RFID Tracking on Aircraft Tools:
RFID – Radio Frequency Identification, in Aviation this is an appealing term Since one can think of the real time traceability of the Tools.
Aircraft maintenance and repair is a primary environment where highly specialized and expensive tools are used in a critical time-sensitive environment. Aircraft repairs, modifications and maintenance are performed by highly trained technicians along with some precision and expensive tools. Therefore, such expensive tools must be tracked and calibrated well to ensure the valuable Aircraft Maintenance on track. Missing of one simple tool can have a direct impact on the airworthiness of the aircraft. RFID technology in place provides accurate information to manage operations and co-ordinate tools flows.
During Work Execution, it is possible that more than one work order be assigned to the same technician and for different aircraft. In that case, technician moves from one aircraft to another to perform their assigned task. It is easy for technician to move to another aircraft once he completes his work order on currently assigned aircraft, but tools cannot be moved for aircraft maintenance. it must be reissued. Gang/Store IC scans the tools of tradesman using RFID hand-held reader rather returning to IC shift. Gang IC accounts for the tools issued to tradesman and updates the system and matches with issued tools to ensure that no tools are left in aircraft. Gang IC scan tools for all tradesmen working for existing work order. Once tools are reassigned using RFID hand-held reader, tradesmen can move to another aircraft for different work order. If Gang IC found gaps in scan count against issued tool count, then lost tool process will be triggered and tradesmen would not be allowed to move to next work order maintenance. This will ensure operational safety and most importantly save a lot of invaluable time.
Tools are often misplaced, borrowed, and sometimes not returned. To instantly track the location of tools and identify who was last using them using RFID tags. It guarantees readiness and avoids major downtime via exhaustive tool searching. RFID tag readers can be posted at points of exit or entry to log what tools are being removed and by whom. Basically, there is a need to know where the tools are placed at all times. This will ensure operational safety, cost and most importantly save the invaluable time.
How Does it work:
RFID – the whole setup consists of RFID Tags, an Antenna or a Receiver, Middleware and a Reader.
RFID Tags – This is the heart of the complete system, whereby digital data encoded in RFID tags are captured by a reader via radio waves
RFID Antenna – which would be placed in the Tool Store/Crib, it radiates the electromagnetic waves generated by the reader and receives the RF signals from the tag.
RFID Reader – The reader sends out radio wave signals to the antenna if a tag enters this electromagnetic region, it detects the activating signal from the reader.
Checking Tools in and out:
RFID systems require the accurate reading of both the user taking out the tool and the tools the user has in possession. It does not require line of sight reading unlike a barcode system. The user must be in closer proximity (from few centimetres to 10 meters) to the RFID reader in order to the system read the specific employee ID tag and the tool tag accurately.
Advantages of RFID System:
- Accuracy of reading the tags from certain distance (up to 10 Meters).
- Traceability of the last user through RFID tags or swipe card.
- Complete removal of paper tracking system.
- Facilitate the tool cribs’ issue/return to the technician assigned with a task/workorder.
- Less human intervention thus reducing costs and human error in tracking.
- Notifies Storeroom/Tool Crib sensors at entrance/exit points to set up boundaries for.
- Easy Identification of lost/misplaced tools.
- Enhanced Operational safety
- The tags require a certain surface area to stick to the tools. All the tools available in the tool crib cannot be tagged since there are few tools which are very small and used in confined places of the aircraft that it does not have the surface area required to stick the tags upon it.
- Endurance of tags is another concern, due to rough and frequent usage of the tools, the wear and tear of the tags is maximum.
- Initial tagging of RFID to each individual tool consumes huge amount of time.
- The adhesive solution used to stick the tags to tools should last for longer period.
- At times RFID Tags by itself becomes a FOD if it detaches from the tools and lost during maintenance activity.
- Every RFID tag itself comes with an expiration date based on the manufacturer, we need to keep track of it as well and include those in maintenance program alongside aircraft.
- Erratic behaviour of the reader or the antenna due to any unforeseen issue, basically all are electronic sensors and it has its own pros and cons. If this is not rectified on time, it may hinder the maintenance activity big time.
- Tools served in tool bags cannot be tracked individually, only the tool bag can be tracked. So, it would be hard to find a lost tool inside the bag. Thus, requiring manual intervention.
Despite of all the challenges, RFID system plays an important role in issue/return of tools in aviation industry. One of the alternatives of RFID system is Barcode system, but then it has its own pros and cons as well. Therefore, a better system combining a Barcode and RFID or a system which can address all the issues faced by these two can serve a vital role in tool tracking.
About Giri Krishnamoorthy: Aviation Practice consultant, with 10 years of experience in Airline/Aviation industry. Responsible for implementing ERP/EAM Solutions for Aerospace & Defence, and Power & Utilities industries globally with strong understanding of business processes, application of new & emerging technologies.