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Meggitt Polymers & Composites Uses RFID to Track Aircraft Components, Materials

The company's San Diego plant is employing a GlobeRanger RFID- and sensor-based solution to track the work-in-progress of engine components, and plans to use the system to automate mold press settings.
By Claire Swedberg

MPC San Diego operates two facilities that total 70,000 square feet, including clean rooms and machine shops. Raw materials, in the form of a carbon-fiber material (combined with resins and adhesives), must remain cold until the material is heated and molded. The material is cut off the roll, after which the resulting kit is placed into a ziplock bag. To identify that kit, a paper document, known as a "production traveler," accompanies the kit as it moves from one station to the next. The kit moves through a series of workstations to be rough-trimmed, machined and inspected before a final product is shipped. Prior to the RFID installation, staff members wrote on the paper to record which employee performed which process, as well as when, and how long the material was out of the freezer.

For the RFID system, GlobeRanger and MPC San Diego installed 18 Impinj R420 readers (using power-over-Ethernet) and antennas, as a flat panel under workstations, above doors (as directional thresholds on both sides of the doors) and on ceilings, with an overhead antenna reading tags throughout an entire room. Readers were also installed at the entrances to two freezers, as well as at the press and heating machines, where components, placed inside molds, are formed. Each Impinj reader comes with four antenna ports, but in some cases, MPC San Diego has installed a multiplexer to enable as many as eight antennas to be used with a single reader.

A magnet fastens the production traveler paperwork to the side of an oven's or press' exterior, where an RFID reader can capture its tag ID.
Readers automatically capture data as each kit moves through the workstations, freezers, presses and ovens. A magnet is used to fasten the paperwork to the exterior side of an oven or press, so that an RFID reader can capture its tag ID number.

After the composite material leaves the oven and press, it is moved to the remolding area, where the resulting component is removed from the mold and its surfaces are sanded down (hand-finished). The process results in a great deal of dust, Giles explains, so the reader and antennas were installed high up on a pole.

If, at any time during the process, a piece is found to have a quality problem, it is relocated to a "quality clinic," where a material review board (MRB) team checks that item in and reviews it to assess the problem, identify the root cause and implement corrective actions. The RFID system tracks pieces as they move into and out of the MRB area, generating a dashboard view of the number of pieces in MRB, how long each part has remained with the board and each part's age. "This helps us achieve our goal to disposition [resolve] all MRB [issues] within 30 days of discovery of the non-conformance," Giles says.

At the shipping area, when an item is sent to a customer, the corresponding traveler paperwork is removed from the component and placed in a stationary box containing a built-in R420 reader. The reader captures the tag ID and forwards that information to the iMotion software, thereby updating the product's status as shipped. The application employs GlobeRanger software to capture and interpret read data, which is then sent to MPC San Diego's own enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

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