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Turkish Technic Uses RFID, ZigBee and Other Auto-ID Technologies to Improve Efficiency

The system helps Turkish Airlines' maintenance, repair and overhaul division to identify and manage the movements of aircraft, components, tools, technicians and vehicles as the planes are serviced and maintained.
By Claire Swedberg

From the onset, Turkish Technic compiled a team of software developers, networking engineers, embedded systems developers, business analysts and business-process leads to develop optimal solutions. The team found that low-cost passive UHF RFID tags and handheld readers could track the locations of tools and inventory and flyable components. On the other hand, to manage the locations of moving individuals and vehicles in real time, it required active technology. Therefore, it chose to employ battery-powered sensors using the ZigBee protocol. "However," Hasekioglu says, "customizations and additions have been made in the routing and network layer protocols and localization algorithms."

ACARS and ADS-B radios are already built into each aircraft, which could be used to identify the locations and positions of airplanes onsite. This, the company explains, enables it to better manage its space, and to set up a servicing schedule around the planes' locations.

This engine carrier is among the pieces of equipment tracked via a ZigBee sensor (highlighted in green).
The individuals and assets that needed to be located could be outdoors, on aprons (paved areas, abutting the hangars and buildings, where planes are parked), or indoors, in maintenance hangars and shops.

For tools, the RFID technology needed to provide the company with data about the location and calibration of every item used for repairs. It also needed to know the location and maintenance history of each part it had onsite. To accomplish this goal, Turkish Technic has applied RFID tags from a variety of vendors in two memory levels—8 kilobytes and 64 kilobytes—to tools and emergency assets for use within plane cabins. The tags can store data written to them about servicing and maintenance, and that information is also stored in the back-end software. In addition, the company is using Maintag's Flytag to track aircraft components.

Altogether, Hasekioglu reports, approximately 5,000 tools and test equipment items have been fitted with passive UHF tags. Tools are stored in the company's tool shop when not in use. The shelves on which they are stored also have RFID tags attached to them. When a staff member puts a tool away or provides any servicing, such as calibration, he or she uses an ATID handheld RFID reader to interrogate the tag ID number of the tool, as well as that of the shelf label, thereby linking the tool's location to its own ID in the software. "The handhelds are used to update the inventory, typically at the end of each shift," he states. To perform inventory counts, a worker simply carries the handheld past the shelves and thereby updates data regarding each tool's location.

In a plane's cabin interior, life vests, oxygen generators and other emergency devices are also tagged with RFID tags. Moreover, technicians can employ the ATID handhelds to view the locations of those tagged items within a plane, for inventory checks and other purposes.

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