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Rockwell Collins Explores Ways to Benefit From RFID

The aviation electronic equipment provider is using the technology to automate entry of a part's shipping information, and plans to use tags to track the location and status of each unit on its production floor.
By Beth Bacheldor
Nov 03, 2011Rockwell Collins, a provider of communications and aviation electronics solutions, has implemented a radio frequency identification system to comply with the business requirements of Airbus, one of its key customers. But rather than chalking up the deployment to just another cost of doing business, the company reports that it is looking for—and finding—ways in which to improve its own operations, and ultimately benefit its bottom line.

Airbus has long been a proponent of RFID, and is requesting that suppliers building parts for its new A350 XWB wide-body aircraft tag those components with high-memory EPC Gen 2 RFID tags for maintenance-tracking purposes (see A Flurry of High-Memory Tags Take Flight). According to Airbus, each A350 aircraft will have 3,000 tagged parts, 2,000 of which will be fitted with high-memory RFID tags. The planes are expected to be put into service in 2013.

Rockwell Collins has been selected to provide a number of products for the A350 XWB aircraft, with the contract potentially valued at approximately $2.5 billion. The firm is contributing information management and navigation equipment, as well as its fully integrated communication global work package, avionics data network, landing-guidance systems and trimmable horizontal stabilizer actuator (THSA). Additionally, Rockwell Collins was selected to provide navigation system components consisting of its ADF-900 automatic direction finder, DME-2100 distance-measuring equipment and VOR-900 VHF omnidirectional radio receiver.

Not all parts will need to be tagged, however, says Todd Boyle, a material and process engineer in Rockwell Collins' Advanced Industrial Engineering division—only those that will be on board the aircraft, per Airbus' requirements. Some parts will be used on the ground, in order to support the aircraft.

Rockwell Collins began working in earnest on its RFID project about a year and a half ago, though Boyle says the company has known about the RFID initiatives from Airbus—and its chief competitor, Boeing—for several years. "The technology wasn't mature enough at the time," he states. Although RFID has been around for a long time, he says, there were several challenges that have made it difficult to implement in the aviation industry. The tags needed to be rugged enough to withstand extreme environmental conditions while in the air, and be able to record detailed information.

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