If there is one sector which has to operate at the apt confluence of time, money, comfort and safety – its aviation. It is, thus, a no-brainer that the only way to attain maximum productivity for the Aviation sector would be by leveraging technology. The quest for leveraging technology has led to a revolution in civil aviation. The stakeholders, be it the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as Boeing and Airbus, the Maintenance and Repair Organisations (MROs) and the airlines themselves, have embraced RFID to improve processes, efficiency, turnaround, and, above all, safety, – all adding to making air travel a pleasurable experience. It is important to understand that the activities involved in making every flight a safe and pleasurable experience in nothing short of a mission critical project. Let’s delve a bit into this.
The beginning of a revolution
- The global airline industry has been formally working on the implementation of RFID technology since 2003 and decided to leverage RFID in two definable heads – flyable areas and on the ground activities.
- The initial success in the use of RFID in the aviation sector came from “one the ground” areas. It was within the confines of the airlines operations and gave them the freedom to define how to leverage RFID. For example: Airbus has been using RFID for more than a decade now for multiple internal processes such as identifying and tracking the expensive jigs that are used to transport aircraft components or for kit tracking from logistics areas to final assembly areas or even tools tracking so that they are available when needed. RFID could also be used to track the automated production progress and OEMs like Airbus saw clear return on investment (ROI) by employing RFID into their processes. The flyable arena was still a challenge. Boeing and Airbus decided to address this together by talking to multiple airlines and explaining the significant benefits of RFID. They even began tagging flyable parts of their 787 aircrafts. This began the revolution in RFID and the results in terms of efficiency, cost savings, time saving and better service is still “ work-in-progress”.
How does RFID impact OEMs and MROs?
- The airline value chain is very complex. With RFID, the OEMs were able to track the manufacturing, ensure process automation and be in control of logistics of critical parts to the final assembly. In 2012, Airbus announced it was expanding its RFID activities across its entire fleet. All seats and life vests on new A320, A330, and A380 aircraft were tagged with permanent RFID tags starting 2013. By tagging these items, it did reduce the time required for safety check and inventory activity from hours down to minutes.
- The use of RFID has immensely benefitted the MROs. RFID technology is being deployed across the civil aviation industry to undertake maintenance tracking to inventory management, asset management to materials monitoring and tracking and management of tools and optimum utilization of manpower. Today, airline companies which have successfully deployed RFID are already realizing benefits such as improved utilization of material, tooling and manpower, reductions in scrap material, improved inventory turns, real-time work in progress visibility enabling effective management and most importantly, enhancement of efficiency across the value chain. Companies which appreciate the data generated and stored by use of RFID tags across devices are able to go one step ahead and leverage the power of data analytics to further improve efficiencies and operate at better margins.
- The MRO operations at the back-end can be undertaken much faster by the use of RFID. A commercial aircraft is checked and maintained before and after each flight, on the ground and inside the cabin. RFID enabled MRO systems are used for :-
- Tracking tools, equipment and maintenance schedules and to notify service personnel about unchecked or recalled components. They also closely track and replenish replacement parts and scan safety equipment quickly.
- The ground staff checks the passenger cabin and each seating area for the required safety equipment and verifies if the number of life jackets, masks, oxygen containers and other critical items is accurate.
- The RFID applications enables the staff to verify and update Maintenance Records and track when tools are checked in and out..
- With RFID enables assets and integrated MRO systems, real-time inventory management is seamless and enables audit trail of tool usage. It enables faster turnaround time while ensuring adherence to safety compliances.
- The MRO spends is expected to be to the tune of US$80B by 2020 and exceed US$100B by 2025. This would lead to a lot of spending on technological innovations including RFID, IoT and wearables. Europe accounts for almost one-third of the $36 billion global commercial and regional/business jet MRO market. Based on a 4.7 percent per annum growth rate, the world market for civil aircraft above 80 seats could be worth up to $1600 billion over the next 20 years.
- Based on the above facts, two things stand out –
- A) The need for having RFID enabled MROs across the world, especially India which, according to KPMG, will be the third largest aviation market in the globe.
