With that type of information, an airline or MRO organization can capture data such as the average time it takes to ship a part from Miami to Sydney. “If you have an aircraft sitting on the deck in Sydney and know that it takes 38 hours to get a part from Miami on a routine basis, you can make decisions about whether to expedite that part or not,” says Smith. Similarly, by analyzing what happens to a shipment through the various milestones of a delivery, a shipper can determine where the supply chain is slowing up.
“If you know where your bottlenecks are, you may be able to add $10 to a domestic movement rather than $100 to an international shipment and achieve the same thing,” says Smith.
With all the data being collected by today's systems, it is easy to become overwhelmed. For that reason, many systems allow a user to define the information that is important to their operation and then receive an alert when a significant event occurs. PDQ Air Spares, for instance, wants to know when crucial deliveries are delayed.
When a maintenance event is launched, Trax uses a series of lights to monitor parts needed for the repair. A red light indicates the part is out of stock or a delivery is overdue. A yellow light indicates the part has arrived at the facility. A green light indicates the part has been inspected, paperwork is complete and it is ready to go on the wing. “We are able to pick out the problems and speed up the workflow,” says Reed. “If you see a lot of green lights, you're happy.”
Similarly, repair plans for an aircraft can be shared across the hangar. “You plan the repair cycle for the component while the aircraft is in the air, and you give visibility to everyone involved in the repair as to what has to happen as soon as the part is removed,” says Elliott. “When the plane lands, everyone, including the technician, knows what to do.”
Supply chain management and logistics systems are only as good as the data that feeds them. That information traditionally has been keyed or scanned by bar code into a computer system. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and sensor technology that OEMs such as Boeing and Airbus are incorporating into their aircraft are beginning to play a role in logistics. “With RFID, we know it has arrived as soon as the part passes by a reader. The goal is to have more of the parts tracking themselves rather than relying on human input,” says Trax's Reed.
RFID-enabled logistics solutions are being developed by companies such as EAM RFID, a subsidiary of life vest manufacturer EAM Worldwide. EAM began adding RFID tags to its life vests in 2007 for its internal manufacturing, inspection and shipping processes. “The real-time visibility we get from tags has allowed us to reduce our testing and automate time-consuming tasks like inspections,” says John Hatzis, a senior software developer. “When we pack an order, if 40 vests are supposed to go into the box, we know that 40 vests go into a box.”
When EAM customers receive a shipment, they use an RFID reader or portal to capture the serial number of the vests in a carton, their expiration dates and any other relevant information on the tag without opening the box. “It dramatically reduces receiving time,” says Hatzis.
Meanwhile, FedEx has rolled out a GPS- and cellular-enabled sensor called SenseAware that allows a shipper to track the location and condition of critical parts in real time.
While an RFID system loses track of the location of a tag between scans, the SenseAware product uses GPS technology to track a shipment's location and cellular capabilities to communicate its location. The sensor also tracks the temperature and barometric pressure for sensitive products.