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RFID Lands at Frankfurt Airport

After placing passive tags on such things as fire shutters, emergency lights and even passenger lounges, Fraport has significantly improved the productivity and accuracy of its maintenance operations.
By Jonathan Collins
Feb 06, 2005In November 2003, Fraport, the German company that owns and operates Frankfurt Airport, started testing RFID to help manage the airport's operations. Less than a year later, when its partner in the enterprise, ERP software giant SAP, publicized the success of the project, the deployment became a very public model for using RFID in facilities management.

Three years later, after installing many tens of thousands more RFID tags, the company has seen significant benefits from its use of RFID. However, it still has reservations about the limits of the technology's usefulness.

Ever since the tags' implementation, RFID has become integral to facilities management at Frankfurt Airport.

Fraport started testing RFID at the airport, one of the world's busiest, in an application to manage and document the federally mandated maintenance of fire shutters in its air-conditioning and heating ducts. Fire shutters within an HVAC system are designed to close automatically to keep fire and smoke from spreading through a building inside the ducts. Passive 13.56 MHz tags were added to individual fire shutters, and maintenance engineers used handheld computers equipped with RFID interrogators to identify each shutter and document any inspections, maintenance work and repairs.

The first phase of the deployment, carried out in 2003, consisted of tagging just 700 fire shutters. The following year, 2,000 more were fitted with tags. Currently, the number of tagged shutters is 22,000; by the end of this year, the program will have tagged all 50,000 within the 440-building Frankfurt Airport complex. In addition, parallel projects to tag fire doors, smoke detectors and emergency lights will result in 80,000 more tags being deployed at the airport by year's end.

RFID has become integral to facilities management at the airport. "We're not really working on RFID in terms of 'projects' anymore," says Werner Breitwieser, technical project manager at Fraport AG. "Now, RFID applications are simply part of doing business."

Fraport's facilities management division charges on-site airlines and service providers for the maintenance of the terminals, offices and other buildings across the airport. This division accounts for close to 25 percent of the company's nearly 2 billion euros in annual revenue. Nonetheless, the facilities management division will halt the expansion of its RFID tag deployment at the end of this year.

What's more, it has no plans to start tagging the remaining 100,000 or so pieces of equipment that had once been considered as a further extension of the project. Fraport says it is far from certain whether a sound business reason exists for using RFID on more of its equipment. "For now, we're focusing on safety-relevant maintenance applications," explains Breitwieser. "For others, the return on investment and the time it takes to set up the application is too long. We'll finish what we're working on, and then see what's next."

Even without further deployment, Fraport's use of RFID provides a clear example of how the technology can be used in a targeted way to increase productivity and accuracy. It also shows how a firm's RFID use can grow once it is familiar with the technology and has made the initial investment to deploy for a targeted application.

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