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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
The RFID tags are read as tubs and parts pass through the dock doors while leaving the warehouse, and again at the eight production centers. The EPC number, date, read time and portal information are incorporated seamlessly into the PTMS, which records when a part was ordered, picked and scanned to a conveyance, when it left the warehouse, and when it then arrived at its respective destination.

The reader portals—incorporating Impinj Speedway R420 readers, each with four antennas—were designed and installed after several months of testing and development by Bell Helicopter and OATSystems. To determine whether tags attached to tubs and parts could be interrogated while passing through a reader portal, Bell's RFID team moved a number of tagged items in a tub through a portal into the back of a truck, testing the system with 35 Alien paper labels with EPC Gen 2 inlays, as well as two Omni-ID hard tags.

"After we were convinced we had found the optimum antenna positions and reader settings, we did a real-world test with a forklift, driving the tub into the trailer as fast as it would go," Druyvesteyn explained. "What surprised me, and the guys from Impinj helping with the test, was that we read every tag 100 percent of the time."

But Bell Helicopter discovered another problem, Druyvesteyn reported. Each door presented unique deployment challenges, such as fire-sprinkler risers, dock-door and leveler controls, and forklift barriers. "We needed to develop a standard portal design that we could deploy anywhere in the company," he stated. Therefore, the firm developed a tower design that protected the reader equipment, while maintaining the proper antenna position. "We were really excited about the first prototype," he said. However, the team quickly found that in some cases, the towers obstructed the view of dock lock lights and control boxes. "This was a major safety concern; the lights tell forklift drivers that it's safe to drive into a trailer." Thus, Bell conceived an alternate, low-profile portal design. Not only is the low-profile design safer around dock doors, he said, but it also fits between doors spaced just 30 inches apart.

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