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Honda Italia Shifts Its RFID Deployment Into Second Gear

The company is now using active ultrawide-band tags to track motorcycle production and parts inventory, ensuring that the proper components are installed, as well as automating orders for parts.
By Rhea Wessel
Jan 26, 2009Honda Italia is employing a combination of active and passive RFID to track components of the motorbikes it produces in what may be one of Italy's first active ultrawide-band (UWB) RFID applications since the country's government amended a law in early 2008 to allow for use of the technology. Italy had previously blocked the use of UWB RFID on the grounds that it could interfere with frequencies utilized by the Italian military.

The RFID application is an extension of a pilot Honda Italia implemented in mid-2007 (see RFID Revs Up Honda Italia's Motorcycle Production). During that pilot, the company affixed passive 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) tags to the motorcycles' chassis and certain components, in order to track the assembly process.

Angelo Coletta
Angelo Coletta, Honda Italia's project manager, says the company was happy with the system designed for the first pilot, which it dubbed Ariana. However, workers were bothered by the antennas that had been installed close to the production line to enable interrogation of the passive HF tags, which have a short read range. In addition, he says, since employees had to confirm that tags were successfully interrogated during the production steps, the RFID application essentially added an additional step to the existing work process.

To eliminate this extra step, and to move antennas farther from the production line, Honda Italia switched to active tags in April 2008, launching a project it calls New Ariana, with IBM serving as systems integrator. The vehicle manufacturer now temporarily installs a UWB active tag made by Ubisense to each motorbike's chassis. Thirteen ultrawide-band RFID readers form a tag-reading zone around the production line.

"We found that active tags were more operator-friendly," Coletta explains.

The system enables Honda Italia to assure that the proper parts are built onto the right motorcycle frames. For instance, the company must make sure bikes shipped to the United Kingdom have the correct headlight design for that nation, where vehicles drive on the left side of the road instead of the right, as they do in the United States and continental Europe. Honda Italia can also utilize the RFID system to trace the production of individual motorcycles. Such historical production information is essential if a bike needs to be recalled for safety repairs.

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