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Building Defense Products With RFID

Northrop Grumman is deploying and testing RFID technology in a variety of projects to reduce costs, improve safety and increase customer satisfaction.
By Bob Violino
Jun 16, 2008Northrop Grumman is a global defense and technology company with 120,000 employees, that provides systems, products and services in electronics, aerospace, ship building and information to government and commercial customers worldwide. The Los Angeles-based manufacturer's approach to using radio frequency identification technology is also diverse, and is resulting in significant benefits for the company and its customers.

Northrop Grumman has been an early adopter of RFID technology. Back in 2004, the defense company began to employ passive tags to track high-value assets internally, and in 2005, it started tagging supplies for the U.S. Department of Defense. More recently, the firm deployed two RFID projects—the precise tracking of costly, government-owned tools, and the use of proximity sensors as part of the machining of highly precise composite parts utilized on aerospace airframes—that are bringing about process improvements resulting in business gains.

In addition, Northrop Grumman has launched two other RFID projects expected to reduce costs and improve safety: the measurement of impact damage on composite parts, and the monitoring of time-sensitive frozen materials used in the construction of modern military airframes. The firm doesn't have an overarching strategy or roadmap for RFID, but is enabling its various business segments to deploy the technology as they see fit, says George "Nick" Bullen, Northrop Grumman's principal engineer for the Western region.

"We are in the business of building defense products," Bullen says, "and the application of technologies that would enable us to provide the best product for [customers] is left up to the individual sites and based on their unique manufacturing approach, rates of production, capital asset resource priorities and allocations, and perceived benefit to integrate a new technology such as RFID into the manufacturing stream and supply chain."
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