Potential of RFID in the Aerospace and Defense Market


Simon Holloway
EMEA Manufacturing Industry Solutions Architect
Microsoft EMEA

June 2006

Applies to:
   Enterprise Architecture
   Architecture Development

Summary: Describes the opportunities and business benefits of RFID in the Aerospace and Defense sector. It looks at various scenarios where RFID is and can be used to solve business problems. (29 printed pages)


Executive Summary
Current Issues in the Aerospace and Defense Marketplace
RFID in Aerospace and Defense
Using RFID to Solve Current Business Issues
Implementation Challenges of RFID
How Does the Microsoft RFID Architecture Address Business Needs?
Appendix A: More Information About the Microsoft RFID Solution
About the author

Executive Summary

RFID, short for Radio Frequency Identification, is a rapidly evolving technology that can dramatically improve operational efficiencies and customer service. RFID will fundamentally transform the way information about products, equipment, animals, and even people, is gathered and analyzed in real time, thus providing new business opportunities.

This white paper describes, for C-level executives and line-of-business managers, the opportunities and business benefits of RFID in the Aerospace and Defense sector. It looks at various scenarios where RFID is and can be used to solve business problems.

Highlights of this white paper include:

  • The need for automation of the pedigrees, in order to solve the counterfeiting issue.
  • The need for support for compliance with the US Department of Defense (DoD) Mandate and the commercial impacts of the Boeing–Airbus Initiative.
  • The use of RFID technology to:
    • Provide visibility in the supply chain and production line.
    • Reduce risks in employee health and safety.
    • Verify plant maintenance.

To encourage widespread adoption of RFID technology, Microsoft is developing a layered RFID infrastructure and platform, using an open-building-block approach. The infrastructure described in this white paper enables independent hardware, software, and systems integration partners to offer a robust variety of cost-effective and standards-compliant RFID applications.

Current Issues in the Aerospace and Defense Marketplace

The Aerospace industry is heavily influenced by the economy, politics, government regulations, and consumer confidence. Significant emerging trends include the growth of the Asian and, in particular, Chinese markets; the continued Airbus/Boeing rivalry; outsourcing of Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO); and the rise of low-cost regional carriers. The resulting business environment is expected to look as follows:

  • Modest revenue growth—Rising military spending (mainly in the United States) has not been enough to offset the severe decline in the purchase of new commercial aircraft. This is expected to change in the next decade, with the launch of new aircrafts (A380, A350, and B787), the growth of low-cost airlines, and forecasts of doubled passenger demand by 2020.
  • Competitive pressure to eliminate waste—Aerospace companies are creating corporate-wide lean enterprise programs to improve priority setting and magnify benefits.
  • Better R&D performance—Industry investors and boards want to see greater return on investment (ROI) from their R&D investments. New product innovation is a cornerstone of this process.
  • Increasing cooperation—Cooperation is expected to increase as companies collaborate on programs.
  • Changing business practices—Business approaches such as Demand-Driven Supply Networks (DDSNs) address the needs of the newly outsourced manufacturing.
  • Aftermarket sector—MRO will experience a shake-up.

Aerospace companies need to reduce the long product-development cycle times, while continuing to focus on delivering high-quality products. This means that there is a need to:

  • Increase the number of design iterations and eliminate bad designs before moving on to detailed design and prototype production.
  • Deliver new products to the market faster, better, and cheaper, through the use of real-time global collaboration.
  • Vault engineering data (BOM), and capture design intent and the approval process.

Aerospace manufacturers need to increase their operations performance by improving cycle times, output, and overall effectiveness in the following areas: control systems, execution and tracking, quality, maintenance, and visibility. Visibility provides a layer above the manufacturing systems that gathers and aggregates data from many sources; contextualizes, analyzes, summarizes and formats information into dashboards and key performance indicators (KPIs) with real-time/historical data.

Aerospace Manufacturers need to reduce non-value-added work from their manufacturing processes, reduce inventory costs, eliminate stock outs, and provide a software backbone that allows manufacturers to sustain their Lean, Six Sigma, and ISO programs. Four critical areas need to be addressed:

  • Value Stream Mapping & Analysis (VSM&AD)
  • Project and Program Management (PPM)
  • Collaborative Electronic Kanban (CEK)
  • Demand-Driven Scheduling (DDS)

As Aerospace companies outsource more of their manufacturing, the need for real-time visibility, agility, and accuracy are of paramount importance in dealing with demand fluctuations, supply chain disruptions, and the expectations of well-informed customers. The value is getting the right decisions on short notice, in order to coordinate a complex range of activities among a multitude of partners. This has a direct influence on productivity, profitability, and the ability to stay competitive.

