Volume 11 | Issue 6 | Year 2008

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ (SME) Manufacturing Data Management Conference held in November brought industries together to share innovation in real-time data collection, analysis, and management. The inspiration for this event came from SME’s Aerospace Strategy, and needs identified by that industry for real-time information to track high-value items like parts and tooling, monitor temperature of materials like composite prepreg which is often frozen, and achieve greater visibility throughout the supply chain. SME recognizes that the effective use of RFID/RTLS can be transferred to the highly complex aerospace manufacturing environment to make a positive impact on cost, schedule and quality.
The conference provided a first-hand look at how Automated Identification Data Collection (AIDC) technologies are becoming increasingly robust and cost-effective for collecting real-time information automatically. The automotive industry is leveraging AIDC technologies and real-time data for inventory control, asset management, Work In Process reduction, supply chain visibility and quality control. Consumer product suppliers such as Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and RTLS (Real Time Locating System) technology to deliver low cost, high quality goods to the consumer through inventory management and control.

This conference explored how innovations can be transferred to attain the same manufacturing enhancements and visibility as those realized by the automotive, retail, food and shipping industries. From temperature monitoring of perishable food products during transit to theft deterrents, retailers have remained on the forefront of AIDC innovation. With pallet and crate tracking already in wide use, the next major development on the horizon is item-level tagging and tracking.

Tim Shinbara, Northrop Grumman Corporation Manufacturing Research Engineer, says, “Current protocols are evolving towards a complete end-to-end, integrated system to identify, track and report parameters of defense-manufactured products. The retail sector, specifically Wal-Mart, along with the Department of Defense, has been the initiators for much of the shift in supply chain and asset management protocol. How does aerospace fit in? The aerospace industry, which is comprised of high-tech products made by surprisingly low-tech methods, is soon to undergo a data management shift using RFID/RTLS technology in order to continuously improve and meet increasing genealogy requirements as the work flow of air vehicles integrates between multiple national and international suppliers.”

RFID/RTLS and the data it generates is becoming an essential part of our key industries. The medical industry has recognized RFID as a means to ensure that foreign objects are not left in patients following an operation. This is directly related and transferable to the aerospace industry, relative to FOD (Foreign Object Debris) in aircraft. In fact, there are clothing manufacturers currently weaving RFID tags into clothing and using the data to display product information, complementary options and alternatives on a touch screen in the fitting room. Imagine the potential in the manufacturing world in which the paper plans are replaced by holograms generated from an embedded RFID chip in the part to be installed.

Auto ID technology and its capabilities are evolving rapidly. But it is the data, its use and management that has provided the generational leaps in capability to the users of the RFID/RTLS technology.

“Manufacturing will benefit greatly from RFID innovation,” said Mark Tomlinson, SME executive director and general manager. “These innovations impact what products can be developed and how they will be engineered. SME’s mission is to advance manufacturing knowledge. One goal of the Manufacturing Data Management event is that manufacturers will be able to answer questions they didn’t realize they had.”

SME is interested in hearing opinions about these technologies. To submit feedback, visit www.sme.org/forums and click on “Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture.”

George “Nick” Bullen is principle engineer, Northrop Grumman, and SME Manufacturing Data Management Conference Advisor.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (www.sme.org) is the world’s leading professional society supporting manufacturing education. Through its member programs, publications, expositions and professional development resources, SME promotes an increased awareness of manufacturing engineering and helps keep manufacturing professionals up to date on leading trends and technologies. Headquartered in Michigan, SME influences more than half a million manufacturing practitioners and executives annually. The Society has members in more than 70 countries and is supported by a network of hundreds of technical communities and chapters worldwide.

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