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Airbus to RFID-Tag and Track All Parts Made In-House
The initiative will use new hybrid RFID Integrated Nameplates created by Brady, Tego and Fujitsu.
In 2010, Airbus began attaching passive EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags, including those supplied by MAINtag, to 3,000 parts per plane, with 700 different part numbers—all parts that were repairable—for its A350 XWB aircraft (see Airbus Signs Contract for High-Memory RFID Tags), and those tagged parts have been flying for quite some time. That part-marking system is designed to benefit everybody, Nizam said, particularly the airlines and Airbus.
Last year, the firm expanded its parts-tagging program beyond the A350 XWB, to seats and life vests across other aircraft, for a total of 160,000 tags annually (see Airbus Expands RFID Part Marking Across All of Its Aircraft Families). This enabled the company to save time and money, by reducing inventory count time and increasing accuracy. It would typically take employees 18 hours to conduct inventory counts of life vests and seats for an aircraft, whereas that process now takes only 26 minutes to complete. That system is fully deployed on the A340 and A350 planes, and is slated to be expanded to the company's Chinese assembly line in mid-2014, and then to an assembly line in Mobile, Ala., by the end of the year. The third phase of this project will involve the tagging of other parts beyond seats and life vests, and across Airbus' entire product family. Other plans with supply chain partners are still in the works, Nizam said.
As part of its RFID expansion efforts, Airbus is adopting RFID Integrated Nameplates to enhance the traceability of aircraft parts that it produces and uses internally. The RFID Integrated Nameplates combine the functionality of a conventional nameplate with printed text and an RFID tag, into what the firm describes as a single "compact, durable and lightweight hybrid device." Brady Corp. and Tego Inc. jointly developed a version of the RFID Integrated Nameplate—a flexible RFID label made with Tego's TegoChip tag. Designed for attachment to both metal and non-metal parts, the Brady-Tego nameplate is capable of being printed and encoded with ATA-compliant data records and bar codes at the time of use. In addition, Airbus announced it had also picked Fujitsu to supply RFID nameplates. Airbus now intends to expand its tagging efforts for all parts produced internally, Nizam said, and expects to be fully live with that effort by the end of this year. He declined to indicate how many tags would be used. Airbus will also utilize the nameplates on certain parts made and supplied by outside companies.
Regarding external parts, some suppliers are already using RFID technology to enable the tracking of goods through logistics and distribution to Airbus' manufacturing sites, through assembly lines and to the airlines operating those aircraft. "We're part of a bigger industry—it is no longer just Airbus," Nizam stated. "We have colleagues with dedicated RFID teams. Many airlines are proactively involved in RFID."
Ultimately, Nizam said, the use of RFID reduces the cost of aircraft production and maintenance, by speeding up processes and improving productivity. "It helps us reduce the cost of producing our aircraft," he said.
What's more, Nizam noted, the technology allows Airbus to set alert parameters in the event of exceptions in a product's processing, and to monitor actual performance against targeted performance levels during manufacturing, thereby leading to a more competitive business process. "That's the real business case," he said.
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