The 95 Percent Solution

EPCglobal standards can help improve the safety and longevity of aircraft.
Published: April 1, 2006

Aerospace has one of the most extensive and complex supply chains. Consider this: A modern jet is made up of more than 6 million parts—from a tiny rivet to a large jet engine. But the supply chain that supports the initial manufacture of a plane comprises only a brief portion of the lifespan of a typical aircraft. What happens after a plane is assembled and delivered to a customer presents EPCglobal with the greatest opportunity to make a critical difference.

It’s what we at EPCglobal US call the “95 Percent Solution,” because 95 percent of managing the aerospace industry’s supply chain occurs after a plane has been manufactured and is in service. Some of the challenges include tracking down spare parts quickly and tracking the maintenance records and performance of key parts. The fact that a modern jetliner can stay in service for three decades or more increases the importance of maintaining a robust supply chain over a long period of time. It’s critical to keeping a plane in service and on time.

EPCglobal US has been working with Lockheed Martin, Boeing and other leaders in the aerospace industry to develop common RFID standards to bring real-time visibility, and thus security and efficiency, to their supply chain. Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor, and Boeing is the largest maker of passenger planes in the United States. The work they are doing toward the development of Electronic Product Code technology will impact more than the aerospace industry. It also will be felt in the entire defense segment.

“On any given project, Lockheed Martin, and any other defense contractor, acts as a prime contractor or a supplier,” says Pete Cuviello, who leads Lockheed’s RFID initiative and is a member of EPCglobal’s board of governors. “In this business, we are all customers, partners and competitors at the same time. A significant impediment to an optimized supply chain among contractors are ad hoc communication methods.”

We are currently working with Boeing, which joined EPCglobal US last year, on the best way to track parts and maintenance records. In October, the company announced that it would require many of its suppliers to begin placing EPC Generation 2 UHF tags on a number of parts used in its latest line of commercial airliners, the 787 Dreamliner. “Building world-class planes means more than assembly,” says Ken Porad, who heads Boeing’s RFID program. “It means supporting customers after the sale.”

To achieve our goals, we are discussing the formation of an Aerospace and Defense Business Action Group with major aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers. Our aim is to develop common EPC standards to track and trace parts, and EPC tags that would enable line mechanics to access important historical performance data on individual parts on the tarmac, between flights.

We are looking forward to welcoming additional leading aerospace and defense companies into the EPCglobal community soon. Together, we can improve the efficiency and security of one of the world’s most critical supply chains.

Mike Meranda is president of EPCglobal US.