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Eurocopter Approves RFID System for Its Aircraft

The aeronautical company has completed testing of STid's IronTag passive EPC Gen 2 tags and readers, designed to track the flight times of parts, and intends to install the solution on its Dauphin helicopters.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 28, 2012Eurocopter has finished testing new RFID tags and a reader module designed for the aeronautical industry that enables the tracking of flight times for individual aircraft parts. The company now plans to use the system to help it manage part maintenance aboard the helicopters it makes, and to also offer the solution as a value-added service to its customers. The IronTag series of EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags used during the pilot was developed by French RFID firm STid, as part of an RFID Aero project for the Secured Communicating Solutions (SCS) Cluster, a group comprising microelectronics, software, telecommunications, multimedia and IT companies that aims to promote the development of innovative solutions within France's Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.

The RFID Aero project focused on developing RFID technology for logistics and maintenance services within the aeronautical industry. Now that STid has developed and tested the passive UHF RFID system for tracking data on tagged chopper parts, says Vincent Dupart, STid's deputy CEO, the company has commercially released the solution, consisting of a series of IronTag high-memory on-metal EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags for use in rugged conditions on metal, as well as RFID readers.

STid's IronTag passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag (shown here attached to a car engine) is designed for tracking metal parts in harsh environments.

With the RFID system, Eurocopter intends to address problems faced by personnel responsible for maintaining a helicopter's parts and ensuring the aircraft's overall safety. Typically, each part is printed with a serial number that can be difficult to read once that component is installed. In addition, the number of hours that a part spends in flight affects its remaining lifespan, and eventually requires its replacement, but manually tracing each part's flight hours is difficult to accomplish. Eurocopter, as well as its customers, can now utilize the IronTag solution to track flight hours automatically.

STid began developing the system in 2008, Dupart says. Testing commenced last year and concluded this month, with IronTag tags attached to more than 100 parts installed on one of Eurocopter's Dauphin helicopters, and three RFID readers with a total of 12 antennas installed onboard, to capture read data from each tag as the chopper was started, and again when the craft landed and its engine was turned off.

To prove that the IronTag series was rugged enough to withstand harsh environmental conditions—including fluctuating temperatures and air-pressure levels, in addition to water and ice—STid mounted the tags on multiple parts that would be most challenging, including on the chopper's rotor, thereby exposing the tags to the elements, as well as air-pressure changes as the rotor spun. The tags also needed to be nonflammable, in order to ensure safety and meet regulatory requirements.

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