Visualizing the Value Chain [ Airbus S.A.S. ]
Airbus has taken a lead in the manufacturing sector in adopting RFID technology as part of its value chain visibility initiative, and seen enormous benefits to its business. By using Fujitsu's Automated Identification Technology (AIT) solution, Airbus is bringing the physical world of industrial processes and aircraft parts into the digital world, and helping streamline the full lifecycle from inhouse production to inservice operation of their aircraft, generating key business insights along the way.
"Smart technologies like RFID(*1) can help us connect to our aircraft parts, and help create the Internet of Things for Airbus. This is where Fujitsu is helping us."
Carlo K. Nizam, Head of Value Chain Visibility and RFID
Traceability of the entire process
Building and servicing modern passenger aircraft is a complex, challenging and expensive business. Like any business, Airbus uses IT systems to help manage their manufacturing operations. However, getting data into these systems in the past has relied on using paper-based processes. The growing complexity of their operations means handling this data is becoming a more difficult challenge. Forty years ago Airbus was building ten aircraft per year. In 2015 they built 629. In the coming years it will approach one thousand. In 2012, Airbus was tracing 1.2 million parts every year. By 2017 they expect this number to rise to more than double in just five years.
Aircraft parts have life cycles that can run into decades, from design and manufacturing through to repair and disposal. Each part requires careful management. Safety and security are the top priority for the aviation industry. So traceability of the entire process is essential. Managing and tracking components is a complex challenge. Faults clearly cannot be tolerated and error-free maintenance is absolutely essential. Data builds up continuously through the lifetime of the aircraft.
Production also represents a challenge. Airbus has geographically dispersed production lines. An A380, for instance, is made up of sub-assemblies – nose, fuselage, wings, tailplane - in factories across France, Germany, Spain and the UK. With each finished aircraft coming with a list price tag of $428M, inventory is a significant cost to its business. An efficient supply chain is essential to their business.
Digitalizing its operations
In order to help address these challenges, Airbus began to digitalize its operations and RFID is an important piece of the solution. Airbus is using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology across the full lifecycle of its operations to provide real-time automated visibility, streamline processes and reduce waste. With regards to aircraft parts, the technology enables a range of information, such as part number, serial number, date of manufacture and even maintenance history, to be electronically and digitally attached to aircraft components.
Airbus's next-generation aircraft, the A350 XWB, is delivered with over 2,000 components fitted with RFID tags. Airbus has further extended permanent RFID part marking to traceable parts for all its aircraft families and in 2014 launched a project to replace conventional name plate attached to these parts produced in-house with an RFID enhanced nameplate as standard. As Carlo K. Nizam, puts it: "The way we look at it is that it’s no different than an aircraft. In the late 80s we built the first fly-by-wire commercial aircraft with the A320. And what we're trying to do today is exactly that. We're trying to build a fly-by-wire value chain. A digitalized value chain."
RFID tags for aircraft parts must be robust. They need to be resilient to the harsh environments that an aircraft encounters but they also must be light. Fujitsu tags successfully met all the severe qualification criteria, and Airbus selected Fujitsu as a supplier for a 'RFID Integrated Label' as well as a RFID data encoding and printing solution. Fujitsu was chosen on the basis of its strengths in semiconductor technology, RFID design and manufacturing, and global delivery capability.
Increasing productivity and lower cycle times
To perform a manual check of seats and other traceable items and record the serial numbers and locations used to take hours of work. On top of this, the data had to be manually entered into a system and cross referenced for discrepancies. Using RFID, the same process takes minutes. The efficiency of on-site work is vastly improved and manual data entry errors are eliminated. Moreover, information can be shared and checked instantaneously. The value of the technology goes straight to the bottom line: aircraft can spend longer in the air.
Production has seen even greater benefits. By using RFID, components are managed and tracked through the production line. As the storage locations of all types of parts and their statuses are identifiable, inventory control of parts can be fine-tuned, leading to shorter lead times for parts supply and elimination of duplication in procurement. There are significantly less backlogs and unnecessary delays. The tangible benefits have been increased productivity and lower cycle times, meaning lower inventory and a better cash position. A better quality of data means fewer problems and errors in the assembly process. The technology is expected to reduce supply chain inventory costs alone by more than 20%. But the intangible benefits have been just as great. Airbus can now better visualize their supply chain, in real time. This information generates new insights, which further benefit the business. As Nizam observes, "Great things happen when things are connected. We can know what is where and when all automatically, in real-time and digitally."
Applying Fujitsu’s RFID and Sensor Solutions to other industries
To promote the introduction of RFID to the aviation industry, a working group established by the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) has been leading initiatives to standardize RFID data format. Since joining this working group in 2007, Fujitsu has been involved in the collaborative process of establishing a RFID standard called ATA Spec 2000.
Fujitsu's RFID and Sensor Solutions are supporting the supply chain in the aviation industry. Fujitsu offers RFID tags and other AIT devices, readers corresponding to the RFID frequencies of various countries, and middleware for ensuring data integrity. Fujitsu is a one-stop source of the solutions covering everything from development of systems attuned to customer needs to maintenance operations. Fujitsu‘s global support underpins distributed information infrastructure. Based on its track record in the aviation industry, Fujitsu is cooperating with partners and customers in major industries worldwide, now offering RFID and Sensor Solutions to other Industries.
(*1) RFID (Radio Frequency Identification):
The non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to access, register, update and delete data. It can be used to automatically identify and track objects which have RFID tags attached.
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