RFI Tags and Boeing

Boeing/Bernard Choi

A maintenance expert shows how airline technicians would use a
scanner to read information from small identification tags that are embedded in
the airplane. Boeing, Alaska Airlines and Fujitsu are launching this new service
in a program called Component Management Optimization.

Alaska Airlines maintenance technician Mark Whittaker bends
down to inspect a Boeing 737 cabin door. Airplane inspections like this can take
hours of hard work.

The Alaska Airlines maintenance technician showed us how he inspects a Boeing
Next-Generation 737 from front to back by checking almost every nook and cranny.

“We have cards that remind us exactly what to look for and you have to go
through and check it all,” says Whittaker during a break inside Alaska Airlines’
hangar at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “You just have to. It’s
important.”

Boeing, Fujitsu and Alaska Airlines are partnering to test and
validate a program that could shave hours from some of these inspections. Called
the Component Management Optimization program, all a technician would have to do
is walk around the airplane with a scanner.

“You save money, save manpower and [put] less wear and tear on the
mechanics as they’re not crawling on the floor.” Glen Steger, airplane
maintenance expert

The solution is embedding small contact-memory buttons (CMB) or radio
frequency identification devices (RDIF) in the airplane. Those tags send out
radio waves that can be read by an electronic reader.

The contact memory buttons (circular) and radio frequency
identification tags (rectangular) can store all kinds of information such as
part number, serial number, date of manufacture, and maintenance
history.

“With an RFID tag on a certain panel, you can walk by and point and click and
read the information about that panel and everything associated with it,” said
Glen Steger, a veteran airline maintenance mechanic who advised Boeing on the
program. “That way, you don’t have to open it up, take the time for removing the
screws and replacing the screws to do that.”

In the video above, Whittaker demonstrates how a traditional, manual check
would work compared to one aided by RFID and CMB technology. The former took
nearly 9 minutes, while the latter was completed in about one minute.

“If it’s smart enough to check your [part] tags and possibly even pressures,
I think it would be a good idea to speed things up,” says Whittaker.

“If it’s smart enough to check your [part] tags and possibly even
pressures, I think it would be a good idea to speed things up.” Mark Whittaker,
Alaska Airlines maintenance technician

The tags can store all kinds of information such as the part number, serial
number, and date of manufacture. Technicians can update the maintenance history
on the tags by typing the latest information on the scanner and sending it to
the tags via radio waves. It becomes an electronic record that travels with the
airplane.

In a demonstration of how airlines could save time and money by
using radio frequency identification technology, Alaska Airlines maintenance
mechanic did a cabin check the old-fashioned way and one if RFID and CMB devices
were embedded in the airplane.

The program is scheduled to launch by 2012 and Alaska Airlines will be the
first airline to use the technology with their airplanes. Other airlines flying
Boeing and non-Boeing airplanes could follow and use the same technology after
the program is certified.

“Our partnership with Boeing reflects our vision of being on the leading edge
of the best technology applications that we believe will shape the future
airline operations environment,” says Fred Mohr, vice president of maintenance
and engineering at Alaska Airlines.

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