03 Feb

Global Aviation Maintenance Company Tracks Tools via RFID

<p><strong><em>RFID JOURNAL Feb 05 2014  by  Claire Swedberg</em></strong></p>
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<p>The system makes it easier for the firm to account for every tool, helping to eliminate the possibility of foreign object damage, and to manage the maintenance of the tools themselves.</p>
<p>A global aviation maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) company is using an <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?126">RFID</a>-based system from Italian IT services firm <a href="http://www.ngway.it&quot; target="_blank">NG Way</a> to ensure that tools employed for aircraft maintenance remain visible in the tool-management system, whether in storage or in use. While the misplacing of a tool is a rare occurrence, it can also be an expensive one, causing aircraft maintenance to be delayed for days or weeks until the missing asset can be found. That's because a loose object of any kind, located somewhere within the aircraft itself, can result in damage due to foreign object debris (FOD). NG Way's solution keeps the tools visible, thanks to ultrahigh-<a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?76">frequency</a&gt; (<a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?163">UHF</a&gt;) <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?400">passive</a&gt; <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?126">RFID</a&gt; tags from <a href="http://www.xerafy.com&quot; target="_blank">Xerafy</a> and readers manufactured by <a href="http://www.caenrfid.it&quot; target="_blank">CAEN RFID</a>.</p>
<p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/ToolsCheck-web.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 373px;" /></p>
<p>The aviation MRO service company, which has asked to remain unnamed, operates 12 facilities throughout Europe and the United States, and is initially using the system at one of those sites, in Switzerland, in order to ensure that tools are always accounted for. FOD damage can result when a worker walks away from tools or other foreign objects that then remain within an aircraft following assembly or maintenance. Though incidents of FOD damage are extremely rare, the resultant cost can be enormous. According to an <a href="http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/aero_01/textonly/s01txt.h…; target="_blank">article published by Boeing in 1998</a>, it can cost more than $1 million to repair an engine following FOD damage. But simply the possibility of such damage can be expensive—every day that work on an aircraft is delayed as personnel search for a missing tool can cost tens of thousands of dollars for both the aircraft company and the MRO service firm.</p>
<p>One way to prevent this from happening, the company reports, is to have each worker manually count all items in his or her tool case, to ensure that none are missing. If a tool has gone astray, no matter how small, then it must be located before the project can be completed. The search can prove especially challenging in situations in which a tool has been removed from one case and accidentally returned to another.</p>
<p>To add visibility to the process, the MRO company implemented a pilot of NG Way's <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?126">RFID</a>-enabled tool-management system. The NG Way solution is designed to not only ensure that tools do not end up missing, but also enable managers to learn which tools have been issued to specific workers, as well as how often they have been used and for what purpose. This data helps managers determine when maintenance or repairs are due, a record of which can also be stored in the NG Way software. By tracking tool usage, maintenance and repair data, a company can ensure that no tool is used during aircraft maintenance if, for instance, that item is due for calibration.</p>
<p>The MRO facility in Switzerland began piloting the solution during the last quarter of 2013. It attached Xerafy's XS series Dot-On and Dash-On passive EPC Gen 2 UHF tags to 276 tools, such as hammers, screwdrivers, pliers and socket wrenches, of a variety of sizes—all stored in a tool crib onsite, explains Moreno Poli, NG Way's CEO.</p>
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<p>The Dot-On is a circular <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?157">tag</a&gt; measuring 6 millimeters (0.2 inch) in diameter and 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inch) in thickness, while the Dash-On's dimensions are 12 millimeters by 13 millimeters by 2.2 millimeters (0.5 inch by 0.5 inch by 0.09 inch). Both tags are designed for mounting directly on metal parts, says David <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?128">Read</a&gt;, Xerafy's director of European sales, and can be embedded in a tool at the point of manufacture. For this deployment, however, the tags were all affixed to the tools' exterior, with each <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?157">tag</a&gt; encoded with a unique ID number.</p>
<p>Every aircraft worker is assigned multiple tools for use on a day's project. At the start of a shift, an employee reads each worker's tool tags via a CAEN R12401 handheld <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?163">UHF</a&gt; <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?126">RFID</a&gt; <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?129">reader</a&gt; that communicates with a laptop or tablet computer via a Bluetooth connection. The staff member also uses the ToolsCheck software running on the computer to store the bar-coded ID that is scanned from a worker's badge, and to input an ID corresponding to the task being performed that day.</p>
<p>All of those <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?157">tag</a&gt; ID numbers are then stored in the NG Way software. If any tools are due for maintenance, an alert will appear on the screen and the worker will be denied use of that tool, which will then be taken to the company's maintenance department. A maintenance worker reads the <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?157">tag</a&gt; ID via a CAEN <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?126">RFID</a&gt; handheld, and then uses a computer linked to that handheld to input data on a laptop or tablet regarding work being performed on that tool. Once the maintenance work has been completed, the employee again reads the tool's ID and stores a record of the maintenance tasks completed, thereby enabling that asset to be reused for aircraft servicing.</p>
<p><img alt="" src="/sites/default/files/Tagged_tool-web.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 263px;" /></p>
<p>Workers are expected to return all tools to their cases after using them. When a tool case is brought back to the crib, a staff member reads all of the tags. If the system determines that a tool is missing, a handheld <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?129">reader</a&gt; can be set to Geiger mode, and an individual walks through the work site with the device, listening for a sound that indicates the <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?129">reader</a&gt; has detected a signal transmitted by that tool's <a href="http://www.rfidjournal.com/glossary/term?157">tag</a>.</p&gt;
<p>Thanks to the pilot, Poli reports, the MRO company has determined that the technology improves visibility and provides assurance that tools receive maintenance when they should—and do not end up missing—and now intends to expand the solution's use to other facilities. In the meantime, he says, NG Way and Xerafy are currently marketing the technology to other aircraft maintenance and manufacturing companies as well.</p>
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