Improvements in RFID technology increase adoption
Over the last five years we have seen significantly increased adoption of RFID in the Aerospace and Defense industries due to improvements in RFID technology and its capabilities, as well as a visible convergence in many areas of standardization.
RFID technology can deliver benefit where processes are redesigned to ensure effective data capture and use by information systems, and taking advantage of the improved accuracy of data capture to eliminate current manual tasks and provide new capabilities.
Here we explore five diverse examples of successful RFID deployment in Aerospace and Defense:
U.S. Marine Corp.
As part of its efforts to improve asset visibility and equipment accountability, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Blount Island Command is now applying passive RFID tags to the equipment transported on what are known as maritime prepositioning ships (MPS).
These MPS vessels are loaded with a variety of Marine Corps and Navy equipment and supplies, including tanks, howitzers, trucks, ammunition, food, hospital equipment, petroleum products, supplies and spare parts. The vessels are then strategically positioned throughout the globe, ready for rapid delivery ashore where and when required.
Based on the success of the tests conducted at Blount Island and in Korea, the command is continuing to place passive RFID tags on containers and vehicles for MPS.
Meals, Ready to Eat (MRE) and First Strike Rations (FSR) are developed for the US Army with a shelf life of 2 to 3 years. However, depending on storage conditions, meals exposed to high temperatures in the Middle East were deteriorating in as little as four weeks. The US DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) buys about 30 million meals from several companies and keeping track of shelf life, likely degradation, and shipping priority of each box was proving to be a nightmare. RFID technology is now being used to handle this problem. Software solutions are also being created to ensure smart distribution of meals so that meals with lesser shelf life are sent to nearer units.
Boeing is using an RFID system at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to reduce man-hours spent inventorying tools, and to ensure that no tools are left at the launch pad, which could lead to fatal damage to the spacecraft.
Much of the work performed on spacecraft and at the launch pad is conducted at night, so as not to interfere with KSC’s daytime activities and limit the impact on the majority of the center’s personnel. In the dark, however, tools can be difficult to locate, and that means a diligent contractor must spend a considerable amount of time locating all tools used at the site before leaving.
A spokesperson for Boeing’s operation at KSC, says, “we have already seen a return on investment in terms of reduced man-hours spent looking for products, as well as the more intangible benefit of the security it offers NASA by ensuring all tools have been removed from the launch pad site once work is complete. Now NASA is really excited about it.”
Bell Helicopter, a civil and military aircraft manufacturer, has brought its on-time delivery of parts used during the production of helicopters to 99.81% since installing a RFID system to track the internal movements of parts and containers.
Bell Helicopter distributes parts from its central distribution center, located in Fort Worth, Texas, to its eight component and final assembly locations, in Fort Worth, as well as in Amarillo, Texas, and Mirabel, Quebec. The company’s goal was to better manage the movement of aircraft parts, and to reduce the incidences of lost or misrouted shipments. Since the deployment, Bell Helicopter estimates that it recouped its investment within a year.
Aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin has launched a wireless-sensor mesh-network system designed for detecting intrusion, monitoring secured areas or tracking structure stress, using small devices that contain active RFID tags and can incorporate energy-harvesting technology.
For the detection of movement at a border crossing, Self-Powered Ad-hoc Network (SPAN) nodes may be equipped with ground-vibration or acoustic sensors, while for structural-integrity applications, stress sensors would be employed.
According to Lockheed Martin, several undisclosed agencies within the U.S. government have successfully tested the ability of unattended ground sensors to protect personnel stationed in war environments, and to assist with border surveillance.