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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

To inspect a plane, an employee launches the software on the handheld reader, and begins with a screen displaying a list of all oxygen generators installed in panels above the aircraft's seats. As the tags are interrogated, the list is depopulated, so that all a user sees are the exceptions (missing or expired generators). The read distance, Lewis noted, is 10 to 20 feet.

Thanks to RFID, Lewis said, for a two-aisle Boeing 777 plane, it now takes personnel 45 seconds to check the expiration dates of all oxygen generators—which is the amount of time required for a worker to walk down one aisle of the aircraft, from cockpit to rear galley. A smaller, single-aisle aircraft can be checked within 30 seconds. William Frick and Co. custom-designed the labels, which are made with Alien Technology Squiggle inlays, says David Trebacz, the company's marketing director, because they must meet specific environmental tests regarding flammability and tolerance for temperature extremes, humidity and vibration. William Frick & Co. custom-designed the RFID labels, which utilize an Alien Squiggle inlay layered with highly engineered specialized components, notes Jeff Brandt, Frick's president. In addition to engineering and manufacturing the label, Frick developed a unique process to generate the industry-standard EPC and Spec2000 data pre-encoded onto each label's RFID chip.

It now takes a Delta worker carrying a handheld Motorola reader only 45 seconds to check the expiration dates of all oxygen generators on a Boeing 777 plane, by walking down one aisle of the aircraft.

The RFID AeroCheck software interprets read data and links the tag's ID number with the equipment type and other details, including the expiration date. The software not only resides on the handheld, but also runs on the airline's back-end server. The software is designed to track up to 32 types of equipment. Each tag is linked not only to the object's description, but also to its location, such as its seat number.

The RFID system was taken live in 2011, with the tagging of oxygen generators on specific Boeing 757 planes at Delta Air Lines' TechOps site in Atlanta. Delta is currently developing maintenance procedures for the application of RFID tags on a variety of items other than generators. As the applications for RFID technology in aviation grow, Lewis said, appropriate tags will be developed for a wide variety of assets that the firm is not presently tagging.

Currently, the process of applying RFID tags to parts is being carried out by Delta employees. But as a growing number of suppliers begin tagging parts prior to shipping them to Delta, the airline company could use some of those existing tags rather than applying their own. To date, Lewis says, using RFID to check oxygen generator expiration dates has reduced labor time by 98 percent. Delta has thus far tagged all generators on 87 of its Boeing 757 aircraft (resulting in a deployment total of more than 6,000 tags), as well as on 13 of its Boeing 777 aircraft (for a total of 2,100 tags).

In the future, Delta plans to test tags intended for use on life vests, oxygen masks, aircraft manuals, escape slides and other types of equipment that must be checked for presence and expiration date status.

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