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Bell Helicopter's On-Time Delivery Rate Climbs Higher

The aircraft manufacturer is managing the movement of parts from a central warehouse to each production location, using an RFID solution from OATSystems.
By Claire Swedberg
Initially, Bell Helicopter decided to deploy a new warehouse-management system (WMS) to replace its legacy paper-ticket order-picking system. As a result, the company developed an in-house WMS known as the Pick Ticket Management System (PTMS), which was launched in July 2010. "This helped us know when an order was picked," Druyvesteyn said, "but we still had no way of knowing the date and time orders left the warehouse and reached their final destination." So in June 2011, Bell integrated an RFID solution into the PTMS, using Alien Technology EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags that the CDC's staff can attach to each part as it is picked.

Before deploying its RFID system, Bell Helicopter first established an RFID Strategy Council. "We were new to this space," Druyvesteyn stated. "There was lots of interest in RFID across the organization. It was critical for the long-term success of RFID that we agree on a common, standard approach. Through the council, we settled on Gen 2 passive tags, the GRAI [global returnable asset identifier] encoding scheme, as well as IT infrastructure and governance policies." The company chose OATSystems to provide software and integration, which supplied its OATxpress software platform to manage the capturing and filtering of RFID tag data.

Aaron Druyvesteyn, Bell Helicopter's manager of logistics
The GRAI encoding scheme that Bell Helicopter utilizes includes specific numbers indicating the category of item being tagged—for example, 01 for part tags, and 02 for conveyance tags attached to the plastic tubs, dollies and trams used to move or ship materials. Because several departments within Bell were exploring RFID, there was concern regarding the risk of Electronic Product Code (EPC) number duplication across RFID projects. "We needed centralized management of EPC numbers," Druyvesteyn said. As a result, he explained, "all EPC numbers are managed and issued by a single system overseen by OATSystems on its OATxpress server."

The new process works as follows: First, one of Bell Helicopter's manufacturing centers orders a part from the CDC. That order is picked and executed in the PTMS, which requests an EPC number from the OATxpress server. The PTMS then stores that number before forwarding the data to the BarTender label-generation software. The warehouse workers receive their pick orders from the PTMS, and walk down the warehouse aisles picking parts, using a Motorola Solutions MC-9190-G handheld computer to scan each component's bar-code label. A mobile RP4T RFID printer-encoder from Zebra Technologies creates an RFID label for each component that workers then apply to the picked parts. The items are scanned to a unique bar-coded license plate on the reusable conveyances (plastic tub, kit dolly or tram), each equipped with two Omni-ID Max hard tags. This serves two purposes: It allows the individual conveyances to be tracked, while also offering redundant, indirect tracking for each order.

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