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Cessna Looks to RFID for Unlimited Visibility

The aviation innovator has deployed a system to track and manage precision aircraft manufacturing tools.
By John Edwards
Jan 07, 2013Cessna Aircraft Co. was founded in 1927, the same year Charles Lindbergh soloed across the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, the Wichita, Kans., firm has sold and delivered approximately 193,500 aircraft—more than any other company in aviation history.

As a business that got its start by building something many experts at the time deemed impossible—a monoplane with a wing that would not require supporting struts or braces—Cessna has never been reluctant to embrace innovation. The company is now moving into the radio frequency identification age, using cutting-edge technology to track the precision tools employed at its Wichita metal-bonding facility, where aircraft fuselage, wing and tail assemblies are manufactured. "The ability to get our hands on these tools quickly, get them in the process, get the parts through, was deemed as a critical area of opportunity for us," says Adam Blackford, Cessna's director of process engineering, who headed the transition to RFID.

Cessna's Citation aircraft

Prior to the introduction of RFID technology, locating the proper tools for specific tasks performed on the metal shop floor was an inefficient, productivity-sapping task, the company reports. The new RFID system, which began full operation last May, allows tools to be located within minutes. Blackford says he began working on the project in 2010 in partnership with OatSystems, a Waltham, Mass.-based RFID solution provider. "We are tracking the location of over 1,000 assembly tools, occupying over 50,000 square feet, in our metal-bonding facility here in Wichita," he says.

Seeking Efficiency
Project research began informally, Blackford recalls. "We really just started talking with vendors," he says. "We called probably a half-dozen different RFID vendors and started to understand the technology better—what it could do, what it couldn't do—and had them look at our process with us, and really kind of scope out some potential solutions."
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