Boeing and partner Fujitsu of Japan have developed a maintenance system for airlines based on data-gathering radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and contact memory buttons (CMBs) affixed to aircraft parts, readers to extract the data and associated hardware and software.
Boeing’s RFID Integrated Solutions offering has undergone field testing with Alaska Airlines, the tentative launch customer, and plans call for it to be ready to enter service on February 22, said program manager Phil Coop. Boeing so far has met with 34 airlines to discuss the system, which it has officially offered since October, he said.
The system can be configured for Boeing or other manufacturers’ wide- or narrowbody aircraft, helping airlines better manage aircraft components and equipment retrofitted with RFID tags and CMBs—small data storage devices that a reader must touch to retrieve information.
Boeing is seeking approval from the FAA to have data recovered from the devices considered “authoritative” information, allowing maintainers to use the data when signing off task cards for continued airworthiness, Coop said. FAA advisory circular (AC) 20-162, which provides guidance for the use of RFID systems on aircraft, describes them as “ancillary” for parts marking.
“If [airlines] follow the given processes, we’re asking the FAA to approve the data that is coming off the tags as an authoritative source for very specific actions—not for the maintenance program as a whole, but for things like confirmation of the part identity, or confirmation of presence, security and serviceability of certain assets,” Coop said. Boeing proposes a “separate, supplemental maintenance program” that conforms to various regulations and AC 120-16E guidance for air carrier maintenance programs.
A system configuration for a Boeing 737-800 would consist of some 1,900 devices, with about 440 low-memory, 512-bit tags supplied by Avery Dennison RFID attached to emergency equipment, such as life preservers, oxygen generators, slides and rafts, Coop said. Fujitsu’s high-capacity, 64 kilobyte tag will track “rotable” parts, or parts frequently removed for service and not always returned to the same aircraft.
Plans call for CMBs from MacSema to appear on parts exposed to harsh environments, such as engines and landing gear. And Motorola, Fujitsu and other manufacturers will supply handheld and stationary readers.
While Airbus expects to deliver the first new aircraft with RFID tags installed—the A350XWB—Boeing plans to limit its offering to the aftermarket for now.
“What we’re doing is providing a tailored configuration for airplanes already in service,” Coop said. “Like Airbus, Boeing plans eventually to tag parts on airplanes [in] production, and right now our thinking is that it would be one standard as-delivered configuration that would be based on input from multiple airlines.”