According to Lois Hill, technical operations manager - RFID Integrated Solutions at Boeing Information Services and former American Airlines maintenance planner, the environmental and operational tests of RFID technology are exceeding expectations. Hill says, “Boeing installed 28 RFID tags and contact memory buttons in the harshest of test environments — APUs, engine integrated drive generators, landing gears, and other locations. They flew for 2,000 hours and were evaluated. Additionally they were put through a variety of other destructive and nondestructive tests related to component maintenance environments. All the RFIDs were functional, could be read and written to, and far exceeded specifications and expectations, showing no or very little signs of deterioration.”
During an operational test, the oxygen generators on a B 737-800 were inspected, a job that would normally take about four hours to complete. With RFID tags affixed to the generators, “the inspector held the RFID reader at belt level and walked down the aisle from First Class past the last coach row. In one minute and 30 seconds, all the data from the oxygen generators was acquired and their status read. The same test was conducted on a B 777. It took 15 minutes to inspect all the oxygen generators,” Hill says.
It appears that the technology is performing well and meeting regulatory requirements and industry standards. Boeing has performed system interference checks. Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and electromagnetic interference, or (EMI), tests have been conducted and “confirmed that there will be no interference between RFID and airplane systems in any ground-based configuration,” Hill says.
The RFID technology and implementation processes are straightforward. According to Hill, “It’s a minor change, an alternate part-marking method. Boeing has the necessary FAA approvals. The technology is ISO 18000-6C compliant, meets ATA Specification 2000, Chapter 9 RFID data standards, and meets SAE Aerospace Standard AS5678.”
“Boeing offers five standard automated identification technology products to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of inspections, fault diagnosis, and repair. They are:
- Emergency equipment management
- Linens and tapestry management
- Rotables management
- Repairables management
- Airframe degradation management”
Their umbrella offering is RFID Integrated Solutions that allows operators to use non-line-of-sight RFID technology to automate inspections, change components at the appropriated time, and retrieve data at the point of use. This would certainly help maintenance operations managers and AMTs make better maintenance decisions.
Hill says, “A customer who subscribes to Boeing’s RFID Integrated Solution program will get a custom-tailored solution which will meet their specific maintenance needs. The Boeing support team would match the Integrated Solution implementation plan with the customer’s maintenance schedule and aircraft bill of work. They would get Boeing personnel at their site to help oversee hardware and software integration and implementation. This includes on-site technical and engineering oversight during airplane retrofits which can be done during overnight checks or during other routine maintenance.”
Benefits of RFID based maintenance programs
Obviously AIT technology and Boeing supported customer specific maintenance programs will enhance the efficacy of customer’s stores management, work planning, and aviation maintenance programs in general. When Hill was asked if the gains in maintenance efficiency could result in the need for fewer AMTs, she said, “Certainly not.”
The RFID maintenance programs will add capacity. In other words it will free up AMTs from the mundane, repetitive tasks to use their higher order skills like trouble shooting, problem solving, and decision making. This will help their companies improve their bottom line and become more competitive and grow their business. These RFID technology-based maintenance programs will also address some of the “Human Factors Dirty Dozen” by improving communication and accurate maintenance data entry and component tracking.
Truth be told, it will be a boon to those of us that are getting a bit creaky in the joints, are wearing bifocals, or have challenges with our short-term memory. Weep, groan and creak no more — RFID technology is on the way and it is our friend. AMT