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NASA expands RFID rollout at Kennedy Space Center

10/20/08 | John R. Johnson | email

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is pushing forward with an important RFID initiative. NASA announced this week that a real-time location system at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is being elevated to a second phase. NASA launched the first part of the rollout earlier this year.

The second phase, being deployed by Eldersburg, Md.-based RFID Global Solutions, extends the real-time tracking system to more items, and also transitions the system to RFID Global's new Visi-Trac™ asset tracking software. RFID Global Solutions was awarded the contract from Boeing, for which is has several other contracts.

"We're giving them the visibility needed to better manage the tools and assets used in Boeing's support of the International Space Station and NASA operations," says Ron Rose, vice president of business development for RFID Global Solutions.

NASA isn't revealing too much about the application, although it is known that the next phase will utilize RFID technology to locate equipment, tools and critical components at both the facility and vehicle level. The system is designed to provide real-time updates on the location of tagged assets, and can be extended to track items to within a defined granularity.

Passive RFID tags allow Boeing to trace and track expensive adhesives and sealants in real time. Before RFID, workers tracked the adhesives manually.

The design of the new Visi-Trac™ RTLS solution by RFID Global Solutions enables NASA to track both critical assets and components across pre-defined areas of the space center, and includes vehicle-mounted RFID receivers with mobile terminals used to support the delivery of space shuttle payloads to the launch pad.

"The successful use of RFID technology to track any of the mission-critical items is one of the clearest examples of how RFID can provide tremendous efficiencies and will change the way everyone works," says RFID Global Solutions president & CTO Joe Leone.

Ken Porad says the [RFID] application saved Boeing over $1 million in its first year.

RFID Global Solutions is partnering on the project with Florida-based Franwell, a specialist in RFID R&D and implementation, with a focus on supply chain operations and environmentally sensitive products.

RFID Global Solutions is no stranger to the aeronautics and defense sectors. It also counts Northrop Grumman and the Defense Information Systems Agency as customers, and has numerous contracts with Boeing at its sites in Long Beach and Philadelphia.

Boeing is using RFID Global Solutions' application to track and trace the use of expensive adhesives and sealants at its manufacturing facility in Long Beach. Some of the sealants have a shelf life of as little as 12 days, and must be stored at -80 degrees Fahreinheit. Passive RFID tags allow Boeing to trace and track the adhesives in real time, and to manage and replenish inventory in the freezers. Before RFID, workers tracked the adhesives manually. The products are kept in several freezers, and availability often varied from freezer to freezer before the solution was implemented. RFID Global Solutions is also working on similar systems at other Boeing sites for adhesives that must be stored at -100 degrees Fahreinheit.

Ken Porad, who heads up Boeing's automated identification program, says that the application presented an extremely fast return on investment and saved Boeing over $1 million in its first year.

NASA and Boeing are both pioneers when it comes to RFID. NASA deployed RFID back in 2004 at its Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. That rollout relied on an extensive wireless, sensor-based system aimed at improving the management of hazardous materials to enhance security and safety, while significantly reducing ongoing supply chain costs.

The ChemSecure program integrated RFID and sensor-based technology to automate the real-time management of hazardous materials including usage, shipment, tracking and storage.

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