- B) The second is the need to reduce waste across the supply chain from manufacturer to the end user. The aerospace industry across the globe accounts for an estimated waste of material is to the tune of over $50B which can be drastically brought down with the use of RFID which enables OEMs and MROs to ensure that inventory turns are kept to the minimum, thereby enabling maximum operational efficiency.
What are the business benefits?
The business benefits using RFID are evident. OEMs such as Airbus witnessed a marked reduction in requirement of capital assets and stock reconciliations, and an increase in labour productivity and supplier monitoring. With an improved supplier forecasting, Airbus achieved improved supplier delivery performance thus reducing the costs of production, maintenance and inventory. The results are leaner and more competitive business processes. For instance, Airbus reduced its incorrect deliveries by eight percent and also improved the flow of materials in 2006 by using RFID. It also saved 100,000 € annually compared to the 180,000 € one time investment costs, and reduced the repair cycle by 6.5 days, thereby improving inventory management.
How do Airlines benefit?
- In 2013, airlines mishandled 21.8 million bags, or 6.96 per 1,000 passengers, according to SITA, an aviation communications and technology company that tracks baggage performance each year. That’s less than half the rate in 2007, when airlines world-wide mishandled 46.9 million bags, or 18.88 per 1,000 passengers. The effective use of technology has contributed to this difference. Correspondingly, there have been tremendous cost savings in baggage handling and more importantly, stark reduction in lost baggage cases which will enhance customer experience.
- RFID will usher in the following key characteristics for airlines:
- The most important aspect of air travel is safety. It cannot be compromised at any cost. Hence, airlines and MRO deploy their staff to check each and every critical flyable part of the airline. The quality check, though very important, is a time consuming affair. With human beings entering the equation to perform this crucial task, it becomes prone to human error as well. There are a number of components such as oxygen cylinders, first aid kits, physician’s kits, crash axe, safety cards, flash lights, megaphones, smoke generators, oxygen masks, fire extinguishers, lavatory items, life rafts, slide /slide rafts, life vests, seat belts, blankets, pillows, service carts that need to be checked before the flight takes off, every checking this with a team of efficient human beings does take a lot of time, RFID can help check and validate these in seconds. This enables MROs and airlines to accurately monitor and verify if each part on the aircraft before each flight much faster than when it is done manually. The airlines can thus turnaround faster and fly more passengers to and from cities.
- With RFID, the asset and inventory management and tracking can be error-free. In fact, in the area of tracking solutions, introducing RFID can translate into huge savings. RFID solutions also efficiently track of assets and inventory through all stages of the complex supply chain extending from manufacturers, through bonded stores and right up to the end users – followed by accurate cloud based maintenance management for the aircrafts. This enables airlines to always be in control of their assets which is very critical.
- Time Management.When the checking of its components and validation is done in seconds by the use of RFID, it frees up the bandwidth and enables better manpower utilization. This enables other checks and pre-flight arrangements to be done in time. Thus, the flights will take-off on time. The delays due to technical snag, operational issues etc. will be avoided thus delighting the air travellers as instances of flights getting delayed for hours will reduce by a significant number.
- Efficient and cost-effective. By leveraging RFID, airlines and MROs will change the way they undertake maintenance, repair, inspections, overhaul etc. DolphinRFID is doing this in India in collaboration with Aman aviation. Technological update will enable airlines to put together an end-to-end RFID enabled supply chain. This will help airlines to spend maximum time in the air taking travellers to and from cities which will, in turn, improve number of flights per day and air travel experience. Hence, the airlines will become more profitable. The cost benefits will ultimately be passed on to the end customer.
What does the future hold?
With RFID setting up the bedrock for further innovation – specially growing into the IOT space- the airline industry would see the use of many sensor based solutions. With digital transformation leaving a distinct impact on the industry, the flow of data from machines to handheld devices would mean that the front-line staff would have ubiquitous access to critical information and hence time taken for maintenance and repair would reduce. This would also optimise the utilisation of manpower. The advent of wearables – supported by the power of RFID – will collate a lot of critical operational data data for analytical models which can then churn insights that can increase efficiency across the value chain of the aerospace industry.
Let’s brace ourselves to embark into a world of seamless aviation experience powered by RFID.