The French company chosen to provide radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags for the first major application on “flyable” aircraft components–the Airbus A350 XWB–has established a branch in Boston to support U.S.-based A350 suppliers in tagging their parts.
MAINtag, based in Paris, won an eight-year contract from Airbus in late 2009 to provide RFID tags that will be affixed to some 3,000 parts on the A350, scheduled to enter service in 2013. MAINtag manufactures the tag body; and memory-chip developer Tego, Inc., of Waltham, Mass., provides the internal, 8-kilobyte memory chip specified by Airbus.
RFID uses radio frequency waves to transfer identification and usage data between tagged components and a reader. The UHF tags developed for use on in-service aircraft are “passive,” without a dedicated power supply–approved only after several years of industry testing and qualification. Use of “active” tags containing an internal power source is prohibited for now, due to concern over potential interference with the tracked components. However, standards organizations are working on battery-powered active tags.
The A350 will be the first Airbus aircraft to use passive RFID tags on flyable parts, or parts installed on working airplanes, as opposed to parts awaiting service in maintenance facilities. Such flyable parts include those used in pressurized areas, such as avionics equipment, audiovisual equipment, seats and oxygen generators, and in non-pressurized areas, such as engines, wings, major components and subassemblies.
“This [Airbus] decision is an historic decision in the aircraft industry. It is the first time worldwide that a program has chosen RFID to track and trace parts,” said MAINtag President Bruno Lore, interviewed last week at the Paris Air Show.
Lore said the contract with Airbus covers “95 percent of A350 program parts; the remaining 5 percent we’re still discussing with Airbus. It means that, de-facto, MAINtag is number-one in the world for RFID on parts. This is very important to us, because we are still a small company, and with this contract we are going to grow with the markets.”
The company in April established a subsidiary in Boston to support U.S.-based A350 suppliers. Alexis Beurdeley, MAINtag sales manager, said MAINtag ships its FLYtag-brand RFID tags to suppliers such as Rockwell Collins, Parker Aerospace and Pacific Scientific Aerospace, which attach the tags before delivering their wares to Airbus.