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MAINtag Beefs Up Its RFID Offerings, to Meet Demands in Aerospace

The French company opened a division in the U.S., and is expanding its tag, reader and software portfolio to address the growing needs of the aerospace industry for tracking parts.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 28, 2012MAINtag, a French RFID technology firm focused on the aerospace industry, is releasing new additions to its FLYtag line of radio frequency identification tags designed to track parts on aircraft. These new tags, the company reports, are expected to meet the requirements for monitoring the maintenance and repair of aircraft parts within non-pressurized and interior cabin locations, as well as tracking the identities and expiration dates of life vests and seats. To help it meet an expected need by aerospace companies for its RFID tags, handheld readers and software, the company also opened an American division in October 2012, located in Atlanta, Ga.

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus was an early user of MAINtag's FLYtag and FLYtag nano tags, in 2010, as part of a pilot of RFID tags on parts for its A350 XWB aircraft, according to Alexis Beurdeley, the VP of MAINtag Americas. Since then, Airbus has announced that by next year, suppliers will be required to provide RFID tags on all life vests and seats supplied by the parts manufacturers for its new aircraft—namely, the A320, A330 and A380 models, which could amount to approximately 120,000 life vest tags and 40,000 seat tags annually (see Airbus Expands RFID Part Marking Across All of Its Aircraft Families). Additionally, MAINtag has provided more than 20,000 tags to suppliers of in-flight entertainment systems, hydraulic pumps, oxygen generators and other aircraft components.

The FLYtag skin, scheduled for release in early 2013, is flexible so that it can fit on curved surfaces.
"This is a very exciting time for us," Beurdeley says, with the use of RFID "being activated on all sides, from aircraft manufacturers to MROs to OEMs." In fact, there are four customer sectors for MAINtag: aircraft manufacturers, such as Airbus and other major aerospace companies throughout North and South America; maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) firms; airline operators; and parts suppliers. About 40 percent of those customers, he reports, are based in the United States, which has led to the opening of the firm's MAINtag Americas division.

The adoption of radio frequency identification in the air-transportation industry has been slow, in part due to the need to adhere to regulations regarding the technology's use on aircraft. RFID tags provide visibility into parts moving through the supply chain, as well as also through maintenance and inspection. However, aerospace standards must be met, in addition to unique aircraft manufacturers' requirements. The EPC Gen 2 standard for passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags has been accepted by the industry as the technology to be used worldwide for tracking aerospace parts in both pressurized and non-pressurized areas.

In addition to expanding its line of RFID tags, MAINtag has been releasing a series of other new products, including mobile and desktop readers, and a software platform known as FLYtag Manager. The company has been providing its low- and high-memory FLYtag products for Airbus and other customers since 2010. Low-memory tags, containing 1 or 2 kilobits of memory, are used to store an item's birth record (date of manufacture) and expiration date, and cost less than the high-memory versions. As such, they are best used on lower-value items, such as life vests. They also provide longer read ranges than high-memory tags.

The high-memory FLYtag (typically featuring 4 or 8 kilobytes of memory) can store information regarding a tag's servicing and inspection histories. Such tags are being utilized, for example, by airline companies and their MROs to store data about each service provided to an item to which a particular tag is affixed. The tag has about a 1-meter (3.3-foot) read range, and comes with a minimum of 500 bits of space known as the "ScratchPad," where data can either be written or removed—the electronic equivalent of "sticky" notes, according to MAINtag. The FLYtag is available in both the standard size (measuring 49 millimeters by 24 millimeters by 5.7 millimeters [1.9 inches by 0.9 inch by 0.2 inch]) and the nano version (measuring 14 millimeters [0.6 inch] in diameter by 5.3 millimeters [0.2 inch] in thickness).

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