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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

There are two RFID tags on each of the carousel's bins. One is located in the center to indicate the bin's unique ID number—and, thus, which parts should be loaded in it. The second is situated behind a shield in the back of the bin, so that its ID is captured only when most of the components have been removed, thereby indicating which parts must be replenished.

As the carousel turns, the bins circle past the reader and the bins' tags are interrogated, providing an update regarding replenishment requirements. Spectech software can then place orders, collect data for analytics and, if requested, issue alerts to authorized parties. With the app, certain individuals—such as the managers of an aircraft components manufacturer—can also view their company's parts-inventory count in real time.

Chris Osborne, Spectech's operations director
With either RFID solution—the storage carousel or the TagBin cabinet—the tags can also be read via a handheld unit if a customer prefers to save costs. In this case, Spectech typically uses Nordic ID readers, due to their durability. Spectech utilizes a wide variety of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags supplied by multiple vendors.

Throughout the years that it has spent deploying RFID solutions, Osborne says, Spectech has learned from the challenges of the past related to RF transmission in the presence of metal and moving parts. The company has modified the locations of tags and readers, and has also experimented with shielding to create the solutions it currently offers that not only read tags effectively within a carousel or cabinet, but also avoid receiving stray reads from tagged bins in other cabinets or carousels that may be located nearby. None of Spectech's customers that employ RFID technology were willing to speak to RFID Journal about their deployments.

Some of Spectech's customers still opt to use bar codes, since they are unable to achieve effective RFID reads within their particular environments (some carousels' bin-retrieval mechanisms and slides can interfere with RF transmission). For those who do deploy the RFID kanban system, however, Spectech is able to provide replenishment services more reliably and quickly, in order to ensure that parts never run out, which could potentially cause an assembly line to temporarily shut down.

The company expects to offer more RFID-based solutions in the future for the aerospace industry, in which Osborne sees as having an underrepresentation of RFID technology. Spectech's current offering, he says, "just scratches the surface of what RFID could do for aerospace." He adds that, with its new location in the United States, his company expects to increase its clientele for its RFID-based functionality—and for its parts-management solutions.

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