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Meggitt Polymers & Composites Uses RFID to Track Aircraft Components, Materials

The company's San Diego plant is employing a GlobeRanger RFID- and sensor-based solution to track the work-in-progress of engine components, and plans to use the system to automate mold press settings.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 16, 2016

Meggitt Polymers & Composites (MPC)'s manufacturing plant in San Diego is taking the next step in a radio frequency identification and Internet of Things implementation that employs sensor and RFID data to gain visibility into the company's work-in-progress (WIP) and the condition of the carbon-fiber composite materials it uses during manufacturing. The factory has spent more than a year using RFID to track the movements of one of the products it manufactures to the point of shipping. It now intends to expand its RFID deployment to monitor the out-time and aging of temperature-sensitive raw materials prior to their being heated and pressed during the component manufacturing process. The company initially used the technology to track the production of one type of aircraft component (known internally as a "value stream"), but it has now expanded to three, with more in the works, bringing the ultimate number closer to six.

The solution—involving ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology, as well as wired and Wi-Fi-based wireless temperature and humidity sensors—is provided by IoT platform company GlobeRanger.

At its two plants, MPC San Diego installed 18 Impinj R420 readers and antennas over doorways, as directional thresholds, on both sides of the doors.
MPC's San Diego plant makes carbon-fiber components for aircraft engines, including hot exhaust nozzles with aerodynamic features, in addition to missile airframe components. Altogether, it manufactures approximately 17 different products. The plant produces about 3,000 pieces for customers each month, says Daron Giles, the site's management information system (MIS) manager, and each piece is high-value and labor-intensive. There are dozens of workstations that products pass, and each unique product has its own series of stations through which it must through before it is completed and shipped to a customer.

One of the plant's customers, a manufacturer of engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jet, had requested that MPC San Diego provide a weekly WIP report regarding its ordered components, in order to ensure that the delivery requirements would be met. The part counts required for this report were time-consuming to perform manually. MPC San Diego also sought a better sense of its work-in-progress, and a way to make the tracking of each part as it moved through the complex manufacturing process more automatic.

The company began conducting extensive research into RFID technology several years ago, Giles says, including reading RFID Journal articles and speaking with RFID vendors. From a list of Impinj's partner suppliers, it selected GlobeRanger. "I was attracted to the maturity of their offering," he explains, "and they offered a largely commercial off-the-shelf system (COTS) with which they could build the application we required. My experience is that commercial off-the-shelf offerings give you the benefit of previous user learnings." By opting for such a system, Giles notes, MPC San Diego would be able to save time and costs that would otherwise be required to build a custom solution from the ground up.

GlobeRanger began working to customize its iMotion system to meet MPC San Diego's needs for the application, according to Mark Brown, GlobeRanger's business-development director.

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