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Vector Aerospace Tracks Engine Maintenance via EPC RFID

At its Canadian facility, Vector Aerospace Engine Services - Atlantic is using a solution from IDBlue to gain visibility of aircraft engine components as they pass through different departments for repair.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 17, 2010When aircraft engines arrive at Vector Aerospace Engine Services—Atlantic (VAESA) for repairs or maintenance, each component could undergo a complex route that includes cleaning, inspection and repair, with the work taking place on as many as a dozen different machines and stations. Tracking every component is absolutely critical; if any one of them is missing, delays can result, caused by manual searches for that item and its order paperwork.

VAESA had been seeking an RFID-based solution for more than a year, and is now in the completion stages of a six-month pilot of a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) solution provided by IDBlue, an RFID technology firm based in St. John's, Newfoundland. Having proven to itself that the solution works, and that it yields 100 percent tag read rates, the company is now planning the installation of a permanent system, in order to track engine components by means of fixed reader portals, desktop interrogators at workstations, and EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags affixed to equipment paperwork.

VAESA's facility in Slemon Park, Prince Edward Island, services three types of aircraft engines that typically need to be disassembled, with components going through a variety of processes. The company prints routing paperwork for each component, listing such details as its part number, its repair work order number and its serial number (if applicable), as well as engine-specific details, such as the module serial number and order task.

"The opportunity for improvement we were seeking with RFID was real-time visibility for each component," says Jonathon Bonnell, VAESA's process-development engineer and overall RFID implementation project manager. Most engines have 80 repairable components, he explains, and are transported on carts throughout the facility's multiple departments, as well as the multiple workstations within those departments. If a component needs to be located, it can require staff members to walk through the departments searching for paperwork matching the item in question.

To test the effectiveness of an RFID system, Vector began with a pilot to track three engine components to and from the machine shop at which much of the repair work is performed, and to the kitting area where the components wait in storage until all are ready for re-inspection and reassembly into the engine. In this way, Bonnell says, he could see at what time each tracked item went into repair, as well as when it came out of that area and when it entered storage.

The system consists of two Alien Technology portal readers installed in a hallway leading into the machine shop, along with another in a hallway connecting to the kitting area. The company also installed several desktop readers in the machine shop at specific workstations, says Jeff Brown, IDBlue's VP of services, so that management could have visibility into when each component arrived at a specific station for service, such as grinding or other repair work. The IDBlue asset-tracking software was installed as a standalone system to receive data from the reads. The software links the information with each item's description, and presents that data to the managers so that they can detect each component's status.

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