Airline CEOs and CFOs have an increasing focus and pressure on maintenance as a source of process improvement, cost savings, and, sometimes, even revenue generation. Aging fleets mean higher maintenance costs. Setting aside growing maintenance needs, facility and personnel reductions occur, and outsourcing is the fastest way to cut maintenance costs. This means that there is a need to:

  • Increase supply chain velocity and customer satisfaction.
  • Increase productivity and accuracy.
  • Optimize inventory and lower operating costs.

The MRO market faces distinctive issues. This is being partly driven by the large percentage of low-cost carriers, increased outsourcing, and smaller average fleet sizes. Maintenance activities are also beginning to move east as airlines try to take advantage of lower labor rates/high technical skills that can be found in Eastern Europe; plus, there is a steady growth in the use of parts manufacturer approval (PMA) parts, and continued consolidation in the market triggered by overcapacity and declining margins. Europe accounts for almost one-third of the $36 billion global commercial and regional/business jet MRO market. Based on a 4.7 percent per annum growth rate, the world market for civil aircraft above 80 seats could be worth up to $1600 billion over the next 20 years (Source: MRO in Aerospace: Trends and Changes, Libbie Hammond).

Many manufacturing companies are adopting lean manufacturing principles, but the maintenance department is often not included in the process. Alongside the lean phenomenon, there is a move away from corrective maintenance and toward predictive maintenance strategies. The benefits of predictive maintenance are too numerous to mention, but they include minimizing costly downtime, minimizing catastrophic machinery failures, reducing maintenance costs, reducing spare parts inventories, increases machinery safety, and increasing the speed at which machinery can be operated, if desirable.

RFID in Aerospace and Defense

The application of RFID technology in the Aviation industry has many proven benefits, with the ultimate objective being continued air safety. RFID will:

  • Improve airline configuration control, by increasing the accuracy of the known "as-delivered" configuration.
  • Reduce ownership costs, by identifying rogue parts; this will also help minimize airline inventories.
  • Provide reliable part traceability.
  • Reduce internal processing and cycle time to solve service-related problems.
  • Improve the accuracy of information exchanged between the airline industry and suppliers.

In addition, RFID technology offers a competitive advantage through support for:

  • No line of sight requirement.
  • Dynamic read/write capability.
  • Simultaneous reading and identification of multiple tags tolerance in harsh environments.

With the need for strict safety, and therefore identity, the industry has been looking at ways to uniquely identity parts and assemblies.

Unique Identity: US DoD Initiative

Unique identity (UID) is the set of data for tangible assets that is globally unique and unambiguous, ensures data integrity and data quality throughout life, and supports multi-faceted business applications and users.

Click here for larger image

Figure 1. Different ways to display a UID (Click on the image for a larger picture)

The first thing the Standards Team accomplished was to define the UID in plain terms, giving it requirements that must hold up during all aspects of its life. The strategic purpose of UIDs is to:

  • Integrate item data across government and industry asset management systems, thus resulting in:
    • Improved data quality and global interoperability.
    • Rationalization of systems and infrastructure.
  • Improve item management and accountability.
  • Improve asset visibility and lifecycle management, through lifecycle traceability.
  • Enable more-accurate audit opinions on the property, plant, and equipment and operating materials and supplies portions of financial statements.


Today's US military is a dynamic, rapidly moving force designed to be effective in an asynchronous battlespace. The enhanced mobility and speed of a combat force capable of performing in austere theaters with limited infrastructure creates a new class of challenges for military logisticians. The performance of logistics during the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom created a compelling case for the change to fast, accurate, flexible, and mobile sustainable support. The challenges that face the US DoD in the Logistics sector are as follows:

  • As of September 2001, almost half of DoD's $63.3 billion inventory exceeds war reserve or current operating requirements.
  • DoD is unable to maintain adequate accountability over material shipped between contractors and DoD.
  • The services all experience operations and maintenance problems because of a lack of key spare parts, specifically aviation spares.
  • The services are not adequately monitoring, reporting, or getting reimbursement for defective spare parts received from contractors.

