Airbus Continues to Innovate

Last week, we reported that Airbus has appointed Carlo K. Nizam to lead its efforts to digitalize analog (or physical) business processes across the Airbus Group, which includes Airbus Commercial Aircraft, Airbus Helicopter and Airbus Defense & Space (see Carlo Nizam to Lead ICT Digital Transformation at Airbus Group). This is a brilliant move that will help the Toulouse-based aerospace company continue to boost efficiencies and profitability.

Nizam, of course, has been the head of Airbus’ RFID efforts for the past seven years. I’ve always been impressed with his leadership and the approach he’s taken toward RFID within Airbus. First, all RFID projects are executed on a common information technology platform. Individual divisions cannot go out and deploy a system that is incompatible with the RFID hardware and software used in other parts of the company. This lowers the total cost of ownership and ensures interoperability across the group.

Second, Airbus has not tried to boil the ocean. That is, it has not attempted to deploy RFID in all parts of in business within a short period of time. Instead, Nizam developed a series of return-on-investment (ROI) calculators. Each project is evaluated and prioritized based on the benefits it will bring to the company, so that projects can be executed in a systematic way.

Third, successful projects are replicated in other parts of the company. So after the firm proved the value of using an active RFID solution to track component assemblies for the A400M military transport aircraft, it deployed the same system at its facilities for building the A380 and other commercial aircraft. In this way, it is building an enterprise-wide RFID architecture piece by piece, ensuring that each part of the whole solution works before expanding it.

What Airbus has learned from its many successful deployments is that RFID can be used to capture data that allows managers to measure the amount of time needed for various tasks. Since Airbus can now measure productivity, it can compare how long it takes to complete the same tasks—receiving a shipment of parts or assembling subcomponents, for example—and to optimize the process to ensure that all facilities are as efficient as possible.

This is what the company means by the digitalization of analog processes. By capturing information about the movements of jigs, tools, parts, subassemblies and other items within the factory, Airbus can create a digital version of the physical reality and measure everything that’s going on so it can be improved.

Nizam’s business background and his experience with RFID make him the perfect person to lead this effort. He was the company’s head of supply chain operations when he began focusing on RFID, and he is a visionary—but not a starry-eyed visionary who thinks new technologies are the solutions to all old business problems. He sees RFID, sensors and other technologies as tools to collect data that could not be captured before. This information can then be aggregated and analyzed to determine the most efficient way to tackle specific tasks.

By appointing Nizam to head its digitalization efforts, Airbus is making a statement that it intends to keep pressing forward in using RFID and other technologies to become leaner, more efficient and more profitable. While many other companies are still trying to figure out how RFID can help them, Airbus is taking manufacturing into the 21st century.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.