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RFID Takes Wing at Composite Aircraft Components Plant

A U.S. aircraft parts manufacturer has adopted a solution from Xerafy and OATSystems to track composite materials and molds exposed to extreme temperatures during storage and production.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 14, 2012As the aerospace industry transitions from the use of metal to composite materials for its aircraft—in order to make planes lighter—component manufacturers must accommodate this change by working with composite materials that sometimes have short shelf lives and require both very hot and very cold conditions. The raw materials must be stored at freezing temperatures to prevent degradation, and must then be heated for curing after being molded into an aircraft wing or other component. Monitoring that process via radio frequency identification can be challenging, since RFID tags are not typically rugged enough to withstand temperatures of 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius) during curing, or freezing temperatures during storage.

OATSystems, in partnership with Xerafy, has developed a solution known as Extreme RFID, that employs Xerafy tags designed to withstand those temperatures, and thus can track these composite materials and the products made from them within the manufacturing facility. OATSystems' software enables a user to track the amount of time materials have been kept out of cold storage—and, in that way, to ascertain their remaining shelf life. One U.S. company that manufactures aircraft wings and some fuselage parts (which has asked to remain unnamed) has been utilizing the new system since autumn 2011, to track its components and the tooling used to mold them. Other aerospace firms are also now beginning to use the system, says Su Doyle, OATSystems' head of industry programs.

The OATSystems-Xerafy solution consists of several Xerafy tag models, including the MicroX II tags for items that must be tracking through high temperatures, as well as Oat Foundation Suite software for identifying a tag's location (along with a timestamp) from the moment that a material arrives at the site until a finished part leaves en route to a customer.

In the case of the manufacturer already using the solution, the RFID tags are being employed to track composite materials from when they are received until when they are placed in autoclaves for curing purposes. In the future, the company indicates it intends to use tags to track the materials through the curing process and throughout the remaining work-in-progress, until each finished component leaves the facility. In addition, the firm has begun applying Xerafy MicroX II tags to its tooling (the molds on which the composite materials are shaped prior to being cured) since the tooling—also composed of composite materials—is also exposed to high temperatures as parts are cured, and thus has its own limited shelf life.

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