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The 64,000 question: How to keep track of tools at an aerospace plant

BAE Systems

Aviation Tool Tracking

imagesBAE Systems, the global defence and aerospace company operates in some of the most demanding fields of engineering. BAE System’s Warton and Samlesbury sites in Lancashire manufacture significant sections of the Typhoon Eurofighter, and the F35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Keeping track of the vast array of application specific tooling across many hangars presents a continuing problem from both an administrative and an aviation safety viewpoint. To meet the need for improved tool checking, BAE Systems looked to a solution based on automatic tool identification.

To develop and deliver their solution they chose CoreRFID.

The 64,000 Tool Question

Warton Aerodrome is home to a range of BAE Systems manufacturing and maintenance activities, carried out in more than 15 buildings. In common with most airfield sites, these locations are wide spread. Across the site, a wide range of tools and manufacturing or service aids from assembly jigs to spanners are used. Responsible for more than 64,000 tools across the site, the challenge for BAE Systems is to keep track of what tools are where.

BAE Systems already record the use of manufacturing tools in a Datastream 7i (now Infor EAM) database and maintenance management system. However, maintaining tool records manually means that it is only possible to carry out sporadic audits of tooling by checking a percentage of the total tool base each year. Performing a 100% tool check manually is time consuming and costly. BAE Systems wanted to increase the frequency and speed of audit and make the data stored in their D7i system more accurate, relevant, and useful. Automatic identification technology offered a way to speed up the capture of tool data and to improve accuracy.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) a popular solution to such problems, was ruled out because of the potential risk of radio frequency interference. As a result, BAE Systems decided on a bar code based solution.

Taking Advantage Of Existing Technology

BAE Systems already use bar codes to identify many of the tools for manufacturing on the Warton site. Check-out and check in of tools from the tool stores in the hangars is by bar codes, removing the need for manual input to the Datastream 7i system. BAE Systems decided to extend the tool tagging system to all tools on the Warton and Samlesbury sites and to implement a system for the audit checks of tools to record their location, saving time, reducing costs and eliminating errors in determining the whereabouts of tools. Auditing was needed not only to identify that the tools existed but to determine their location.

The data collected also had to support the validation and correction of data held in the Datastream 7i application giving exception reports of tools not found. A two phase approach was chosen. Firstly a system was to be introduced to allow on-site checking of tools and creation of new labels for tools without an existing identity. To avoid development effort on the Datastream 7i system, data collected is consolidated on a separate hub system. A second phase is planned to provide reconciliation, analysis of the causes of missing tools and update of the Datastream 7i application.

“CoreRFID worked with us to link our auditing plans with our existing tool management approach. The solution supports our existing working processes, saving time, reducing costs and removing errors. CoreRFID’s expertise in automatic identification has been key.” – Keith Pearson – Asset and Transport Manager, BAE Systems

The PDC Based Solution in Manufacturing

The solution proposed by CoreRFID was based on their portable data collection (PDC) system. PDC is an adaptable, easy to implement system that is ideally suited to field data collection applications using RFID or bar-coding as the automatic identification mechanism. The PDC application runs on a hand held computer. In the case of the BAE Systems application this is an Intermec CK3, a robust compact device running Windows Mobile applications and supporting enhanced reading for damaged or poor quality bar codes and offering long distance bar code reading to make tool checking easier.

The software application running on the CK3 provides a series of simple menu driven forms that allow the user to capture details of the location and then the tools found in that location. The system also time and date stamps each entry. For tools without bar code tags, staff have the means to produce a bar code label immediately, using a compact portable Zebra RP4T thermal transfer label printer. Data collected on existing tags and newly created tags is uploaded at the end of each audit session by docking the Intermec readers.

CoreRFID’s Portable Data Collector

Portable Data Collector (PDC) has been developed by CoreRFID as an easy way to implement auto-id applications using either bar-code or RFID or a combination of the two as the means for identification. The system includes an easily customisable portable computer application and, where needed, a back end database system hosted by the user or by CoreRFID to provide consolidation and reporting services. PDC can be customised, implemented, hosted and managed by CoreRFID together with the relevant technology as needed by the user.

The Benefits

The CoreRFID solution for BAE Systems aims to deliver:-

  • Speedier tool audits, enabling more frequent checking.
  • Opportunity for 100% tool check audits.
  • More accurate data on tools and their location.
  • Detailed audit information that can be used to identify root causes for
  • tool discrepancies.
  • On-site scanning and tool tagging for simple registration of new tools.