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Profits in Motion

Through its three-stage RFID implementation, Airbus is gaining large-scale visibility into its business and production processes—and realizing jumbo savings.
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Jun 18, 2008—ournal Award Winner: Best RFID Implementation

June 1, 2008—Airbus tends to do everything on a large scale. The company manufactures the world's biggest passenger airplane: the 525-passenger A380, dubbed the "Superjumbo." Its supply chain involves hundreds of suppliers of airplane parts, ranging from tires and brakes to seats and carpeting—and Airbus' value chain extends to its numerous airline and government customers, and regional maintenance and repair operations. Airbus itself, headquartered in Toulouse, France, operates 16 plants throughout Europe that make various components or sections of planes, which are transported to final assembly locations.

So it's no surprise that instead of adopting radio frequency identification technology in a piecemeal fashion, the aerospace giant took a "systematic and holistic" approach. "For the past four years, the entire Airbus team has performed the hard work to get ready to deploy RFID on an industrial scale," says Carlo K. Nizam, head of value-chain visibility and RFID for Airbus. "We set our sights on wanting to 'set the standard' and be a model for large-company global execution of an RFID-inspired visibility program."

To accomplish these goals, Airbus created a 10-member RFID steering committee, comprising vice presidents from across Airbus' businesses, and undertook an internal examination of its business processes. It then developed a three-phase plan to use RFID to increase accuracy, control and efficiency through real-time automated visibility across the company's value chain of operations.

With the additional help of an operational-level team, Airbus tested RFID in numerous applications involved in the manufacture of its fleet of airplanes, evaluated those tests, rolled out deployments and developed new pilots. The company's current RFID implementations and pilots extend from tracking goods across its global supply chain to its manufacturing and assembly processes and in-service operations. These applications use a mix of active and passive RFID technologies, and fixed and mobile RFID interrogators for tag readings.

Airbus has been surpassing its goals, which include cutting costs, reducing inventory and improving performance of business operations. "The results are indicative of the approach that Airbus has taken," Nizam says. "They have been beyond our expectations." While Nizam declines to put a dollar or euro estimate on the return on investment from Airbus' RFID program, citing "competitive reasons," he does estimate the savings as "in the order of millions" of euros.

Airbus revealed its closely guarded RFID strategy to RFID Journal in September 2007 (see Airbus' Grand Plans for RFID). Since publication of the article "Airbus' Grand Plans for RFID," the company has made steady progress on its RFID program—turning some of the pilot projects disclosed last year into full implementations, and considering phasing in adoption of other applications throughout its international facilities. This should help prepare Airbus for the future, as production of the A380 ramps up to as many as four planes per month by 2010.
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