RFID tracking has been proven to be very useful countless times over with its implementation in almost every aspect of our lives. Tracking, for example is one of the many that RFID has “tagged”, decreasing human error in all aspects of inventory, maintenance and data collection for the aviation sector. This is where Tego “tags” in with their high-storage RFID tags to aid their supply chain partners. We spoke to Bob Hamlin, CTO of Tego to find out what it takes to design RFID technology for the high-flyers.
PAN: RFID technology continues to find new applications in a growing number of industries, the aviation sector being one of them. What were the contentions that led the aerospace sector to consider RFID? Bob: Maintenance is a high-cost activity for airlines and they are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) efficiency to reduce costs. Today, many organizations along the supply chain generate information about parts and important data ends up in many different places, leading to inefficient maintenance processes.
Airlines have documented workflows that show mechanics spend more time finding the paperwork associated with a part than they do on their repair activities. Additionally, many maintenance responsibilities are needlessly labor-intensive.
For example, we have seen cycle time studies around the inspection of emergency equipment such as life vests and oxygen canisters, and the overhaul of passenger seats, that show 98-99% time reductions when RFID is introduced to these tasks. RFID technology creates visibility into the supply chain and maintenance activities by allowing large amounts of data to be stored on tags attached to components. It minimizes unplanned maintenance and premature parts replacement and detects malfunctions early.
PAN: From being low-requirement solutions, RFID tags have moved up to a whole new level by addressing the difficulties encountered in tracking and maintaining aircraft parts, and more. How has this innovation improved MRO in aviation?
Bob: RFID tags can store everything from the simple information often found on an identification placard such as part number, serial number, and expiration dates, to detailed historical MRO information typically stored in a centralized dasu_tabase. With the tag physically attached to a particular component, the information is easily associated with that component.
Many tags in production today have specifically targeted flyable parts. Industry standards address environmental factors such as humidity, pressure, and flammability. Tags that meet these standards can be used in external aircraft locations as well as pressurized cabin spaces. Using standard reader equipment, aircraft maintenance staff can read a part’s vital statistics from the attached tag – from the date of manufacture and hours in service to repairs and modifications. In addition, they can easily obtain information that was previously accessible only by opening difficult to reach or secured areas, by simply directing a handheld reader towards the area where the part or component is located.
Ultimately, all of this same information can be shared across the supply chain between the operator and the maintenance organization, from one MRO to another, and between inventory management staff and parts suppliers. Technicians can immediately determine component status in the field in an efficient and economical manner. It all adds up to a more streamlined operation and allows maintenance personnel to focus on maintenance activities.
PAN: For maintenance activities, it is crucial to have the information at hand – wherever and whenever it is needed. What happens in the typical lifecycle of an airplane part, for example?
Bob: Not having updated information follow a part throughout its lifecycle is one of the biggest challenges for an MRO organization. In fact, information about each phase of a part’s life is stored in distinctly separate areas. Here is what typically happens at each stage of the parts that go into an aircraft:
- The parts manufacturer records pedigree information, such as the part number, serial number, date of manufacture, and when it’s shipped. Some data goes on the nameplate; other data is printed out on hardcopy records and/or in an electronic dasu_tabase. Some information is shipped along with the part; most stays behind with the manufacturer.
- Then the airframe manufacturer installs the part on an aircraft. This generates additional data such as its location on the aircraft, the date of installation, and the part’s Air Worthiness Certificate (Form 8130-3). Some of this information stays behind with the manufacturer after the aircraft is delivered to a customer.
- The aircraft owner/operator performs in-service maintenance activities, storing identification information and records related to maintenance and replacement tasks. This data is the property of the airline.
- When the part is due for overhaul or replacement, a separate Maintenance Repair and Overhaul organization will collect and store overhaul records including modification level, condition code and general maintenance history. Data from the owner/operator would help the MRO process but it’s difficult to access.
PAN: Where does Tego fit into this value chain? Share with us the kind of solutions that Tego offers in this space.
Bob: By building on current RFID technology, Tego is creating “smart assets” with capabilities that go way beyond what has been typically thought of as RFID. For example, we have made advances in semiconductor technology to create RFID tags with up to 8KB of usable space, over 640 times the memory capacity of the original 96-bit tags used in the earliest retail applications. With this much memory available on the tag, it is now possible for supply chain partners to write pertinent information whenever a significant event happens in the lifetime of a part, and to keep that information stored directly on the part whether it stays in one place or moves around. That information can take the form of historical maintenance records or scratchpad messages from one technician to another. These smart assets can assist maintenance staff with making on-the-spot decisions.
We have also created chip technology that is especially useful to the aerospace industry. Our high-memory chips are designed to be fully passive, avoiding the added weight and potential RE interference associated with battery-operated tags. We have the only UHF chip technology that can maintain stored data for up to 30 years at high temperature. The stored data is also impervious to radiation, magnetic fields or high-powered radar signals. To keep all this information coming from multiple sources well organized, we have been leading the effort to standardize storage formats for RFID under the leadership of the Air Transport Association (ATA). Our software products, such as TegoView, provide a ready-to-use solution for industry participants to store and access ATA-formatted data on RFID tags. To add their own data in any file format they need, aerospace organizations can use TegoDrive which includes the additional simplification of treating RFID readers and tags as an extension of the Windows desktop.
PAN: Moving from a legacy system to being a “smart” tracking facility certainly doesn’t mean the end of the road. What concerns need to be addressed to further the advancement of RFID in aviation?
Bob: Airframe builders, airlines and MR0 organizations can get started in their own closed-loop systems, but in many cases the bigger benefits will be realized through the co-operation of all supply chain partners. [-Business standards are in place with ATA Spec 2000 and the EPC Tag Data Standard which allow for needed co-operation, but this still requires adoption by everyone involved in the process.
Another interesting challenge is around information security. Now that there is enough space on high-memory RFID tags to store so much data, the natural progression is for some people to want to store confidential or sensitive data, or to authenticate the identity of the source of the information. Preventing unauthorized read/write access may also be a concern. A lot of work is underway, by Tego and industry partners, to provide all of these security services.
Tego’s high‑memory RFID solutions, including best‑in‑class semiconductor chips, tags, and application software are creating distributed interconnected smart assets that communicate wirelessly and without batteries. With the ability to read and write information directly on assets, organizations can automate processes, make intelligent decisions at the point of use, and know immediately the history, condition and status of any asset. Today, through Tego innovation, smart asset capabilities are providing solutions previously not possible or imaginable. Tego, founded in 2005, is based in Waltham, MA. For more information, visit www.tegoinc.com
Tego, TegoTag, TegoView, TegoDrive and TegoChip are trademarks of Tego, Inc. All other trademarks and registered trademarks are the property of their respective holders.
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