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Aerospace Contractor Using RFID to Enable Just-in-Time Manufacturing

Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing is transforming its processes using a lean manufacturing and Six Sigma model, and wants to use RFID to power those changes.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 09, 2007Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing (KMM), a contract manufacturer based in Killdeer, N.D., is a family-owned business with 300 employees. KMM is one of thousands of small-to-midsize businesses that produce the parts and assemblies Boeing uses to make aircraft for the U.S. Air Force.

Currently, Killdeer is in the process of overhauling its manufacturing processes, using Six Sigma and lean manufacturing practices as guidelines. Radio frequency identification, says KMM's vice president Dan Hedger, will play an important part in streamlining the company's manufacturing processes.

KMM is working with Microsoft and plans to deploy the beta version of the computer giant's BizTalk RFID middleware to link an RFID hardware infrastructure to the manufacturing resource management module that will be part of Microsoft's Dynamic GP (formerly Great Plains) business-management software. The company plans to work closely with Boeing to enable a just-in-time manufacturing process, allowing KMM's manufacturing schedule to closely match Boeing's parts-consumption schedule for military aircraft, eliminating excess inventory for both companies.

Hedger says KMM has architected a three-phase process for realizing its goals. The first phase, which it has already completed, consisted of establishing an architecture for linking Boeing's parts replenishment and ordering systems with KMM's order-management procedures, as well as automating both companies' shipping and receiving functions. This phase also consisted of small-scale tests involving the placement of passive RFID tags on shipments of products sent from KMM's manufacturing site to a Boeing facility, then using advance shipment notices to ensure that orders were complete and accurately tagged. The goal of the project's second phase, set to be completed in one year, is to establish an electronic data exchange system between Boeing and KMM that will not require manual inputs.

The third and final phase, says Hedger, will be "to take the system to its highest level, with one basic goal: "We'd like to have a good enough electronic data exchange so that we can match our fabrication process to Boeing's consumption," he says. In other words, KMM will not produce a product without knowing when Boeing will need it. In addition, RFID-tagged shipments should increase the speed and accuracy of both KMM's shipping processes and Boeing's receiving methods.

Today, says Hedger, "a lot of stuff sits on [inventory] shelves, both at our site and Boeing's. We want to get it down to the point where Boeing puts a request in, and we make the part. We'll wring a lot of our manufacturing cost out in the process [by only making what we sell]."

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