The DoD RFID vision is to implement knowledge-enabled logistics through fully automated visibility and management of assets in support of the warfighter. The DoD RFID goals are as follows:

  • Increase warfighter/customer confidence in the reliability of the DoD supply chain.
  • Improve visibility of information and assets throughout the DoD supply chain.
  • Improve process efficiency of shipping, receiving, and inventory management.
  • Reduce cycle time.

The end state for the DoD supply chain is to be a fully integrated adaptive entity that leverages enabling technologies and advanced management information systems in order to automate routine functions, and to achieve accurate and timely in-transit, in-storage, and in-repair asset visibility, with minimum human intervention. RFID is a foundational technology on the path to achieving this vision. DoD will ultimately operate a single, seamless, responsive visibility network, that is accessible across the backbone and usable by people and systems across the end-to-end supply chain. As a starting point, the DoD vision is for RFID to facilitate accurate, hands-free data capture in support of business processes in an integrated DoD supply chain enterprise as an integral part of a comprehensive suite of automatic identification technology (AIT) applications that DoD will leverage, where appropriate, in the supply chain to improve warfighter support (see Figure 2).

Click here for larger image

Figure 2. US Department of Defense supply chain (Source: DOD RFID: A Business Revolution, Maurice Stewart, RFID World, June 29, 2005) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

The primary actions performed by the physical nodes to move materiel through the logistics chain are the shipping/receiving/transportation processes. Figure 2 shows materiel movement that physically "touches" each node throughout the logistics path. But materiel can start, end, and move through different paths between logistics nodes:

  • Manufacturers/suppliers to defense distribution center, for stock replenishment
  • Defense distribution center to supply depots/theater distribution center, for stock replenishment outside the United States
  • Defense distribution center to supply depots, for stock replenishment in the United States
  • Supply department/theater distribution center to customer; direct vendor delivery

All these segments are impacted by RFID. Materiel movement includes moving back through the supply chain in the opposite direction (retrograde). RFID (active and passive) read and write capabilities will be required at the farthest point in the supply chain delivery system to support retrograde. The return/retrograde process is the same as the shipping process.

The standards that the DoD has evolved are:

  • Active RFID for freight containers, air pallets based on SAVI readers, and tags working at 433 Mhz where suppliers will not be asked to tag.
  • Passive RFID for cases and pallets (all items), item packaging (UID items) using standard EPCGlobal UHF readers, and tags where suppliers will be contractually obligated to apply tags at the case and pallet levels (see Figure 3).

The reasons given by the US DoD for the adoption of EPCGlobal standards for passive RFID were:

  • It leverages the marketplace.
  • Government and commercial sectors are on the same standard.
  • It provides a consistent standard anywhere in the world where the Department operates.
  • It provides a consistent standard with all suppliers.
  • There is a drive for consistent standards and interoperability with allies.

Click here for larger image

Figure 3. Passive RFID Implementation Plan for DoD suppliers (Source: Enabling the Supply Chain with RFID Technology, Alan Estevez, RFID Live (Europe), April 11, 2005) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

At a conference in 2005, the US DoD talked about the implementation lessons they had learned form the use of RFID in their supply chain, as follows:

  • Business process changes required to capture real benefit and business value:
  • RFID improved timeliness and accuracy of receiving and shipping by 3 percent.
  • User training improved performance.
  • Technology is reliable:
  • Read rates are around 96 percent.
  • Equipment was ready to use just 33 days after the decision on the technology.
  • Equipment was operational 100 percent of the time.

RFID and bar codes will coexist for several years, because both technologies have their merits. However, RFID brings several benefits over bar codes:

  • Eliminates human error.
  • Improves data accuracy/asset visibility.
  • Performs in rugged, harsh environments.
  • Allows for dynamic, multi-block read/write capability.
  • Facilitates source data collection.
  • Allows for simultaneous reading and identification of multiple tags.

Click here for larger image

Figure 4. Benefits of RFID across the US DoD supply chain (Source: Enabling the Supply Chain with RFID Technology, Alan Estevez, RFID Live (Europe), April 11, 2005) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

For further information on US DoD compliance, go to www.dodrfid.org.

