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Golf Car Maker Scores with RFID

By integrating RFID with its new assembly line, Club Car has cut production time per golf car to 46 minutes from 88, improved its ability to customize cars—and saved millions of dollars.
By Jonathan Collins
Mar 22, 2004Five years ago, while working on its next-generation golf car, Club Car decided to completely redesign its manufacturing process and incorporate RFID to help speed up production of its new model. The new production line went live in October 2003 with the launch of the company’s Precedent Golf Car, and it is an overall investment that Club Car believes will deliver significant rewards.

Empty carriages, each equipped with an RFID tag, are lined up before they enter the assembly line.

“We have invested millions of dollars in designing and deploying a new manufacturing process to support our new Precedent model vehicle, and we expect savings in the millions per year,” says Alan Oester, vice president of information technologies for Club Car. The company is based in Augusta, Ga., where its manufacturing plant produces more than 100,000 golf and utility vehicles a year. It employs more than 1,000 people in both production and sales. Club Car, which is owned by Ingersoll-Rand, doesn’t publicly disclose its precise revenues, but they are in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

By deploying RFID throughout its production line, Club Car completely restructured the way it produces its cars, introducing just-in-time materials delivery and improving the ability to customize vehicles on the fly. RFID technology has been one of the factors in cutting the time it takes to build each vehicle—from 88 minutes to about 46 minutes—and ensuring that each car is built to an exact specification. But deploying RFID was not without its difficulties, and the company says it has learned how it could have avoided problems if the technology had been deployed differently.

The new production line replaces separate production lines for Club Car’s gas- and electric-powered vehicles. With the old system, a bar code label was attached to each car and workers used a handheld bar code scanner to track the vehicle, which had to be manually pushed between workstations. The new system uses a single automated production line that moves both types of vehicles through the production process, using RFID to define and verify the manufacturing process at every stage. In addition, instead of building basic cars and then bringing them in from a storage yard to have specific customer-ordered accessories added, the company builds cars from scratch in a single trip through the production line. This customization entails fitting the vehicles with any combination of accessories from a list that exceeds 100 items.

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