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Spectech Brings RFID Kanban System for Aerospace to the United States

The European company has opened an office in Seattle, and has also built a cloud-based solution and an iOS app that lets customers view inventory levels on their iPhone.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 14, 2015

European aerospace service provider Spectech has been offering radio frequency identification functionality as part of its parts-management solution to European companies for the past nine years. This summer, the company is opening a new office in Seattle to better access new North American customers. In addition, it has moved its solution to the cloud and has introduced an iOS app that lets customers check inventory levels and receive alerts if parts are running low, via their iPhone.

Spectech is a division of Stag Aerospace, which provides aviation parts for aircraft manufacturing and maintenance services to aerospace companies worldwide, typically to original equipment manufacturers that deliver subassemblies to the large aircraft makers. Spectech serves its customers by ordering required parts, tracking inventory levels and reordering components as they are needed, in order to ensure that assembly lines don't shut down due to running out of a specific part. The Spectech service also includes data analytics that help businesses understand how quickly their parts inventories are being turned over, and thus how quickly they need to have replacement parts on hand. In addition, says Chris Osborne, the firm's operations director, Spectech offers RFID solutions that function as simple but effective kanban systems.

The Spectech app enables aircraft component makers to view their company's parts-inventory count in real time.
One of those RFID-based solutions is TagBin, which consists of a two-drawer cabinet in which parts for assembly or maintenance are stored, with a trap door between the bottom and top drawers, as well as an RFID tag attached to that trap door's pull lever. Users remove an item required for assembly from the bottom drawer. Once that drawer is empty, they can then pull the lever for the trap door, which releases the top drawer's contents into the lower one, to be used as needed. The tag on the lever is covered with a copper mesh shield, so that it cannot be read until that lever is pulled. Once that happens, the tag is exposed and a reader installed near the TagBin captures the tag ID number and forwards it to the Spectech software on the cloud-based server via a cabled connection. That ID updates the bin's status as needing replenishment, and an order is automatically placed to restock the appropriate contents.

Spectech also offers another RFID option for companies that assemble aircraft components—such as engines or ventilation systems—composed of numerous small parts that are stored within vertical carousels that may hold 1,000 bins or more. When a part is needed, a user rotates the carousel by pressing a keypad on the front of the machine, so that the desired parts bin appears at the front. Knowing how many parts are in each bin and when each will need replenishment requires considerable manual labor, Osborne says, but the machine's inventory can be checked in a matter of minutes by means of RFID.

Spectech installs a fixed reader somewhere inside the machine—often in the center, or on the side or front—which does not turn with the carousel. The company typically uses Alien Technology readers customized for the installation, and connected to the back-end server via a cable. Spectech also works with other RFID reader vendors, Osborne says, and is developing a wireless reader that could be installed in a storage carousel to send data back to the cloud-based server via a Wi-Fi connection. However, no release date has yet been set.

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