UK Ministry of Defence: JAMES Project

As an example of the work of other defense ministries in the RFID space, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been looking at the Defence Engineering and Asset Management Capability Gap. They found:

  • Poor or no visibility of equipment:
    • Location and ownership
    • Usage and future tasking
    • Configuration/modification state
    • Maintenance and repair loops
    • Spares & Consumables consumption
    • Defects or reasons for failure
  • Inefficient/ineffective MoD engineering practices.
  • Poor use of technology.
  • Few effective partnerships with OEMs/industry.

The Ministry of Defence has derived a Defence Logistics Vision that states: "The Defence Logistics Vision envisages a highly effective, agile and networked logistic capability that underpins the operational commander's ability to execute his mission successfully. This capability will be derived from joint, integrated and interoperable support concepts, which have been tested and developed to provide the military commander with confidence in his ability to deliver effect at the desired tempo. Success will be built on adaptable systems and force elements combined with standardized logistic processes and procedures."

Based on the vision, a project was set up to produce a solution to these issues. The project is called Joint Asset Management & Engineering Solutions (JAMES), and it consists of:

  • "Operational Innovation"—Business (Process & Policy) change (at least convergence to best practice).
  • Convergence to common processes across equipment and environments, where possible.
  • Where required, new management information systems (MISs) that absorb multiple existing systems.
  • COTS software and open data standards. (If required, the Ministry of Defence will change processes to use the COTS software.)
  • Incremental implementation with achievable benefits.
  • Solutions that meet both MoD and industry requirements for all CLS arrangements.

Click here for larger image

Figure 5. MoD/industry interface: working with CLS (Source: Transforming Engineering and Asset Management in the UK MoD, The JAMES Programme, Lt. Col. Tony Bridges, Engineering & Asset Management Capability Change Team, Defence Logistics Organisation) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

The JAMES Programme for Land Force was rolled out during 2004 and 2005. The James Sea Programme has been accepted and is awaiting the completion of the rollout of their current system. The JAMES Air Project will converge tri-service helicopter E&AM processes and provide a single MIS. It is being implemented in three stages, running in parallel:

  • Stage 1—Convergence to "best of breed," to meet urgent requirement for a single deployable MIS
  • Stage 2—Convergence of Process & Policy
  • Stage 3—A full JAMES with optimized Processes & Policies

For more information on the James Project, go to http://www.eamcct.dlo.mod.uk.

Boeing and Airbus Initiative

Boeing Co. and Airbus S.A.S. are using RFID technology to tag individual airplane parts, so that it is easier to track, maintain, and replace them. In 1999, Boeing began using RFID in aircraft tool management, and it equipped all its tools and toolboxes with RFID microchips that contained history, as well as shipping, routing, and customs information. Similarly, Airbus began RFID tagging its ground equipment and tools in 2000.

Boeing and Airbus are working together to promote the adoption of industry-standard solutions for RFID on commercial airplane parts. The two companies held industry forums in 2004. The invitations were sent to all the world's airlines, parts suppliers, regulatory agencies, and third-party maintenance repair and overhaul shops that do contracted maintenance on behalf of airlines. The goal was to educate, inform, and unite the industry around standard requirements for identifying parts.

Both companies:

  • Recognized the necessity of permanent parts marking.
  • Saw the need for an industry standard for automatic data capturing based around standardization of RFID in Air Transport Association (ATA) Spec2000.
  • Are aware of the different requirements on permanent parts marking, depending on the part and its environment.
  • Support the application of the appropriate marking technology (human-readable nameplate, bar code, or RFID) for each type of material.

Click here for larger image

Figure 6. Primary supply chain management factors (Source: RFID in Commercial Aviation, Jens Heitmann, RFID World, June 2005) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

The companies stated that they did not want to issue a mandate. Rather, they believe that RFID could provide major benefits for the entire industry. The manufacturers will get more accurate information about their demand for parts. They also will be able to reduce their parts inventory and cut the time that it takes to repair planes. Suppliers will also be able to reduce inventory, improve the efficiency of their manufacturing operations, and use the technology to verify to Boeing and Airbus that parts they get are genuine, thereby reducing the amount of unapproved parts that enter the supply chain.

