RFID in Aviation & Aerospace

An RFID tag is basically a small electronic chip that is attached to the object which then helps collect and store data. Find more information about RFID in the aviation and aerospace industry, RFID advantages, and how it is being used in aircraft manufacturing, aircraft MRO, and airports.

What is RFID? 

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system mainly consists of a transmitter (RFID tag) and receiver (RFID reader). 

An RFID tag is basically a small electronic chip that is attached to the object which then helps collect and store data. The RFID reader is used to send or receive data from those RFID tags through radio frequency. Thus, the RFID system can basically record, collect and then wirelessly transmit the data through radio frequency. 

RFID is different from barcodes in the sense that the receiver does not need to be within the line of sight of the RFID tag to send and receive data, which is not possible with barcodes. This capability makes RFID suitable for applications with extended ranges which can be from a few meters to even up to a few kilometers. 

Another important feature of RFID tags is that they can collect and store data locally. In aviation, it could be aircraft part serial number, maintenance data, and so on. 

Also, every RFID tag has its own unique identification. This feature is especially useful in aviation as individual RFID tags can be used to track the parts such as aircraft engines, and other components as well as tools at the manufacturing or maintenance facility. Thus, RFID is a great tool for aviation asset management

RFID Advantages

A few of the major advantages of RFID in the aviation industry are as follows:

  • Identify, track and monitor aircraft parts and components. 
  • The capability to track multiple RFID tags simultaneously beyond the line of sight also improves efficiency while dealing with a large inventory of parts (such as in aircraft MRO facilities). 
  • RFID facilitates the process of inventory tracking and logistics handling, hence reducing manual labor and cost. 
  • Also, RFID can store the relevant part information locally, hence reducing the need to maintain a separate database in many cases.   

RFID in Aircraft Manufacturing

As discussed earlier, aircraft manufacturers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are using RFID tags in various aircraft parts. An aircraft involves various parts which are made at different locations throughout the world. These parts are then transported to a facility for final assembly. This process involves a lot of data tracking and complex logistics. 

Thus, tagging these aircraft parts and components with RFID tags allows the manufacturer to easily track the status of these parts throughout the logistics process. 

RFID in Aircraft Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO)

The RFID system is also widely used in aircraft MRO facilities. A few of the major application areas are as follows: 

To Aggregate Maintenance Data

The same capability of tracking and monitoring an individual part becomes beneficial after the aircraft is put into operation as well. RFID tags used in aircraft engines and other rotable parts help aggregate maintenance data throughout the life cycle of the part.

Tools and Equipment Tracking

Also, MRO providers use RFID systems to track hundreds of tools and equipment used in an MRO facility. The tools and equipment are moved constantly in everyday operation. Misplaced or lost tools are a common issue in MRO facilities. 

Misplaced tools are also one of the major causes of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) in an MRO facility. RFID systems are reported to have been highly beneficial to reduce such issues. 

Inventory Management of Spare Parts

Aircraft MRO facilities maintain a certain amount of critical spare parts so as to avoid an ‘Aircraft on Ground’ situation. For a smooth operation, the MRO facility needs to constantly monitor the service orders and verify the availability of spare parts required for the process. 

All these inventory management operations involve a lot of labor and paperwork if everything is done manually. It has been found that in a traditional MRO facility, maintenance personnel spends a large chunk of his/her time tracking parts and maintaining paperwork rather than on actual maintenance work. 

Thus, tagging spare parts, as well as other tools and equipment with RFID tags, can streamline most of the processes involved and in turn, reduce the total man-hours needed for a task.  

In short, the use of RFID systems in an aircraft MRO facility helps:

  • Aggregate the maintenance data of an aircraft component, 
  • Reduce the issue of misplaced or lost tools, 
  • Streamline inventory management, 
  • Accurately track and replenish spare parts as required, 
  • Reduce the man hours spent on paperwork and inventory management, 
  • Improve the overall operational efficiency and hence reduce cost.

RFID in Airport

RFID technology is being increasingly used in airports for baggage handling. 

Passengers can self-tag their bags with RFID tags which have largely helped towards the goal of an accelerated check-in process. RFID-enabled check-in station not only helps speed up the baggage check-in process but also saves time for both airport employee and passenger. 

Also, bags with RFID tags have higher read rates than the barcode system. Thus, RFID systems for baggage handling have been found to increase accuracy and lower the instances of lost baggage or mishandling.   

Passenger can also track their baggage throughout the journey providing ‘peace of mind’ and hence a positive customer experience.

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Dipesh Dhital

Dipesh Dhital

Dipesh is the founder of aviationoutlook.com and an avid follower and enthusiast of aviation/aerospace industry. He has background in aerospace engineering and MBA (Aviation Management). “I am an advocate for the new technological advancements in aviation/aerospace industry. I have been avidly following the developments in drone industry, electric aircraft as well as emerging technologies (such as AR/VR, 3D Printing, IoT, AI and Blockchain), which will have huge impact on aviation/aerospace industry in near future”.

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