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RFID Reduces Oxygen-Generator Waste for Delta Air Lines

The company is attaching William Frick RFID labels to the generators, and using Motorola handheld readers and AeroCheck software to ensure the units don't expire and are not discarded prematurely.
By Claire Swedberg
May 13, 2013

Delta Air Lines is employing radio frequency identification technology to improve the visibility of oxygen generators installed within its aircraft, and thereby reduce the amount of waste associated with discarding generators, as well as the time required to check the devices' expiration dates. Each generator has a limited service life—typically, 12 to 15 years—part of which could be lost if products spent excessive time sitting on a shelf waiting to be installed on a plane. Prior to Delta's adoption of the RFID system, the company estimates that up to 15 percent of its generators' life span was wasted due to devices sitting in stock.

In addition, when the devices are installed in aircraft, they require regular inspections to ensure that they are not approaching an expiration date. This necessitates a large amount of labor on the part of staff members assigned to this task. Prior to the RFID system's adoption—when panels above seats had to be opened in order to perform oxygen generator date checks during certain maintenance visits—it made sense to replace every generator that would expire before the next series of inspections. That meant many generators were discarded prior to reaching their full shelf life, thereby creating an unpredictable inventory demand.

To date, Delta has attached a Frick custom-designed RFID label to every oxygen generator on 100 of its planes.

Rick Lewis, one of Delta's business analysts for aircraft maintenance, spent approximately a year researching solutions, as well as another year in development with the solution providers selected. In carrying out his research, Lewis not only examined the technology used, but also met with maintenance, IT, engineering and other departments within Delta, to determine the type of functionality required. He discussed his experiences during a breakout session at last month's RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 conference and exhibition, held in Orlando, Fla. (see Delta Air Lines Uses RFID in MRO and Security Operations).

According to Lewis, purchasing these items based on the average monthly stock balance did not reflect the actual demand from scheduled maintenance visits. The company sought to know when generators were close to expiring, so that they would not be removed and discarded prematurely, and also to reduce the incidence of "just-in-case" ordering resulting from not knowing the exact number of generators needed.

Delta Air Lines' Rick Lewis

In 2011, the company launched a trial using RFID software called RFID AeroCheck, designed by TechnologySolutions and provided by Aerospace Software Developments (ASD) Ltd. Custom-designed EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID labels supplied by William Frick and Co. were attached to oxygen generators on 10 Boeing 757 planes. Delta had determined that the process it had been employing to check expiration dates on oxygen generators required about eight man-hours on each plane, to physically read the manufacturing dates printed on the devices and then calculate each item's expiration date, based on that information. With a Motorola MC9090G handheld reader loaded with the RFID AeroCheck software listing each generator's tag ID and expiration date, a single worker can accomplish the same task within two minutes, the Lewis told that audience at LIVE! 2013.

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