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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
Using RFID was essential to the project and provided a more reliable and useful way to operate the maintenance system than bar codes would have, according to Fraport. Not only are the tags able to record and store specific data, such as the date an item was last checked, but they also provide a way to identify objects that can be difficult to access. Bar codes, on the other hand, require an unobstructed line of sight read with a reader. Another problem with bar codes is that they can be forged easily by an engineer looking to shirk doing the work assign to him, whereas the tags require the presence of an engineer to confirm any visit or work carried out.

"The read range of the tags is just a few inches, so an engineer has to have been to the location to register any work," says Jochen Bonne, solutions manager for SAP's EMEA central region (Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). The group worked closely with Fraport on the project. Bar codes are easy to copy or photocopy, Bonne explains, giving engineers the opportunity to fake a visit to a service item. With RFID, such fraudulent behavior is much harder to pull off.

The self-adhesive RFID labels used in the deployment were supplied by Schreiner LogiData (SL), which developed them specifically to withstand heat and operate on metal surfaces. The labels combine two existing SL products: the ((rfid))-Plasto-Label, which offers heat protection, and the ((rfid))-onMetal-Label, which can be applied directly to metallic surfaces. Operating at 13.56 MHz and conforming to ISO 15693, each tag has 128 kilobytes of memory. So far, Fraport's application uses 72 kilobytes of that memory to store a unique serial number, as well as the equipment number determined by the SAP management application, the date of the last maintenance work carried out and the start and finish time of that work.

The tags also have two bar code labels on them. As such, when a tag is first placed on an item, the engineer peels off one of the adhesive bar code labels and sticks it to a paper worksheet. Once the label has been scanned back at the maintenance office along with the existing technical number for that item, the RFID tag's serial number is logged by the system as describing the same item.

The initial deployment used Psion Teklogix handheld computers. However, an upgrade to Fraport's SAP system—from SAP Mobile Asset Management application version 1.0 to Mobile Asset Management version 2.5—resulted in swapping out the earlier handheld computers with new units from German manufacturer OMC. Fraport currently uses 30 of OMC's CaCom mobile PCs fitted with RFID readers, with another 30 handheld computers set to go into service this month. By the end of the year, nearly 100 will be in operation.

In addition to reading and updating the data on each tag, the computers had to be able to exchange information with the existing SAP management application so field engineers and the central application could have the latest information.

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