Airbus flies IBM

Read time 3min 40sec

Airbus, the pan-European aircraft builder, is implementing a multimillion-dollar, multi-year RFID project that will help streamline its supply chain and manufacturing operations, including those at subcontractors in SA, such as Denel Saab Aerostructures and BEE aviation company Aerosud.

The Toulouse, France-based airliner maker also expects the project awarded to IBM and OATSystems to significantly reduce its aircraft production and maintenance costs by eliminating errors and automating processes.

Airbus will also roll out the system to customers, which in Africa number 19 airlines flying 101 aircraft, including SAA, Air Mauritius and Air Namibia. In addition, a number of global carriers flying to SA also rely on SAA Technical and Airbus's in-country customer support office for assistance and stand to gain from the implementation.

Airbus head of value chain visibility and RFID Carlo Nizam told Computerworld the deal would save the company "millions of euros per year".

A big RFID deal

The vendors say the project represents the manufacturing industry's single largest RFID software transaction to date, but did not disclose figures to back the claim. IBM and OATSystems say the deal follows a pilot project run over the past year.

Airbus and Boeing dominate the airline market with each holding about half of the global market. Airbus has 16 manufacturing plants in Europe and a worldwide supplier, as well as customer chain.

"Airbus's decision to use RFID across its operations sends a clear signal to manufacturers - that RFID isn't a technology for 'someday,' it can bring manufacturers a competitive edge right now," says IBM RFID solutions vice-president Martin Wildberger. "By giving Airbus greater visibility into its business processes, RFID can help serve as an engine for business transformation inside Airbus and across its partner network."

OATSystems CEO Michael George says the deal will demonstrate how an industry giant can put RFID to work throughout its operations to gain substantial efficiencies and competitive advantages. "This is yet another example of how RFID's core value is its ability to transform and improve business processes dramatically," he says.

Details and devils

The chosen solution runs on IBM's RFID infrastructure, which is powered by service-oriented architecture technology that includes the WebSphere Premises Server and the IBM Business Process Management portfolio, including WebSphere Process Server and WebSphere Business Monitor.

The IBM Tivoli Monitoring and IBM Tivoli Composite Application software products will be used for infrastructure monitoring.

OATSystems will contribute business applications including the OAT Foundation Suite, Asset Tracking and Work-in-Process solutions.

The vendors say Airbus will easily and quickly be able to integrate RFID into existing applications and, thereby, transform and streamline current business processes while gaining real-time visibility into daily operations. "Using this solution, Airbus will be able to deploy applications centrally at its distributed facilities or even at remote third-party sites to address specific business scenarios," the companies say.

Nizam notes that RFID tags are not being used for supplier-provided parts yet. At the moment, Airbus is tagging only shipping containers, paperwork orders, shipping labels and production tooling.

Airbus SA spokesman Linden Birns adds that the implementation follows Airbus's introduction of a new online spare parts purchasing and tracking system for customers, called the Virtual Warehouse.

This allows Airbus customers - such as SAA - "24/7 real time access to worldwide spares location information, to Airbus spares stock and to inventory held both by customers who opt to participate and a wide selection of major suppliers."

Birns adds that Virtual Warehouse also provides valuable support, at no additional cost, to customers needing to quickly locate stock at the closest location for a maintenance intervention.

The system, which also relies on RFID technology, works with Airbus's real-time health monitoring and trouble-shooting tool, Airman, which proactively detects a requirement for a spare part during a flight.

"Operators can access the Virtual Warehouse using any Web browser. It is easy to use and requires no training," Birns says. Virtual Warehouse is already available to all Airbus aircraft operators.

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