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RFID System Automates Tool Management for Hong Kong Aeronautics Company

Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. has deployed a Xerafy system leveraging handheld RFID readers, tags on tools, and an app on workers' phones to ensure that no tool is ever left insude an aircraft, and to help employees find a missing tool if a mistake is detected.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 08, 2018

Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. (HAECO) is using an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID solution at its service facility to ensure that mechanics' personal tools are never left behind after an aircraft is serviced. Earlier this year, the company piloted a system consisting of RFID tags on tools, a handheld Bluetooth RFID reader, asset-management software and an app on workers' smartphones to manage which tools come onsite and then leave. The firm is now deploying the solution for all of its aircraft service mechanics.

Located at Hong Kong International Airport, HAECO is among the world's largest-capacity maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) service companies. Annually, the firm provides maintenance and servicing for more than 200 aircraft. Mechanics who work on the planes typically own their own tools, which they use for maintenance and repair during each shift. They must then put them in an individual, locked storage space upon leaving.

The system helps workers to avoid interchanging and misplacing their tools in co-workers' toolboxes.
Diligence related to the tools' whereabouts matters when it comes to aircraft servicing, due to the risk of foreign object damage (FOD) in the event that a tool is left behind in an aircraft engine or other part, or is left in the vicinity of the aircraft. In such a scenario, an item could puncture or damage an aircraft tire, or could become lodged inside a mechanism, which could cause not only damage to the aircraft but also injury to personnel in the area.

HAECO's mechanics sometimes work individually, though they often serve as part of a team. Therefore, the tools occasionally may be interchanged and ultimately could be misplaced in a co-worker's toolbox once a job is completed.

Each mechanic's toolbox comes with a paper-form inventory list. Traditionally, inventory had to be validated by the team supervisor as each mechanic left at the end of his or her shift, explains Patrick HK Wong, HAECO's executive general manager for line services. During each inventory check, the mechanic had to sign a check sheet to manually confirm that all tools were in the toolbox. Any additional or missing tools required a new inventory list and validation by the supervisor once the problem was corrected.

The company assigned 15 minutes for each mechanic to accomplish this process daily at the end of his or her shift. The company also employs a safety-audit team that randomly checks mechanics' toolboxes and lists in the workplace, Wong says. "Safety is the number-one priority in aviation and at HAECO," he notes. "The first thing we train our staff on is a safety mindset, safety attitude and safety behavior. They all know there will be a few hundred passengers in each plane, and their safety is in our hands."

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