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Boeing Approves Intelleflex Chip, Weighs Higher-Memory Fujitsu Tag

With the silicon needed for a 64-kilobit parts tag finally ready, the company is getting closer to achieving its vision for a parts-tagged plane.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 14, 2008Though dogged by delays, Boeing's initiative to employ passive RFID tags to track the maintenance and repair history of parts for its upcoming Dreamliner 787 family of airplanes may be ready for takeoff by mid-2008, according to Ken Porad, program manager of the automatic-identification program at Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group.

In December, Porad says, the company tested the latest samples of an integrated circuit manufactured by Intelleflex, a semiconductor company based in Santa Clara, Calif. The results, he explains, show that the chips meet the memory and performance requirements Boeing set forth in an April 2006 agreement with the firm. Under the terms of that contract, Intelleflex agreed to produce a chip for an EPC Gen 2-compliant passive RFID tag with 64 kilobits of memory (see Boeing Selects Chipmaker for Parts Tags). The chip prototype, according to Porad, is the fourth Intelleflex presented to Boeing; the first three had unspecified problems, delaying progress by more than a year.

Though the chip design has been finalized, Porad says many other hurdles must still be cleared before suppliers can begin tagging Dreamliner parts. First, he must demonstrate to his superiors at Boeing that passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology is "at an acceptable level of maturity." He then intends to conduct a test to show that "the Boeing production system can accommodate RFID-tagged parts without disruption."

This, Porad says, will entail tagging a selected part, then sending the tagged part through production, from the point of receipt at a Boeing production facility, through quality-assurance testing and the build cycle, after which the tagged part will be integrated into the body of a plane. Since Porad hopes to conduct this test during the second quarter of this year—after tag converters build the Intelleflex chip into sample RFID tags designed for parts-tagging—he says it will likely be conducted on a 777 airplane, since the Dreamliner will not yet be in production at that time.

If the test shows that the tag does not negatively impact the production process, the next step will be for Boeing to issue specific directives to its suppliers. "The directive will say what is to be tagged, and by when," Porad says, "and how much memory each part tag needs." In October 2005, when Boeing first stated its intention to begin using RFID tags attached to Dreamliner parts as a means of tracking their lifecycle history, the company said it wanted suppliers to apply passive UHF tags capable of holding 64 kilobytes of memory to parts. However, no such tags existed.

USER COMMENTS

Carol Balkcom 2008-01-17 11:50:32 AM
January 14 article on Boeing, Intelleflex UHF tag Mary Catherine O'Connor's article of 1/14/08 on Boeing and its adoption of the Intelleflex 64 kilobit tag is really excellent. It's well written, explains the ramifications of the various chip options, and is a keeper for the files--or one of those articles to distribute to those who would benefit from some clear information about RFID and its uses.

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