Click here for larger image

Figure 7. The information flow of the future (Source: RFID in Commercial Aviation, Jens Heitmann, RFID World, June 2005) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

Standards are already in place. The Air Transport Association recently added an RFID standard to its Spec2000, a comprehensive set of e-business specifications, products, and services for the aviation parts industry. The standard calls for the use of IS0 15693 passive, read-write tags, which operate at 13.56 MHz. The RFID transponders will be integrated with existing bar codes, which will still be required.

Boeing has an RFID project under way in its 787 Dreamliner program, where time-controlled, life-limited parts and replaceable units have been identified with RFID "smart labels." These smart labels contain a microchip, an antenna, and store data, including part and serial numbers, manufacturer codes, country of origin, date of installation and maintenance, and inspection information. This information can be particularly useful in the maintenance of airplanes, because the service history of a part is stored on the RFID label as it goes thorough different stages of its life cycle.

Airbus has already begun using RFID on jigs and tools that it loans to airline maintenance centers. The tags are used to track the items as they are sent out to the centers and returned. Airbus will have 10,000 passive RFID chips on removable parts on the A380. Removable parts are replaceable units with short life cycles. For example, a wing of an airplane is a non-removable part with a 30-year life cycle, whereas a passenger seat has a five-year life cycle, and brakes are usually changed every 1,000 landings; both are considered removable parts.

Airbus and Boeing are also looking at having their suppliers tag transport containers and other shipping conveyances used in aviation industry supply chain. These will likely be tagged with passive UHF tags carrying Electronic Product Codes. Boeing may migrate to EPC tags on containers of parts quickly after EPCGlobal finalizes its specifications.

Boeing and Airbus unveiled last month a joint initiative with product-life-cycle management vendor Sopheon plc and Siemens Business Services, to provide an industry-wide Internet portal to selected reference sources for RFID implementation. The Siemens Compliance Direct Service is designed to promote standardization around RFID use. But the partnership between Sopheon, Airbus, and Boeing has even larger implications. It means that vendors like Sopheon are beginning to see a place for RFID in product-life-cycle management applications, which presents new possibilities of using RFID in product development, maintenance, and end-of-life recycling of aircraft and automotive parts.

University of Cambridge Auto-ID Aerospace ID Technologies Programme

The first in a series of sector-based research programs was launched in mid-2005 by the Cambridge Auto-ID Lab, focusing on the challenges and potential benefits presented by identification (ID) technologies. The programs will provide companies with the opportunity to support and steer key research into the adoption of appropriate ID technology in their area. It has been driven by the Boeing-Airbus Initiative.

Consultations with major aircraft manufacturers, their suppliers, and customers developed the initial themes for this research program. More themes will be added as sponsors join the program, bringing their own specific issues. Current themes are:

  • Life cycle ID management—Managing the evolution of a component or piece of equipment through its life cycle.
  • ID application matching—Guiding the selection of the best ID delivery solution to suit production processes and operating environment.
  • Sensor integration—Evaluating methods for integrating ID data with other sensor information.
  • Tag and data synchronization—Evaluating methods and strategies for the synchronization of ID data between components and networked resources.
  • RFID-enhanced track and trace—Designing and evaluating methods for integrating ID data into existing and new track-and-trace strategies.
  • Security

The program will be driven by the end users of the technology: the aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers, the operators, the owners, and the MROs.

Federal Aviation Authority and RFID

The challenge facing the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is to develop a policy to allow active and passive RFID technology on aircraft. Some of the concerns that are faced are due to emissions:

  • Can multiple passive RFID devices be a source of interference to required aircraft systems (examining both fundamental and harmonic frequencies)?
  • Can a strong, undesired, on-channel/off-channel signal "light up" all devices simultaneously?
  • If so, what are the effects on aircraft systems?

This means that a ground EMI test may be required, in order to ensure that RFID equipment does not interfere with required aircraft avionics and electrical systems; a flight test may also be required.

The current status of the FAA policy is that it is in draft stage. The FAA is hoping to be close to final agreement on the Passive portion of the policy. The intent of the complete policy is to allow for installation of active and passive RFID devices on a variety of aircraft and equipment. The key points of the policy memo are as follows:

  • RFID tags must be interrogated on the ground only.
  • Active tags should go through a formal FAA certification process—e.g., supplemental type certification (STC) process.
  • Fundamental frequency and harmonics of the RFID system must remain out of aviation assigned frequency bands.
  • Active tags should receive full Failure Modes & Effects Analysis/ Hazard Analysis (FMEA/HA). This must be accomplished showing no risk to required aircraft systems.
  • It is currently in the draft stage, but close to final agreement on the Passive portion.

