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ATA Approves RFID Data Structures for Spec 2000

The agreement paves the way for parts suppliers, airplane manufacturers, airlines and maintenance companies to adopt radio frequency identification to track parts.
By Mark Roberti
Jun 15, 2009The Air Transport Association (ATA), the United States' airline trade association, will publish an update this month to Spec 2000 that covers the data to be included regarding automatic data-capture devices, including radio frequency identification tags, as well as the structure of that information. The publication of the enhancements to Spec 2000—a comprehensive set of e-business specifications, products and services designed to enhance supply chain efficiencies—represents a step forward as the industry seeks to employ RFID to track airplane parts throughout their life cycle.

Spec 2000 began in the 1970s as a specification for sharing electronic data interchange (EDI) messages for parts orders between airlines and manufacturers. In the 1990s, the specification was expanded to include a standard for using bar codes to identify and track parts, with RFID added in 2004 as another means of parts identification. ATA has been working since then to form a consensus among aircraft manufacturers, parts suppliers, airlines and maintenance organizations regarding which data should be stored on RFID tags so that it can be shared.

ATA has approved a data structure regarding what information should be stored on tags used on parts. For high-memory tags (which will hold 64 kilobytes of data), there will be information on each part's "birth record"—that is, a code indicating the company that made it, as well as the part's date of manufacture, country of origin, part number and serial number. High-memory tags will also have "current data" about the items to which they are attached. If a part has been refurbished, or had new software added, for instance, that information would be stored on the tag. In addition, there will be an open area of the tag's memory for users to add whatever information they like, such as notes by a mechanic who serviced the parts. When low-memory tags are used, they would be encoded with just the birth record and possibly limited, current information.

Because ATA strives to remain technology-neutral, the revised RFID standard does not specify which RFID protocol companies should utilize, though it does indicate that passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags based on the ISO 18000-6C standard are preferred. Passive high-frequency (HF) tags (Spec 2000 does not designate a particular air-interface protocol) can be employed for certain unspecified applications, and the same data structures could be used for other auto-ID technologies, such as contact memory buttons. The standard requires that the part's existing serial number be written to the RFID tag's user memory.

However, the standard does not specify a method for sharing data. Based on the current version of Spec 2000, a company that performed maintenance on a part would be identified on the tag, and a supply chain partner seeking additional information would have to contact that company directly. The committee that drafted the specification did consider the Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS) standard—a set of standards and protocols for sharing Electronic Product Code (EPC) data over the Internet—but some ATA member companies felt an EPCIS-based system would not be a cost-effective means of sharing data in the near term.

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