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Global Aviation Maintenance Company Tracks Tools via RFID

The system makes it easier for the firm to account for every tool, helping to eliminate the possibility of foreign object damage, and to manage the maintenance of the tools themselves.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 05, 2014

A global aviation maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) company is using an RFID-based system from Italian IT services firm NG Way to ensure that tools employed for aircraft maintenance remain visible in the tool-management system, whether in storage or in use. While the misplacing of a tool is a rare occurrence, it can also be an expensive one, causing aircraft maintenance to be delayed for days or weeks until the missing asset can be found. That's because a loose object of any kind, located somewhere within the aircraft itself, can result in damage due to foreign object debris (FOD). NG Way's solution keeps the tools visible, thanks to ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags from Xerafy and readers manufactured by CAEN RFID.

The aviation MRO service company, which has asked to remain unnamed, operates 12 facilities throughout Europe and the United States, and is initially using the system at one of those sites, in Switzerland, in order to ensure that tools are always accounted for. FOD damage can result when a worker walks away from tools or other foreign objects that then remain within an aircraft following assembly or maintenance. Though incidents of FOD damage are extremely rare, the resultant cost can be enormous. According to an article published by Boeing in 1998, it can cost more than $1 million to repair an engine following FOD damage. But simply the possibility of such damage can be expensive—every day that work on an aircraft is delayed as personnel search for a missing tool can cost tens of thousands of dollars for both the aircraft company and the MRO service firm.

The MRO uses NG Way's ToolsCheck software to track tools and tasks assigned to each worker, including the maintenance of those tools.
One way to prevent this from happening, the company reports, is to have each worker manually count all items in his or her tool case, to ensure that none are missing. If a tool has gone astray, no matter how small, then it must be located before the project can be completed. The search can prove especially challenging in situations in which a tool has been removed from one case and accidentally returned to another.

To add visibility to the process, the MRO company implemented a pilot of NG Way's RFID-enabled tool-management system. The NG Way solution is designed to not only ensure that tools do not end up missing, but also enable managers to learn which tools have been issued to specific workers, as well as how often they have been used and for what purpose. This data helps managers determine when maintenance or repairs are due, a record of which can also be stored in the NG Way software. By tracking tool usage, maintenance and repair data, a company can ensure that no tool is used during aircraft maintenance if, for instance, that item is due for calibration.

A Xerafy RFID tag, shown here attached near a screwdriver's plastic handle, was attached to the surface of each tool.
The MRO facility in Switzerland began piloting the solution during the last quarter of 2013. It attached Xerafy's XS series Dot-On and Dash-On passive EPC Gen 2 UHF tags to 276 tools, such as hammers, screwdrivers, pliers and socket wrenches, of a variety of sizes—all stored in a tool crib onsite, explains Moreno Poli, NG Way's CEO.

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