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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
Hedger says that one of the RFID applications KMM has tested involves using passive RFID smart cards, carried by workers, to instruct employees on how to manufacture goods. This should make the company's manufacturing process more efficient, reducing its cycle time. "Say you have a smart card that has your assembly process encoded to it," he explains. "You take some parts from a bin, and then use a smart card to call up the correct configuration for the part on a screen. This process would be repeated at each assembly station until you are done building the part."

Quality-control workers could also use smart cards as a means of certifying the quality of finished parts. Right now, says Hedger, this is a manual process that requires writing down part names and numbers in a logbook, along with each worker's name and ID number. These steps could be replaced by assigning the finished part with a serial number encoded either to a bar code or to an RFID tag attached to the part, then associating that data with the worker's name and ID, encoded to an identification card. The longer-term vision, he says, is to tag parts and assemblies as well, enabling real-time inventory visibility.

Hedger expects KMM to complete all three phases of its internal manufacturing and supply chain optimization work within two to three years. Once that goal has been achieved, the company would like to begin commercializing its efforts by offering a product called the Supply Chain Optimization Universal Toolkit (SCOUT) to other small or midsize original equipment manufacturers serving the defense/aerospace industry. This will allow these companies to begin streamlining their operations without having to start from scratch.

In developing the tool kit, KMM will work with Boeing and the U.S. Air Force Manufacturing Technology Division to design it specifically for defense/aerospace parts suppliers. RFID technology vendors Alien Technology and Maximum Data, a Michigan-based systems integrator KMM is using to deploy its RFID infrastructure, will also contribute products and services to the kit.

Eventually, the companies say they would like to develop similar tool kits for OEMs in other industries, such as automotive manufacturing. SCOUT, however, will not be available for a few more years, because KMM first plans to complete its in-house optimization work and collaboration with Boeing so it can reduce inventory levels. In addition, KMM needs to reach its Six Sigma manufacturing goals before releasing the tool kit, since it will contain best practices garnered from that process.

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