RFID

Customized bike builder Viper uses RFID to boost factory output, cut labor costs, process repairs, serve its dealership and even comply with Sarbanes-Oxley.
By Bob Violino
Oct 10, 2005Viper Motorcycle is gearing up for rapid growth in the market for high-end, customized motorcycles. The company sold 25 motorcycles in 2004, 50 this year, and expects to sell 650 in 2006. As part of its effort to support an expanding business and remain competitive with larger motorcycle suppliers, the company is investing in technology such as RFID to optimize its supply chain.

Viper is enjoying a number of benefits from the use of RFID, it says, including the ability to locate lost or stolen parts, and to track the movement of subassemblies, such as frames and transmissions, through its manufacturing facility. This, in turn, allows it to identify what stage a motorcycle is in during the production process.

The company also uses RFID tags to track the manufacturing of its bikes. "At the end of a given day, I will have all the data I need to know about the actual resources, including materials, subassemblies and labor, that were used to produce a finished motorcycle," says Garry Lowenthal, executive vice president and CFO of Viper Motorcycle and its parent company, Viper Powersports.

But there's an added benefit not directly related to supply chain management: The Minneapolis-based company is using the technology as part of its effort to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

Prior to deploying RFID, Lowenthal says, Viper did not use any other technology in its supply chain other than SAP Business One enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Viper chose to deploy RFID technology because it believed it would get rapid payback on its investment.

In April 2004, Viper installed a total of seven RFID interrogators (readers), one at each of seven stations in its final assembly operations. The company then began placing active UHF RFID tags on a variety of components, including engines, transmissions, tires, gas tanks, headlights and other parts and subassemblies that have a value of more than $75 each. Viper's manufacturing lines are using RFID interrogators and active UHF RFID read-write tags from ActiveWave, a Boca Raton, Fla., provider of active RFID systems. The system allows Viper to track and record assembly information onto the RFID tag as its motorcycles move from station to station on the assembly lines. Viper uses the active tags for production assembly operations, where subassemblies are continuously being modified through added labor and materials. A completed motorcycle has one master active RFID tag containing detailed information from all subassemblies, as well as the VIN number and location of the completed bike.

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