RFID Parts Tracking

The Situation

This wheel tracking problem is operational critical for airlines and yet easy to solve! That’s why we were approached to solve this important problem for them. Wheels have got to be in good shape because blowouts can be dangerous and expensive to the airline. So each night all the tires on aircraft are checked and the worn out ones replaced. This process can take many hours to get the old one off, located the correct wheel for replacement, transport it out to the aircraft and get it mounted before the first flight of the morning. The paperwork to indicate which new wheel was removed from inventory and used for replacement is hand-written on the 8130 form and follows the old wheel back to the shop. Within 24 – 72 hours this information may get entered into the inventory system and someone will order a new tire from the manufacturer. This is a fairly standard process across all airlines.

The Target

The above example with one wheel doesn’t seem too complex, but multiple that by 100 wheels every night across a global airline system and a 2-3 day delay in even knowing that they need to order new wheels causes unacceptable delays in replacing this crucial inventory item. With some wheels weighing hundreds of pounds and all stacked together against a wall, it is both dangerous and labor intensive to roll each wheel to the side to read the paperwork of the one behind to take an inventory and determine which wheels need to be ordered. The target is to speed the data collection to create actionable information, avoid human injuries, improve availability of needed wheels, and reduce overall inventories of slow moving wheels.

The Solution

A quick and simple test was conducted to ensure that RFID tags could be read on each wheel even when they were all stacked against the wall. The results were excellent! Rather than spending hours each day taking inventory of which wheels were still there and deducing which wheels were consumed, the storekeeper can now simply use a handheld computer to walk by the entire row of wheels and read all the RFID tags in 30 seconds. The RFIDAeroTrack system compares to what was at that location on the previous check and knows immediately which wheels were consumed. Not a single heavy wheel was moved to get this necessary business data. New wheels can be ordered immediately without waiting for paperwork to be entered into the system days later.

With wheels costing from $1000 to $10,000 each, an airline does not want to have too many, nor do they dare have too few with the possibility of cancelling a flight. Using RFID to easily determine their wheel re-order needs allows them to right-size their inventory and get real time numbers on the types and locations of all their wheels. This added visibility provides the manager the tool he needs to run his operation as efficiently as possible while reducing injuries for his people. Reducing inventories and delays flows right to the bottom line of the organization.

This RFIDAeroTrack system was redesigned (from using only fixed readers) and installed at Delta Airlines in 2 months time. Training for the end user is a 15 minute stand-up discussion with the user using the portable reader. Within 35 minutes after that, 74 wheels were tagged and inducted into the database – a very easy system to implement! Continuing enhancements are being made to better align with Delta’s particular business processes, and as fixed readers are later installed at unattended line stations that feature will be re-enabled to automatically track the movement of wheels in and out of the facility. Reports can be pushed out automatically or pulled from the server at any time. Delta now has clear visibility into what wheels are moving as well which are not, and inventory can be reduced/consolidated into a central location. The increased visibility also means that if a particular type of wheel is needed the database can tell you exactly where it is stored and the handheld reader can help the mechanic locate it precisely – no more driving to all the possible locations and moving dozens of wheels to search for the one he needs! The benefits are immediately clear to all who experience the system in operation.