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Boeing Deploys RFID In-House for Assembly Management

The company is using Fujitsu's new RFID Integrated Label to track up to 7,000 different components built into aircraft at four Boeing factory sites.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 11, 2017

Global aerospace company Boeing has deployed a radio frequency identification system for internal manufacturing purposes at four facilities since 2016, using recently released RFID labels from Fujitsu. Boeing's deployment of Fujitsu's RFID Integrated Label is consistent with the aircraft company's use of passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology for its own purposes, as well as those of airlines.

In 2012, Boeing first began working with Fujitsu to launch a system to tag components with RFID tags so that airlines, maintenance workers and inspectors could read and write data about each part's history as it is used, inspected or repaired. In the meantime, Boeing has been using the same technology this year to improve its aircraft manufacturing productivity by tracking flyable parts during the final stages, such as assembly and inspection of aircrafts, as well as for shipping to a customer. The in-house solution provides component lifecycle management during assembly, thereby helping the company to reduce the costs of tracking components. Boeing is also considering an expansion of the technology to include the tracking of parts when they are received and as they move around the facility prior to assembly.

At the same time, Fujitsu is sending starter kits to component suppliers so that it can encode tags and apply them to its components before they are shipped to Boeing, or to French-based aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

At the four Boeing assembly sites at which the technology is deployed internally, the company is tagging some parts as part of a phased initiative to manage the movement of aircraft parts internally, explains John Yu, Boeing's senior manager for automated identification. The firm acquired Fujitsu's solution for tagging, encoding and reading RFID tags on parts. Over time, additional components are expected to arrive at Boeing's assembly sites with RFID tags already applied.

Before the RFID system's deployment, Boeing explains, the management of parts during assembly was a matter of performing visual checks and manually entering data in order to confirm where specific parts were located and in which assembly they were used. With RFID, assembly-site workers can capture the tag ID numbers using handheld readers. Tags are applied and encoded using the Fujitsu printers and tags, and a unique ID number, along with related information pulled from Boeing's software, is written to each tag. The tags can then be read at various points during the assembly process.

Boeing staff members use Zebra Technologies MC9190 handheld readers to capture component data. Although Fujitsu provides handheld readers to its customers as part of its solution, Boeing already had the UHF RFID readers on hand.

Boeing or its suppliers attach the RFID labels to approximately 7,000 aircraft components that are built into a single plane. The company utilizes Aircraft Readiness Log (ARL) software that tracks the status of the components and their assembly into each aircraft. By incorporating RFID data from the Fujitsu software, Boeing can use the system to ensure the components' traceability.

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