In 2005, Carlo K. Nizam was head of supply-chain operations at Airbus UK, and he had a problem. Roughly half the inventory he was managing was held at the aircraft manufacturer's first-tier suppliers' premises. The lights Airbus bought for use in its wings and landing gear, for example, were being shipped directly from the light manufacturer's facilities to the companies assembling those sections of the planes. That way, Airbus did not have to receive the lights, store them and then ship them to the wing and landing gear firms.
But control and traceability of all processes was government-mandated, and it was hard to keep track of supplies that were not under Airbus' direct control. Sometimes lights that were delivered to the landing gear company would not be entered into the SAP terminal Airbus had installed at the facility, so Airbus would not know the parts had arrived. Nizam had been reading about Walmart's use of RFID to track pallets and cases and realized it could be the answer to this problem.
As head of that program, Nizam oversaw a strategic effort to harmonize the full suite of processes across the Airbus value chain, to increase process visibility, measurability and operational efficiency. The effort led to the installation of an Airbus Business Radar infrastructure that consists of an active, ultrawide-band RFID system combined with a passive RFID system at assembly facilities to track aircraft parts, logistics containers, tools, jigs, subassemblies and other critical assets.
The RFID technologies are helping to enable a "smart future factory" concept that lets managers see a digitalized view of what is happening on the factory floor in real time, automatically and without manual input or paperwork. Workers, for example, can look at their computer screens or tablets and see items moving in real time on the shop floor, click on individual items to see if they are delayed, and run reports that compare what is happening with what should be happening, so any issues can be identified and promptly addressed.
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