Honeywell Aerospace Tags Parts for Airbus

By Claire Swedberg

The company is writing to high-memory tags on two parts destined for Airbus from three of its manufacturing facilities, with plans to tag additional components by the end of the year.

Honeywell Aerospace has started applying high-memory RFID labels to two of the parts it manufactures for the aerospace industry, with the goal of enabling the part's record to be tracked directly on the tag from birth through use by airlines, and repair by Honeywell. Thus far, three Honeywell facilities are capable of attaching EPC Gen 2 passive UHF tags with Tego high-memory RFID chips. To accomplish this, the factories are employing handheld and desktops readers and also using TegoView software to enable reading and writing of tags, as well as to store a library of Honeywell parts on each reader, used to expedite the writing process. Seattle integrator ID Integration provided the entire solution.

Honeywell Aerospace is a supplier of avionic (electronic) and mechanical parts for the aerospace industry. The Air Transport Association (ATA) Spec 2000 standard dictates that aircraft parts suppliers provide specific information encoded on a tag including a serial number, part number and product manufacturer. Airbus has mandated that its suppliers provide high-memory RFID tags on the parts they purchase that include this data. About one year ago, Honeywell began working with ID Integration and Tego to develop a solution for tagging its parts, says Tego's president and CEO, Timothy Butler.

This month, the three facilities began tagging two of the parts that they manufacture. The factories are applying RFID tags, made Tego's 8-kilobyte memory TegoChip XL chip, to radar antennas and avionic bay units that are shipped to Airbus for use on its A350 XWB wide-body aircraft (see A Flurry of High-Memory Tags Take Flight). "We're tagging in accordance with [Airbus's] requirements and ATA SPEC 2000," says Jim Evans, the company's ISC UID/RFID program manager. "As parts flow through the supply chain, Airbus can scan the parts."

When the tags are attached to a part with an adhesive, Honeywell staff use either a Honeywell 5900 handheld reader, an Intermec CN3 handheld or a ThingMagic USB-powered desktop reader to write the birth record to the tag. This includes the part description, manufacture date, and the part number and a serial number. The handheld readers operate with TegoView Mobile on a Windows operating system, and the ThingMagic reader, connected to a laptop PC via a USB cable, uses a desktop version of the same software, says Gene Anderson, ID Integration's director of product and process development. Honeywell opted to use portable readers that could be connected to a laptop or desktop PC, Evans explains, because many parts are large, heavy, and/or typically don't move much, so staff must come to them.

Tego modified the software, says Evans, to enable a fast commissioning process with each tag. When Honeywell workers apply tags to a batch of parts of the same model, they first locate that part in a drop-down list stored on the software. Once that part is selected from the list, the system automatically encodes the part description and number on every tag, requiring that staff to input only the serial number and manufacture date for that specific part. The software is designed to restrict the user from encoding anything but the serial number and manufacture date on the tag as well as the data related to the item selected in the software. This function, which "basically acts as a template for writing to new tags," Evans says, saves staff time and is expected to increase efficiency and data accuracy.

That data is then stored on the tag and follows the part to Airbus, as well as to an airline that uses the Airbus aircraft. Both Airbus and the airline could also write to the tag to indicate a part's servicing and movement record.

If a part is ever sent back to Honeywell for repair work, that action could be written to the tag. In the future, says Evans, Honeywell may use the tag for its own purposes by supplying repair staff with handheld readers, and enabling them to read the tag to determine the age and other details about the part, in order to better plan the repair service. Honeywell's technicians could also encode the tag with a description of what repair work was done.

Evans says he's happy with the system thus far and expects Honeywell to begin tagging more types of parts soon. He still finds some shortcomings in the technology. For one thing, Evans says, there are only a few available form factors among the high-memory tags approved for use in aircraft, and not enough form factors to fit well with the various kinds of parts being tagged. Because of that, he says, the company may have to apply tags that are bigger than they would like to specific parts, simply because there aren't any other options.

In addition to seeking tags of different sizes, Evans hopes that tags will be developed that offer longer read and write ranges. Currently the tags being applied have a limited write range and slightly longer read range via a handheld device. He'd like to see that range lengthen to 2 or more feet, he says, which would make it easier to read a tag in cases where tags are hard to reach with a handheld, such as when a tagged part is installed inside an engine.

Honeywell has 10 OEM facilities at which it hopes to be applying the RFID tags in the coming months. Initially the company is concentrating on tagging avionic equipment rather than mechanical, since mechanical equipment moves and therefore the tagging of such parts will require further testing. That testing, which will be conducted by Honeywell engineers, will determine how well tags stay attached to each moving part as well as whether it continues to operate after a long period of movement. The company's goal is to tag more than 100 different avionic and mechanical parts by the end of the year.