on track to issue a set of radio frequency identification
specifications to its suppliers sometime during the first half of
The specifications will spell
out Boeing's technical standards relating to issues such as the
frequency, memory capacity and size of RFID tags and labels.
Suppliers that ship parts to Boeing will eventually need to label
their components with RFID tags that meet the specifications.
However, there will be no
mandate from Boeing requiring suppliers to implement RFID tagging
right away, said Daryl Remily, deputy programme manager of the
company's Auto-ID programme.
Boeing also has not decided
which of the thousands of parts that go into making an aircraft it
wants to be tagged first, Remily said. That decision will be based
on a study of several factors, including the cost of a part, its
importance to aircraft operations and how easy it is to repair, he
said. Boeing's plan to
RFID-enable its supply chain echoes moves being made
by companies such as Wal-Mart Stores and Airbus SAS, Boeing's
European aircraft rival. In fact, Boeing and Airbus are working
together to promote common standards for the use of RFID within
the aviation industry.
One issue that still needs to be
addressed is whether suppliers will get any tangible paybacks from
their RFID investments. "A lot of people are rushing into
RFID without a clear idea of what their business case is,"
said Jeff Woods, an analyst at Gartner. The
sheer size and market presence of Boeing will allow it to drive
standards and adoption of RFID in the aerospace industry - just as
Wal-Mart is doing in the retail sector, said Michael Liard, an
analyst at Venture Development. "It is largely the big guys
in the block that are leading the charge" towards smart
labels, he said.
But companies in the aerospace
and defence industries could benefit from the more efficient
marking and tracking of parts that RFID technology
makes possible, Woods said. "The
trick is to make sure that everyone benefits from it, including
the suppliers," he said.
Boeing expects the use of RFID
tags to lower its receiving costs, improve its ability to track
parts and reduce the risk that unapproved components will find
their way into planes, according to Remily. Potential
benefits for suppliers include lower inventory costs as well as
improved configuration control and more detailed repair histories,
Boeing and Airbus plan to use
The Air Transport Association of America's Spec 2000 e-business
standard for specifying how individual RFID labels need to be
constructed using parts numbers, serial numbers and manufacturers'
codes, Remily said. Boeing
is also carrying out a series of tests to verify the usability of
RFID tags on commercial airplanes.
Earlier this year, it completed
a 90-day evaluation of 13.56-MHz passive RFID labels that were
affixed to different parts of an MD-10 freight airliner owned by
FedEx. The 10kbit
labels were tested for their potential to create electromagnetic
interference, as well as for adhesiveness, readability of data and
the ability to write data into them.
According to Remily, the labels
showed no detrimental environmental effects and didn't cause any
electromagnetic problems during the test. In
the next few weeks, similar tests will be conducted on RFID tags
that will be stuck to the engine cowling on six Boeing 757
aircraft belonging to Delta Air Lines.
Boeing is also moving forward
with tests of 915-MHz ultra-high-frequency RFID tags with both
Delta and FedEx.