RFID Talk Blog

RFID Live Update Day One: Airbus extends RFID to other divisions

The 11th annual RFID Live Journal conference kicked off yesterday in Orlando with an increased confidence in the role that RFID will play in businesses moving forward.

While retail continues to have a major focus in the exhibit hall, asset tracking solutions also had a strong presence, as did systems for the healthcare and medical industry, which is rapidly endorsing RFID.

A panel discussion featuring the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS), the parent company of Airbus, provided an update on RFID at Airbus and at several EADS divisions. Carlo K. Nizam, head of value chain visibility and RFID at Airbus, says that there are at least 65 ongoing RFID products spanning the EADS group. Twenty one are targeted to be completed this year. Nizam and his colleagues painted a very clear picture of how RFID is spreading from Airbus to transform EADS Group’s other worldwide business divisions.

“When we first started this journey a few years back we were fighting for projects and fighting to convince people, and today it is quite the opposite,” Nizam said of the acceleration of projects within EADS. “What’s interesting is that it’s not only the number of projects increasing rapidly, but also the size of each project, the geographic territory and the complexity of the project.”

One current RFID project spans 10 manufacturing plants in five countries. Nizam estimates that EADS is probably about one-third of the way to a total RFID rollout and transformation throughout EADS.

RFID projects began spreading rapidly from Airbus to other EADS divisions in 2010, including Eurocopter (the world’s primary civil helicopter manufacturer), Astrium (a global leader in space programs) and Cassidian (a provider of state-of-the-art solutions for military and civil security).

The successes at Airbus are being duplicated and rolled across the other divisions. In most cases, 80 percent of the deployments at Airbus can be replicated at other business divisions, with the last 20 percent requiring tweaking.

“We try to reuse as much as possible because speed and cost are important drivers for us,” says Nizam. “We try to reuse 80 or 90 percent of the project and then customize the interface to the back end system which can be different.”

A major manufacturing facility being built in France will include RFID being built in to the facility as a standard feature.

“We’ve taken these existing processes and put them into a new building so just like you have power and ethernet in a building, RFID becomes just as normal,” says Jamil Khalil, head of sourcing and EADS coordination at Airbus.

The projects underway throughout EADS run the gamut. Almost every division is engaged in some sort of tool tracking program. At Astrium, RFID is being used to track compliance for lab coats that need to be tested for electrical continuity every 10 washings. RFID helps to manage the compliance and tracking process.

Astrium must keep track of paper documents for all of its military contracts and is required to perform inventory on the paper documents every year. In the future, the company may consider using RFID for document management to save on the labor currently required to track documents.

Another future application involves tagging between 300 to 500 thermal blankets that are utilized inside of the satellites that Astrium manufacturers. More testing is required before the company reaches that milestone.

With all of its success, EADS still faces challenges to keep up with the rapid adoption of RFID.

“We have a very mature portfolio of solutions, and we have a very healthy backlog of projects and an extremely interesting and innovative pipeline,” says Nizam. “So I’m very bullish about the situation.

“In terms of transformation, I think it probably means we are about one-third of the way there. There are a lot of challenges ahead of us. As all of these projects go into service, we have to operate and support them on a scale that we’ve never seen before.

“The other thing is that we are ramping up in terms of recruitment. We’ve more than tripled the size of the team since we started and we’ll probably double again. So finding good resources is key. The third and probably most important strategic challenge is engagement with our suppliers. In order to transform the industry and to be able to provide the benefits to our customers, we need the support the supply chain. That’s going to be the next strategic challenge for the next 12 months.”

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