Learn RFID Best Practices from BAE Systems

The presentation the company delivered at RFID Journal LIVE! 2019 offers valuable lessons to any business that wants to deploy an RFID solution successfully.
Published: April 22, 2019

Each year, for the past few years, I have provided a seminar at our RFID Journal LIVE! conference called the RFID Strategic Workshop. During a span of five hours, I try to share many of the best RFID deployment practices that I have learned from interviewing hundreds of companies that have installed radio frequency identification technology. I was impressed with the keynote presentation that BAE Systems offered this year at LIVE! 2019, because BAE employed many of the practices that I speak about. Therefore, we’ve made the video recording of the presentation available for everyone to learn from a successful project.

The presentation was made by Deirdre Schmidt, BAE Systems’ operations excellence leader, along with Philip Whiting, BAE’s operational lead engineer, and Peter Wright, the company’s engineering technical lead. Schmidt noted that BAE began RFID projects in 2003 and 2009, but that in both cases, the projects fizzled out and were not completed. This is not uncommon. In 2013, the firm began to concentrate on an engineering initiative that led to the success story that the speakers shared with LIVE!’s attendees.

Customers had been requesting that BAE accelerate its throughput so it could build more products for them faster, which was creating operational challenges. The firm considered building a new facility and hiring more workers to accommodate its customers, but it smartly decided to instead undertake an initiative to enhance the efficiencies of the resources already in place. Specifically, it wanted to reduce activities that didn’t add much value, enabling the company to do more with the teams already in place. “To achieve operational excellence, we needed to achieve tracking of our work-in-process [WIP], parts, as well as tools,” Schmidt told the audience.

To start that effort, the company did something I always recommend: mapping its current processes to determine where improvements can be made. This is a step that businesses often skip. They assume they know their processes, but they’re typically more complicated than most people realize. Mapping processes allows you to envision where steps can be combined or eliminated, and to figure out where data needs to be collected to enable that to happen.

Next, BAE needed to research the technology-based solution that it would require to achieve its goals. This is where events are crucial. Companies think they can conduct research online to learn what will work for their particular applications. But there is no substitute for bringing a team to an RFID event and having them sit in on different sessions that might be relevant so they can learn how others have handled similar deployments. Teams can learn a lot by scouring the exhibit hall for tags, readers and software that could be used in their application.

After carrying out the process mapping, three use cases came to the top—that is, Schmidt and her team felt that three RFID applications would deliver the biggest returns on investment. One was to automate asset and tool tracking. By tracking calibratable assets, customer assets, government assets and hand tools, BAE’s manufacturing teams would know, in real time, where those assets were located, as well as which would enable them to do their job more efficiently.

A second application involved tracking WIP. The company began monitoring paperwork within its factory, which is used to record the manufacturing processes for individual products. Paperwork can often become separated from an item during production, so this would enhance efficiency. Schmidt said the company has not launched a pilot to enable paperless tracking via RFID.

The third use case was automated replenishment. BAE wanted to give back the manufacturing teams some factory spaced in which to store parts. “We did that… shrinking the footprint of our master stores, eliminating the picking of parts and putting them into kits,” Schmidt told the audience. “We move the parts directly in front of the machines, so to the point of use, and we implemented auto-replenishment for all of those parts directly from our suppliers’ distribution centers. When an order is received, the parts no longer go into our stockroom. They go directly to the point of use and can be consumed.”

The solution had to be scalable and sustainable, Schmidt said. That is, after the system was deployed at one facility, it had to work at other sites as well and become part of the way the company does business. Moreover, the benefits had to be validated so the operational excellence team could show the firm’s leadership team that the expected benefits were being achieved.

Schmidt talked about the need to stay focused on the three original applications, even though new ideas for using RFID to boost efficiency were being presented to the team constantly. She also discussed change management—training people to use the system and do things in a new, more efficient way. All of these things are critical to success and to using RFID strategically to become more competitive.

I encourage you to watch the video if you are considering launching an RFID deployment. It could increase your chances of success.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.