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Airbus Trials Showing Strong Results

The aircraft manufacturer has decided to permanently roll out an RFID application for tracking jigs, and has also launched other RFID pilots for tracking work orders and tools.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 16, 2008Airbus has decided to permanently roll out one of the many RFID applications it had been testing in recent months, says Carlo K. Nizam, the company's head of value-chain visibility and RFID. According to Nizam, Airbus has also begun two other RFID technology trials.

The RFID application the aircraft manufacturer is deploying tracks the location of the large metal frames, known as jigs, that it uses to transport large aircraft sections between a total of 13 manufacturing and assembly facilities. Workers employ a cargo loader to move a jig onto and out of a huge cargo aircraft, dubbed the Beluga because it resembles a whale.

To load parts onto the Beluga, workers use transport frames known as jigs.
Airbus launched a pilot program last year at an assembly plant in Hamburg, Germany, in which an RFID interrogator mounted on the cargo loader collects the unique identifier encoded to a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag attached to each jig (see Airbus' Grand Plans for RFID). In back-end software, the company associates the tag's identifier with the part or parts being delivered on the jig.

The system is intended to provide Airbus with quick access to the jigs' location, based on their most recent tag reads. Because each jig is designed to accommodate a specific airplane part, it needs be promptly unloaded and returned to the proper facility according to a tight manufacturing timetable. If not, Nizam says, the delay could negatively impact an aircraft's production schedule.

"In the past, the visibility of the jig locations was achieved though manual tracking processes such as walking out physically to a storage area to determine jig locations," Nizam says. "However, as we ramp up our production rates over the next few years, this was going to be more difficult. Consequently, as part of our continuous improvement activities, we were in interested assessing more streamlined ways of doing this."

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