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How RFID is Being Used in Aerospace and Aviation

Today’s airframers are leveraging RFID technologies to keep tabs on thousands of airplane parts and strengthen transparency throughout the supply chain.

An airplane is made up of hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of parts. Keeping tabs on each element of an aircraft throughout its lifecycle is a high-stakes responsibility, which is why today’s leading airframe manufacturers have turned to radiofrequency identification (RFID) to identify, track and manage critical airplane components, saving time and reducing errors in the process.

Enhanced Lifecycle Management

Each airplane has a history, as does each of its parts. And it’s not just recorded for posterity. When it comes to maintaining an aircraft, the ability to review a given part’s origins and repair history are critical to assuring its quality and safety. In years past, these extensive records were maintained through either paper-based or electronic documents that were compiled manually. Today, critical parts are being affixed with an RFID tag that can store the following need-to-know information:

  • Birth record, including serial number and manufacturing information
  • Current record, including reconfiguration details
  • Maintenance history, including changes in custody/location and utilization/consumption
  • Additional notes added by the technician

Technicians are able to read and update the tags using a handheld scanner, with collected data being automatically added to a centralized database and real-time reports generated. Unlike manual or even barcode-based systems, RFID simplifies this process by allowing tags to be scanned without a direct view of the label and read multiple tags at once, which is particularly useful for hard-to-reach components. Innovative tag suppliers are also optimizing aerospace RFID tags to have a smaller footprint, to allow for longer read ranges and to handle the effects of metal surfaces and harsh environmental conditions.

Strengthening Communication Down the Supply Chain

Managing aircraft components is a critical responsibility from the point of manufacture to the point of retirement or sale. Throughout an airplane’s lifecycle, technicians must confirm that assets are present, placed in the proper location, and are serviceable. When a part is determined to be in need of repair or replacement, RFID facilitates improved communication between the airline and its suppliers.

Having a back-to-birth record that maintains the part’s entire history is not only advantageous during operation, but also during leasing and sale. Airlines who are able to provide a comprehensive record of an aircraft’s care, maintenance and inspection on a part-by-part basis will find transfer of ownership to be a simpler process and one that is more appealing to prospective customers as well.

Conclusion

Ask any technician and they’ll tell you the benefits of RFID in aviation. No more time spent looking for an elusive serial number or contorting to get a clear read on a barcode. But for the airlines who employ them, improving this process means much more: reducing inspection times, eliminating labor-intensive maintenance, reducing mission-threatening errors and decreasing operating costs.

As for the passengers who fly on these airplanes, they may not be familiar with the tiny chips and antennae present all around them. But for many, these unseen safeguards are integral to the feeling they get as they settle into their seats right before takeoff: something they know as peace of mind.

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