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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
"We were very happy with results of the Hamburg pilot," Nizam says, "so management gave approval to move forward" and deploy the technology permanently. This deployment will begin at the Hamburg location, then potentially expand to the 12 other facilities to which the Beluga delivers aircraft sections and subassemblies. Airbus is attaching tags from Intermec and Confidex to the jigs, as well as mounting EPC Gen 2 interrogators made by Feig Electronic to the cargo loaders.

According to Nizam, Airbus also recently launched two other RFID-based technology pilots. One trial is aimed at evaluating the use of RFID for tracking work orders, replacing a method that currently involves a combination of bar-code scanning and manual data entry. The company hopes using RFID can both help employees more quickly confirm each step in the process, and also make it easier to locate assembly parts and accompanying paperwork in storage in the event of production changes.

Carlo K. Nizam
Airbus is employing passive RFID Gen 2 hardware for the pilot, attaching the tags to the work order documents. The firm began the pilot early this year and plans to continue running it until mid-May. At that point, it will decide whether to deploy the system on a permanent basis. A second pilot, which commenced in January at an Airbus facility in Broughton, England, is a tool-tracking application. For this project, Airbus is employing a combination of passive RFID Gen 2 and active Wi-Fi real-time location technology.

"We are looking to see if RFID-enabled processes improve the handling of tools," Nizam says, citing three specific applications within tool tracking. One is an automated means of checking RFID-tagged tools into and out of a storage facility, intended to track the location of tools. Another application uses RFID tags attached to tools to locate the tools within a facility. And the third involves the use of RFID to track each tool's usage, to potentially improve its maintenance and calibration schedule.

Presently, Nizam explains, tools are put through maintenance and calibration steps based on a calendar, regardless of how often they are used. "One tool might be used 50 times in one month," he says, "and another tool [of the same type] might be used 100 times in that same month. If we know this information, then we can maintain and calibrate tools when they need it, rather than per a time basis, and this will save us time and money."

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