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Rolls-Royce Tests RFID's Potential to Drive Its Supply Chain

The U.K. engines manufacturer is exploring ways RFID might be used to improve its internal processes.
By Rhea Wessel
Nov 20, 2007Rolls-Royce, a manufacturer of gas turbines, engines and parts used in aircraft, ships and submarines worldwide, has been testing RFID for use in tracking its internal supply chain. Ultimately, the company hopes to determine whether the technology can be utilized across its entire operation, to cut costs and improve its logistics operations.

Headquartered in London, Rolls-Royce is exploring how RFID might help it refine the complicated processes it relies on to build and service engines and parts, says Andy Higginson, logistics service line manager at the company's defense aerospace division, and to make those processes easier to monitor. Specifically, the manufacturer is interested in documenting, in real time, aspects of its operations that could potentially hurt production. "RFID can show us where problems are in advance," Higginson explains, "to help us manage the problems."

Andy Higginson
To that end, the company has conducted a series of RFID trials, including an eight-week pilot that took place earlier in 2007, to track cases of parts moving between a warehouse in Bristol and a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Ansty. The MRO facility ships out 2,500 to 3,000 deliveries to customers each month.

A Rolls-Royce RFID project team first performed a technical assessment with help from IBM. "We were looking for the place where we could get the best bang for our buck," Higginson says, adding that the company wanted to define its information requirements so it would not be overwhelmed with data collected via RFID.

Once the information requirements were established, Rolls-Royce tested RFID hardware from six vendors—including nine passive and four active RFID tags and interrogators—at its facilities in Derby and Bristol, the headquarters of its defense aerospace division. Rolls-Royce preferred not to purchase equipment off the shelf without first testing it, or to hire a systems integrator. "This was about being on a journey to educate ourselves," he recalls.

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