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Asco Tracks Component-Building Tools Via RFID

An EPC Gen 2 system provided by Zetes-RFIDea enables the aircraft-components manufacturer to more easily track the location and maintenance of its machining tools.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 02, 2011Belgian aircraft parts manufacturer Asco Industries is employing an RFID-based solution to manage 2,000 large machining tools, known as fixtures, at its facility in Brussels. Since the system went live in June of this year, the company reports that it has reduced the amount of time its employees spend locating the large fixtures within its seven-building campus, from weeks down to hours. The system enables the firm to know in which building each tool is located; in that way, the tools can be quickly located for audits, when required by specific machining stations, or for maintenance or repair. The entire solution was provided by Zetes Corp.'s RFIDea division.

Asco produces high-precision steel and titanium components used by the aircraft industry. The production of these parts requires the use of specialized machining tools, to which a piece of metal is affixed before being cut to form a component. Each part for every type of aircraft requires a unique fixture so that it can be cut properly for a specific customer. Asco makes the fixtures at its facility, and in some cases, the fixtures are created to meet the requirements of a particular customer. The resulting machining tools then belong to that specific customer, rather than to Asco. In such a scenario, the customer might occasionally want to conduct an audit of its fixtures, and ensure that they are being properly maintained. This can take a month for Asco (or the customer's own staff) to locate each fixture and view several different electronic records—for example, one managed by the maintenance department, and another by the audit department.

Jerome Coulon, Zetes-RFIDea's sales and project manager
The solution consisted of RFID tags attached to each fixture, a fixed reader at each of the seven buildings, and handheld interrogators that staff members or customers can utilize to retrieve information regarding a particular fixture when standing near it, simply by reading its tag. Zetes-RFIDea provided the hardware, as well as the software that manages the readers, filters read data, and forwards that information to a new fixture-management software system developed by Asco. The fixture-management application resides on Asco enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, managing all data related to the fixture, including its location and maintenance status.

The challenge, says Jerome Coulon, Zetes-RFIDea's sales and project manager, was in finding RFID hardware that could perform reliably within the RF-unfriendly environment found at Asco's plant. The tags would need to be screwed onto the stainless steel or titanium fixtures, he explains, and would be surrounded by other metal objects, as well as subjected to the spattering of metal filings and cutting oil. Zetes-RFIDea needed to test 10 different EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags, three fixed readers and two handheld interrogators. Most did not operate as needed within that environment, with the exception of the hardware ultimately selected: Omni-ID's Max tag, which featured a rigid acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) case and an IP rating of 68; Siemens' Simatic RF670R fixed reader; and Motorola Solutions' MC9090-G handheld device. With the Omni-ID tags and Siemens readers, Asco can now read tags located up to 5 meters (16.4 feet) away.

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