Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services GmbH is responsible for logistics services involving warehousing, transportation and material supply for German airline Lufthansa. Some of the materials essential to keeping a fleet airborne are time-sensitive, and must be checked regularly. "There are a lot of consumable items—paint, glue, sealer, grease, adhesives and other materials—that have expiration dates and must be used within a specified period," says Kathrin Stromann, the RFID project manager at Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik, a provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services to commercial aircraft.
Every week, workers had to manually check the labels on the supplies stored within various cabinets, a process that was time-consuming—it could take between three and five hours—and prone to errors, according to Carsten Sowa, Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services' RFID program manager. Typically, a mechanic had to reach into the cabinet and review each item individually. In many cases, expiration dates were difficult to see, and products packed on shelves and stuffed in boxes were difficult to tabulate. Often, items soon to expire had to be discarded. Making matters worse, incorrectly labeled items—or those missing labels entirely—had to be removed, since no one knew exactly how old they were.
"We wound up throwing a way a lot of glue, tape and other products that were still good, because they would expire in a few days and it was impractical to keep them in the cabinet," Sowa explains. "We also had to pay for a company to pick up trash cans filled with chemicals and hazardous waste. There were extra charges associated with some of these items, because they are hazardous substances."
Roughly two years ago, Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services' managers realized they required a more efficient way to manage supplies, including hazardous materials, and to comply with audit requirements. "Checking labels manually for expiration dates was extremely time-consuming and annoying" Stromann states.
To that end, Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services developed a radio frequency identification solution that allows the company to tag and read items in storage cabinets so employees know which items to use first. Currently, at the company's location in Frankfurt, Germany, a worker can instantly determine which products are located inside a particular cabinet. The system, which has approximately a 97 percent accuracy rate, has helped the company trim the amount of time that it spends monitoring supplies by 80 percent. "We know exactly when materials must be replaced," Stromann says. "We have cut costs and taken a much greener approach."
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