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Fujitsu and Boeing form strategic alliance; RFID will assist in aircraft maintenance services

Boeing, a longtime leader when it comes to introducing RFID to the aviation sector, will roll out a new system for airlines that will allow them to utilize RFID when it comes to conducting maintenace operations and other procedures on planes. Boeing plans to launch the service in the first quarter of 2012.

Boeing has established a strategic alliance with Fujitsu to develop the service to enable greater efficiency in aircraft maintenance operations, relying mostly on RFID technology and contact memory buttons (CMB). Airlines will be able to use these technologies without needing to retrofit their own fleets.

By using RFID, airlines can lessen costs by reducing inventory and manual data entry errors without having to create new processes. For example, Boeing has already proven that RFID can be used to test and inspect the oxygen devices that are embedded above each passenger seat. And at the AIM Expo event held in Chicago in October, Boeing’s Ken Porad noted that maintenance personnel can inspect all of the life jackets stored under passenger seats in about six minutes. Previsouly, it took two people one hour to check all of the floatation devices on a single plane. That’s just one of more than 200 use cases that Boeing has identified for use in airline production and maintenance.

Click here to read about RFID 24-7’s previous coverage of RFID in the airline industry.

Under the new alliance, Fujitsu will provide Boeing with a globally-shared platform that includes automated identification technology devices, device readers, software applications and a system integration and deployment service. Boeing will tailor solutions for each customer’s needs, integrate those solutions into the customer’s operational environment and establish a long-range plan that will expand automated identification technology solutions across the customer’s enterprise. The service will be available for Boeing and non-Boeing fleets and will be rapidly adaptable to any customer.

“We have been working with Boeing for more than five years to promote RFID implementation in the aviation industry and we are very excited to start this project jointly,” said Mitsutoshi Hirono, corporate vice president, Fujitsu Limited.

The Boeing Transformation Service will enable customers to better manage aircraft components, equipment, and materials by retrofitting them with automated identification technology devices, allowing automated data management and highly visible supply chain related maintenance processes. Prior to the launch of the new service in early 2012, the service will undergo three phases of beta testing through deployment with a launch customer.

“We see an opportunity for the aviation industry that surpasses past expectations,” said Per Norén, vice president, Boeing CAS Information Services. “Airline customers will greatly improve their operation efficiency from this service as a result of Boeing and Fujitsu entering the market together.”

In the not to distance future, Boeing will likely embed as many as 3,000 RFID tags on each airplane it manufactures. Boeing has 52 different RFID projects running at its facilities in Long Beach, Calif., Seattle, Philadelphia and St. Louis, where Boeing makes F18s. The RFID pilots involve shipping and receiving, managing tools, work in process, managing assets and much more.

One of Boeing’s most successful pilot’s to date involves a refrigerated RFID cabinet that stores the sealants it uses during the manufacturing process. RFID solved a major pain point for Boeing in that mechanics usually reached for the freshest tube of sealant, meaning that tubes with older dates were thrown away. It’s similar to reach for the freshest dated milk when grocery shopping.

By affixing an RFID tag to every tube if sealant, Boeing is able to track each one, curing dating problems and saving thousands of dollars associated with throwing away expired product. In addition, RFID assures that the proper product is used during installation.

“The whole process out of control,” says Porad. “By using RFID tags it took the human intervention out. The ROI was within one month. It’s been a fantastic solution for us, and we are replicating that for every storage freezer at Boeing’s facilities.”

Click here to read about Airbus’ use of active ultra wideband RFID to track work-in-progress.

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