Lockheed to Use RFID on Shop Floor

By Bob Violino

The company has awarded a $5.15 million contract to Epic Data to install a shop floor data collection system using RFID.


Nov. 8, 2002 – Building high-tech fighter aircraft for the U.S. military presents some special challenges. Work has to be carefully monitored to make sure people with appropriate skills perform the right tasks on the right parts at the right time.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, a business unit of Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin, has been using mag-stripe cards to control access to computer workstations and high-tech equipment on the shop floor, but the company recently decided to upgrade to RFID.

Lockheed as awarded a $5.15 million contract to Epic Data International of Vancouver to install its eXpresso data collection platform at three plants Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Marrietta, Georgia; and Palmdale, Calif.

“In producing the world’s most advanced aircraft, it’s essential to record and validate details of all work performed, as it occurs,” says Jack Guthrie, Lockheed’s program manager. “We need to do this without creating additional overhead. The move to the eXpresso open standard solution will bring our various standalone systems under a unified and much more efficient communications umbrella.”

Epic Data is installing its own RFID smart-card readers on workstations throughout the plant, as well as on some sophisticated manufacturing equipment used in the three plants. Epic’s eXpresso software platform requires shop floor workers to use their card to get authorization to use the equipment, then records the processes that were performed.

The system can track more than 3,500 simultaneous users and record labor against work instructions in real time using rugged fixed mount data collection terminals and RFID proximity readers. It will also support more than 60 other transaction applications, including tracking of thousands of tools in Lockheed Martin’s production plants.

Employees on the shop for are being given new ID badges from HID Corp. The badges have a low-frequency (125 KHz) RFID chip embedded in them. Instead of swiping the card through a reader, users now only have to wave the card near the reader.

One key reason Lockheed went with RFID is that it could be used for several purposes. There has been an increased concern about security since Sept. 11, and the new cards can also be used to control physical access to the building. Another issue is moving toward lean manufacturing.

“One of the key things in lean manufacturing is the focus on removing any actions that don’t add value,” says Russ Beinder, director of product management at Epic. “Every time you have to pick up a gun and scan a bar code to record a part, you have just done a non-value-added job. We’re looking for ways to avoid those kinds of activities, and I see RFID tags being pivotal in being able to do that.”

Tracking work in progress is not just critical to high-tech airplane manufacturers like Lockheed. Knowing when steps were performed, by whom and when gives managers that ability to monitor and improve the efficiency of any factory.

“Other types of manufacturers might not need the same level of detail [as Lockheed],” says Beinder. “But as soon as you want to understand the performance of your factor it, this kind of information becomes critical. It’s not strictly for aerospace manufacturing.”

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