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Airbus Guides EADS Divisions' RFID Adoption

Speaking at RFID Journal LIVE! 2013, managers from Eurocopter, Cassidian and Astrium explained how they are launching RTLS and passive RFID solutions based on learnings from Airbus, which is using the technology to track aircraft parts and tools.
By Claire Swedberg
May 01, 2013

RFID Journal kicked off its 11th annual RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition yesterday in Orlando, Fla., with presentations by the RFID managers at aircraft manufacturer Airbus, civil and military helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter, global security systems provider Cassidian and satellite and space equipment firm Astrium. The four companies—all divisions of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS)—have been deploying radio frequency identification technology throughout their locations worldwide, using a companywide model first developed by Airbus (see Airbus Leads the Way). The divisions have deployed the technology to track parts for helicopters, aircraft and satellites (as well as tools and other assets), in order to improve efficiency and reduce the amount of employee labor required to manufacture them.

The group included Haydar Alhas, Eurocopter's business-improvement manager; Jamil Khalil, Airbus' head of sourcing and EADS coordination; Claude Lorda, Astrium's head of industrial innovation; Carlo Nizam, Airbus' head of value chain visibility and RFID; and Eric Princelle, Cassidian's project manager.

Eurocopter's Haydar Alhas

Airbus began working with RFID to track components used to produce its aircraft in 2008. Following those efforts, EADS authorized its other divisions to begin creating their own RFID-based solutions, in large part leveraging Airbus' learning experiences. Khalil has served as a liaison between the EADS divisions, to help them create and deploy solutions utilizing a companywide model for the technology's use. The divisions have now launched solutions at multiple locations, involving both passive and active RFID tags.

For instance, Eurocopter has deployed active RFID tags that are attached to "large mechanical items" within its manufacturing facility, while it has also affixed passive tags to smaller items, such as helicopter parts (see Eurocopter Approves RFID System for Its Aircraft. In that way, Alhas says, the company is afforded location coverage for both large and small items, without needing to install RFID portals throughout the division's entire facility—something that might have been necessary to provide clear visibility of certain items within some areas of its plant, he notes, if only passive RFID technology had been used.

The goal, Alhas reports, "is to increase the efficiency of our processes," and to decrease customer wait times, by ensuring that goods are ready to ship more quickly. According to Alhas, Eurocopter meets with Airbus at least three times annually to review Eurocopter's RFID projects, and to determine other ways in which the technology could be deployed.

Airbus' Carlo Nizam

"There isn't just one solution to fit all use cases," Nizam states. While the systems are similar across the divisions, he says, a percentage of each project is unique to a particular division's needs at its specific location.

Astrium, which manufactures military and commercial satellites and related aerospace equipment, is employing active real-time location system (RTLS) technology to track large parts and equipment, as well as passive RFID for tools and other smaller assets. Tools are often shared among staff members, and the RFID technology ensures that they do not end up missing within the facility. In this case, RFID readers are installed at tool cribs, with tags attached to tools requiring calibration or maintenance. The company is also tagging some components, such as thermal insulating blankets, of which there are typically 300 to 500, with each now being tagged with a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag.

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