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Airbus Sheds Light on Its Ambitious RFID Program

Airbus was the featured presenter during a webinar yesterday that provided an inside look at the aircraft manufacturer's RFID deployment, which has become one of Europe's most high-profile. A wide variety of topics were covered, but this article provides the key takeaways.
May 01, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 1, 2008—Aircraft manufacturer Airbus was the featured presenter during a webinar yesterday hosted by the publication Managing Automation. The webinar provided an inside look at Airbus' RFID deployment, which has become one of Europe's most high-profile. In addition to featured presenter Carlo K. Nizam, the head of value chain visibility and RFID for Airbus, representatives from IBM and OATSystems were in attendance, as both companies recently announced their combined role in delivering an RFID software solution to power the deployment.

The hour-long webinar touched on a wide variety of topics, but following are the key takeaways from Nizam's featured presentation:

The Airbus RFID deployment is enterprise-wide. Airbus aims to weave RFID into every facet of its business and value chain, which is a far more ambitious and holistic approach than is common at this still-early stage of RFID adoption. Often RFID is implemented as a "point solution" to address one particular application. While there is nothing flawed in such an approach, Airbus believes that the benefits accrued by deploying it across multiple applications will compound, resulting in company-wide benefit that is greater than the sum of its parts. "Why limit the benefits to one particular business or area?" Nizam asked rhetorically. "We want to focus on the big picture and avoid a scattergun approach."

The deployment plan is sequenced into three releases. The scale of the RFID deployment is vast and, as such, broken down into more digestible stages, or "releases". The first release targets "quick wins", or applications that are the least complex and can be realized with off-the-shelf technology. Examples include supply chain tracking, warehouse logistics, and closed-loop asset tracking. The second release targets the more involved industrial processes such as internal transport, manufacturing tracking, production tool handling, and ground test tool handling. Releases 1 and 2 fall under the "non-flyable visibility" umbrella, in that they don't target applications that involve active, flying aircraft. The third and final release is "flyable visibility", which targets MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) and cargo tracking.

Each release has a well-defined scope and goals of improving existing business processes that spread benefit across the entire Airbus value chain.

ROI is strong across the board. Attendees to the webinar asked Nizam what sort of return on investment Airbus is realizing from its many applications. Nizam replied that all projects save one have realized ROI within a year; the exception achieved ROI in 18 months.

There are six lessons to learn from Airbus' progress to date. An attendee asked Nizam for the most important thing he could recommend to others embarking on RFID programs of large scale. Nizam didn't narrow it down to one, and instead provided a handful:
  1. Prepare for the long haul. The business process transformation that is at the heart of RFID's potential cannot be realized overnight.
  2. Treat RFID as a process-enabling technology that is driven by your business. It is not the destination itself; you should not pursue RFID for RFID's sake.
  3. Seek the support of senior management, and don't underestimate the role of senior-level sponsorship for your initiative, which can become invaluable when the going gets tough.
  4. Involve trading partners early on in the project.
  5. Focus on quick wins, those low-hanging-fruit applications where RFID can demonstrate immediate value. They will help you develop success stories that add momentum to the RFID project and raise awareness of the technology across your enterprise.
  6. Take the time to choose your partners well. It is a long journey, and you need to be working with the right players.
The full webinar is archived and available for viewing here.
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