Yamaha Boosts Efficiency, Capacity with RFID

Published: March 25, 2024

The company has seen an increase in its productivity by leveraging RFID data that tracks work in progress.

One year after deploying RFID technology at its two production facilities, Yamaha G3 Boats has gained visibility into the production of its fishing and pontoon boats that enables higher throughput of its new vessels.

While the phased technology deployment is still underway, the latest expansion is to include use of RFID Work-in-Progress (WiP) data as to better time the kitting process of raw materials to be used in boat production.

The solution was deployed by Xemelgo with Levata, the company formerly known as Barcodes Inc, using readers and printers from Zebra Technologies. Today the company is tracking all the boats it produces—each is identified by an RFID tag and tracked using Xemelgo’s cloud-based Work-in-Process Tracking solution.

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Seven Year Plan for Growth

G3 Boats makes aluminum fishing boats as well as recreational pontoon boats. In 2023, the company began planning for growth in production. Its seven-year plan estimates a four-fold increase in pontoon production and almost 1.5X growth in the fishing boat line.

In order to prepare the production capacity to meet that growth, the company needed to improve efficiency at its two Missouri manufacturing plants as well as at its 35-acre yard where trailers are stored.

The company has been rolling out a solution leveraging RFID technology to bring greater visibility to what is taking place in its specialized and craftsman-style production process, said Larry Price, G3 Boats project manager. The goal was to gain transparency in production from sheet metal fabrication to final assembly.

The RFID deployment began in January 2023 with a preliminary proof of concept (PoC) in which the company installed an RFID starter kit consisting of an RFID printer, three mounted readers, and a handheld reader. Following that, the team, led by Price, launched into “Phase 1,” targeting both Pontoon and Base line (fishing) production areas.  G3 Boats’ maintenance team handled the in-house installation of RFID readers.

How it Works

G3 Boats—a finalist for the 18th annual RFID Journal Awards in the Best Manufacturing or IoT Implementation category—is using a Zebra UHF RFID printer to print the RFID labels and applying them to the paperwork for each new boat.

Zebra’s fixed RFID readers are in place at the Base line plant while SLS RFID Dock Door Portals, equipped with Zebra readers, track goods in and out of the facility. Integrated handheld RFID readers enable users to access data on the floor of both plants, and to pinpoint the exact location of any tagged item and conduct audits. Altogether, there are more than 40 readers in use.

As work orders are created, Xemelgo issues RFID label print commands through Zebra’s Browser Print application. The software company’s suite of cloud-based, Smart Manufacturing Solutions includes WiP tracking with a real-time floorplan map dashboard to visual department performance.

This provides automated location tracking and history for every work order, and production queues to simplify the task of prioritizing work on the shop floor.

Tracking Production at Each Station

In the Base Line Boat Production Plant, overhead readers automatically track movement into and out of stations for welding, finish, paint, final assembly start, and the end of final assembly. Once boats are completed, the paperwork is placed in bins with RFID antennas to complete the order and update their ERP system.

In the Pontoon Boat Production Plant, the reader antennas are installed under workstations to read the RFID tag for each boat as the paperwork arrives and tracks the time it spends at each station.

As boats move between facilities or complete production and move into the outdoor yard, they pass through the dock door portals where the tags are read again, said Price.

Redistributing Tasks for Pontoon Boat Building

G3 Boat’s team has gained a view of production operations with a live map dashboard that shows where boats in-process are, in real-time, with details on how each boat flows through production in both of their plants.

Price has been able to leverage that data to identify ways to re-assign tasks between stations for greater balance in the production process.

“If I can take 45 minutes out of one station and distribute it somewhere else, production can then be distributed more evenly across all of these stations,” he pointed out.

This efficiency has been extended to the sales team, whose members use the real-time dashboard showing boat location, to provide status updates to dealers or customers. In fact, based on reduction in time staff previously spent looking for boats in product, the company reported a reduction in 1,900 hours annually.

Phases Still Ahead

The latter phases of the G3 Boats RFID project are in their early stages of deployment. But Price predicts they will lead to more cost savings and production improvements.

Price offered that his team “chose to take a crawl, walk, run approach” when it came to RFID deployment. Company officials are looking ahead now to the run phase as Price sees more opportunity for inventory management as well as collection of sensor data that can be stored with each boat’s such as the temperature when it was being built.

In the outdoor storage yard, the company next month will begin the process of tagging its trailers in a 35-acre outdoor yard. They are adding laminated RFID tags to the tow eye of the boats as well.

Avoiding Bottlenecks

This will be followed by inventory management, tracking supplies and components needed in boat construction. Some of those items, Price said, may be RFID tagged by the component vendor in the future.

The kitting of goods to assembly lines in both plants can be informed based on RFID data coming from the production line—what the company calls the “pull signal.”

In the meantime, real-time process and cycle time data are expected to help the operations team increase their daily output at the pontoon site, especially, by understanding bottlenecks. This enhancement has the potential to immediately increase production by an additional several hundred boats per year.

Challenges Along the Way

While implementing their RFID solution, G3 Boats faced unique challenges due to the nature of their products and manufacturing environment. Working with sheet metal, for instance, posed a significant hurdle for RF transmission.

To address this, the teams from Levata and Xemelgo conducted on-site testing of RFID tags. They selected paper RFID tags equipped with long-range inlays. Because workers were unfamiliar with the process of automated information gathering (that results from the RFID system), the company made an effort to reduce worker interface with Xemelgo solutions, which has gained positive results as well since the system gathers data without requiring staff members to sign in.,

When it comes to tagging parts or boats themselves, the team chose strategic placement of the tag inside the boat’s hull, enabling the boat itself to reflect the radio signals into the tag, making them detectable by overhead readers.

Achieving ROI Objectives

Because there was limited technology in place before the RFID initiative, the G3 Boats team expanded their Wi-Fi network capabilities on the shop floor to help with handheld devices that transmit wirelessly.

Conducting a return on investment (ROI) analysis and coordinating with corporate teams ensured that each project phase was justified and aligned with the company’s overall ROI objectives, Price said.

As needs were identified and prioritized, collaboration with the Xemelgo team was key in co-creating additional software features to address the needs of the team interacting with Xemelgo daily.

“This comprehensive approach to tackling both technical and strategic challenges was pivotal in successfully integrating RFID technology into G3 Boats’ manufacturing processes,” said Price.

Key Takeaways:

  • Yamaha G3 Boats is boosting production by several hundred new vessels yearly with an RFID system that tracks work in progress.
  • With the RFID technology from Xemelgo, the company has been able to view bottlenecks and redistribute production tasks between stations to improve the flow.