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RFID got another big boost at the end of last week with the announcement that Airbus signed a multimillion dollar, multiyear software deal to use the technology to track parts and tools used in the manufacturing and maintenance of its aircraft. The software vendors--IBM and OATSystems--are describing the deal as the biggest private sector RFID deal in history.
The deal shows a long-term commitment on the part of Airbus to the technology. As Carlo Nizam, the Airbus head of value chain visibility put it, RFID will become as "everyday as bar coding...as more people come to accept accurate information is not a luxury but a necessity."
Many in the supply chain world and beyond will no doubt link the deal to the shake-out at the company following the costly two-year delay in delivery of the A380; largely a result of components arriving from the Airbus factory in Hamburg to the assembly line in Toulouse without wiring pre-assembled as expected.
Airbus has been testing RFID for some time, to track how and where tools are used, and to track parts inside warehouses, as they move from one region to another, and as they're built into aircraft. The company expects greater RFID capability to help ongoing supply chain process improvements, saving money by reducing time searching for parts that never arrive at the assembly line, reducing inventory, and improving productivity.
"Airbus' objective is to error-proof and automate its supply chain and manufacturing operations, while also reducing costs," said OAT in a statement.
Supplier delays, design flaws leading to unanticipated rework, and longer testing have caused Boeing, meanwhile, to announce a third delay in delivery of its first Dreamliner 787. The Chicago-based company has delayed delivery of the first aircraft from the first to the third quarter of 2009. An extended delivery schedule for the entire program is expected.
As well as a design flaw requiring changes with down-the-line implications, Boeing's problems are partly a result of outsourcing an unprecedented share of the work, including major contracts in Japan and Italy, in order to spread manufacturing load and cost.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Boeing is now reducing the amount of so-called 'traveled work," with the paper noting that a senior Boeing executive recently traveled to Japan to work out communication and production problems with major suppliers there. Boeing is undertaking extensive RFID tests of its own. It will be very interesting to see what the much-lauded technology can do to smooth the highly complex business of aircraft manufacturing.
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