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Airbus to embed high memory tags
on its A350 fleet starting next year

01/18/10 | John R. Johnson | email

The aerospace industry has long been a pioneer when it comes to RFID research. Today, a pact between Airbus, MAINtag SAS and Tego will take that innovation to a new level. By early next year, thousands of Tego’s high memory tags will find their way onto aircraft parts across the Airbus A350 XWB fleet. Approximately 1,500 tags will be included on each aircraft, with the possibility of many more in the future.

The combination of MAINtag’s manufacturing capabilities and Tego’s high-memory chip provides the first standards-compliant, high memory and fully-passive RFID tags that can achieve Airbus’ goal of value chain visibility. The technology will allow Airbus to include a PDF of a product manual on the tag, as well as the complete cradle to grave maintenance history of aircraft parts, allowing for new cutting edge MRO applications.

The deal represents a significant breakthrough for high memory tags that Airbus and the aviation industry has coveted for years, and could take asset tracking to new levels in other industries.

“This is the first coming out party for the industry,” says Tim Butler, president and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Tego, which has been working on a high memory tag solution for several years. “Airbus has invested significant money in this space over the past several years and has been waiting for the ability to use high memory passive RFID tags on both pressurized and non-pressurized parts. We are excited to work with MAINtag to deliver the first flyable parts RFID tags that will allow Airbus and its suppliers to get RFID in the air quickly.”

The tags are currently being manufactured in France, and Tego expects initial tags back by the end of March or early April. Tags will be delivered to Airbus suppliers in the second and third quarters, with a goal to start tagging production parts going into planes no later than the first quarter of 2011.

The pricing structure varies widely depending on volume, memory size and tag and format structure. The 8Kbyte tag is currently priced at $15. Production volumes are expected to ramp up quickly as suppliers to Airbus and other aviation contractors begin tagging all of their products moving forward.

The A350 XWB will be the first aircraft in the Airbus fleet to use RFID on flyable parts, and will be rolled out with the involvement of Airbus suppliers. The program will deploy ruggedized high-memory RFID tags on flyable parts, allowing improved aircraft configuration management and line maintenance, repair shop optimization, warehouse logistics, payload tracking and life- limited parts monitoring.

“For the first time, this allows them to keep and manage the information they need with the assets,” says Butler. “For Airbus, it’s akin to social networking for assets. They can keep all updated part numbers with the assets, all parts history, mechanic’s comments, and all supplier and partner information as well.”

Tego’s high-memory passive RFID chip supports up to 32Kbytes of memory and is currently offered in an on-metal tag manufactured by MAINtag, which is pre-configured at 4Kbytes. With 32,000 bits of high-memory capacity, the TegoChip exceeds the 512 bits of standard extended-memory chips available on the market today.

Under the Airbus contract, MAINtag will provide two FLYtagTM designs, both for use on-metal, allowing physical attachment options for different parts requirements. The companies will offer an increased memory size of 8 Kbytes by the end of 2010, and will offer greater memory and performance over the next few years.

“The FLYtagTM offered the best combination of memory, size, weight, reading distances and read times, which met or exceeded Airbus’s specific requirements,” Bruno Lo- Ré, president of MAINtag, said in a release.

The airline industry isn’t the only sector that stands to benefit from the high memory tags. Although the technology stands to make a huge difference in the asset tracking world in the future, pricing will have to come down before the finance industry, for example, can utilize the tags for tracking assets like servers and laptops, which is becoming commonplace at large banks like Wells Fargo. The additional memory of the Tego tags would allow information like warranty, product manuals, and more specific data pertaining to the asset’s history.

“This technology could take asset tracking and total life cycle tracking to the next level,” says Andrew Nathanson, director of research operations at VDC Research. “This makes perfect sense on an airplane part. As for a server in a server room? Not yet. I see this emerging in niche applications, but it won’t get out to the mainstream any time in the near term.”

More immediately, Butler says that Tego has a number of customers researching the technology for various industrial uses. The medical industry is very excited about using the tags for DNA mapping, while the utility sector is studying how the tags can be used in substation automation plans, all part of the major smart grid initiative currently underway.

Butler says that Tego hopes to announce new deals in non-aviation industries every two to three weeks moving forward.

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