By Claire Swedberg
Dec. 2, 2011—Belgian aircraft parts manufacturer Asco Industries
is employing an RFID
-based solution to manage 2,000 large machining tools, known as fixtures, at its facility in Brussels. Since the system went live in June of this year, the company reports that it has reduced the amount of time its employees spend locating the large fixtures within its seven-building campus, from weeks down to hours. The system enables the firm to know in which building each tool is located; in that way, the tools can be quickly located for audits, when required by specific machining stations, or for maintenance or repair. The entire solution was provided by Zetes Corp.
Asco produces high-precision steel and titanium components used by the aircraft industry. The production of these parts requires the use of specialized machining tools, to which a piece of metal is affixed before being cut to form a component. Each part for every type of aircraft requires a unique fixture so that it can be cut properly for a specific customer. Asco makes the fixtures at its facility, and in some cases, the fixtures are created to meet the requirements of a particular customer. The resulting machining tools then belong to that specific customer, rather than to Asco. In such a scenario, the customer might occasionally want to conduct an audit of its fixtures, and ensure that they are being properly maintained. This can take a month for Asco (or the customer's own staff) to locate each fixture and view several different electronic records—for example, one managed by the maintenance department, and another by the audit department.
Jerome Coulon, Zetes-RFIDea's sales and project manager
A Max tag was screwed directly onto each fixture, and was then read using the MC9090-G unit. Zetes-RFIDea's software installed on the handheld enabled staff members to view a list of all fixtures on site. They could then simply scroll through the list to select the one that was tagged, or use a search function by entering the first few digits of the fixture's identification number, in order to shorten the search. The tag's unique ID number was then married to that fixture in the back-end software.
When later moved, the fixtures are placed on pallets and relocated via trucks. Each of the seven buildings has one doorway for items entering or exiting. At each doorway, Zetes-RFIDea installed one fixed reader on the inside wall and another on the outside wall. As fixtures are transported into or out of the facilities, the readers capture each tag's ID, and the Zetes-RFIDea software interprets the data and provides that read-event information to the Asco software. Zetes-RFIDea wired each interrogator to a motion sensor. The readers do not attempt to read tags until the motion sensor detects a moving object, after which the interrogators then take several reads of any tags within the area. If an interrogator reads the tag on one pass, but not during a subsequent read attempt, the system knows that the tag has passed through the door, as well as whether the fixture is entering or exiting the building. What's more, by tracking when the interior and exterior motion sensors detected movement, the system can screen out any stray reads from tags that may be passing near the doors but not moving through them.
If Asco's managers need to know a specific fixture's location, they can log onto the company's fixture-management software and discover in which building the fixture is located, based on previous read events. A worker can then bring the MC9090-G handheld and scan the tags within that building in order to identify the fixture sought. This process, Coulon says—which could have taken days in the past—is now a matter of hours or less.
Asco's workers also use the Motorola handheld reader to view a list of fixtures that need to be maintained, and then to locate specific fixtures. After identifying a fixture by reading its RFID tag, a staff member utilizes a scroll-down menu and presses prompts to indicate the work that needs to be performed. The software was specifically designed for ease of use, Coulon notes, thereby eliminating the need for employees to input text into a handheld. An operator can use the scroll-down menu to select maintenance actions, and to update that fixture's maintenance records accordingly. That data can then be transmitted via a Wi-Fi connection to Zetes-RFIDea software, which forwards the interpreted data to the Asco system. If there is no Wi-Fi connection available, the MC9090-G unit instructs the user to return the handheld to a docking station, where the maintenance data can be uploaded to the back-end system.
According to Coulon, the improved efficiency stems from both the use of radio frequency identification, and Asco's ability to store and access data centrally within its own software.