Using RFID to Solve Current Business Issues

Identification technologies are changing rapidly. The advent of cheap RFID tags and other data storage techniques means that significant amounts of information can be stored on tags that are fixed to components or consumables. Major challenges now exist for the use of such ID technologies in both civil and military aerospace industries. Many industries that are dependent on aircraft can benefit from RFID:

  • Airports
  • Logistics
  • Air freight
  • Defense
  • Catering
  • Maintenance and Repair organizations
  • Aerospace/suppliers
  • Aerospace/OEM

Duncan McFarlane, Director of the Cambridge Auto ID Labs saw the current situation with RFID in the industry in the following terms:

  • The industry had looked at passive/active RFID and on-board memory, with many functional development, ID programs, and PLM systems developed.
  • The applications involved included asset-based, typically single-application, vendors working with single-company or private-cluster trial.
  • Standards focus was on low-cost, passive solutions, off network data.
  • Prices are stable at an active level, but high-class tags not receiving focus
  • R&D: deployment research, but predominantly in other fields; the focus is on short life tags

(Source: Aerospace ID Technologies Programme, Duncan McFarlane, Cambridge Auto ID Labs, June 2005)

Product Authentication

Let us use an example to illustrate the problem of product authenticity. Airbus is responsible for every part fitted onto an aircraft. More to the point, it cannot afford to allow product that has not passed rigorous tests to be placed on an aircraft. Every product is certified for its quality. But one of the issues faced by Airbus is that in remote locations, such as some African countries, and even further afield, maintaining an aircraft becomes a monumental challenge, as does tracking that the parts that are fitted are only those that are certified. For one thing, there's the volume. About 1,000 new aircraft are manufactured each year, and another 25,000 are currently in service.

Airbus has estimated that around 3,500 parts on each aircraft lend themselves to RFID-based tracking—that equates to a tag requirement approaching 92 million, and an inventory that is beyond measure. It is not that engineers will purposely fit unsuitable parts, nor that the substitute products are of poor quality, but it can be hard to tell the difference, and because Airbus is responsible for the aircraft, it cannot afford to take any risks. At around $10 per tag—20 times the cost of more-common read-write tags—it adds up to too many trailing zeros to contemplate. But it is expensive for good reason. The tags used in the exercise, which has now passed its pilot phase, incorporate 20 times the capacity of normal tags, because of the service information requirements of the industry. The hope is that during the next two years this capacity will be increased to 6kb—60 times the normal capacity rating. This is because the tag will carry the history of the part and its usage through its entire life.

An alternative approach to storing the information on the tag would use a product information system. Here, the tag would hold only its unique identity. When an inspector came to look at the part, he or she would be equipped with a mobile reader that would interrogate the tag and pick up its unique identity; this would then use this as a key to call a Web transaction.

Production and Supply Chain Visibility

AMR Research estimates that there is between $16B and $30B of waste still in the US Aerospace and Defense supply chain—and approximately double this amount if considered globally (Source: Aerospace and Defence Industry Outlook, AMR Research).

Click here for larger image

Figure 8. The complete Aerospace supply chain (Click on the image for a larger picture)

Today's consumers are becoming increasingly demanding, and this is causing supply chains to have to adapt into "demand" chains. At the same time, there is increased complexity, with scope for new problems. Out of Stock is a major concern, with lack of visibility in the supply chain and increased pressure through lean manufacturing of less inventory/stock being held. Consumers—whether wholesalers, retailers, or healthcare providers—want to know where their goods are, because they are familiar with the experience they get from using Amazon, DHL, and other user-friendly environments. There are more participants in the supply chain, which is leading to more shrinkage, counterfeiting, copying, damage, and tampering. Most organizations see that these issues lie outside their boundaries with their suppliers or logistics companies. However, in practice, it has been found that these issues also lie inside organizational boundaries, particularly where plant-to-plant movements are concerned, or where a plant covers a large area. Therefore, production visibility is just as important to getting real data for management as visibility in the supply chain.

Modern warehouses have complex requirements. Fast product cycles, and the need to decrease inventory and increase the flow of goods through the supply chain means that warehouses cannot remain static. Virtual real-time data must match the supply to the demand. Furthermore, many light manufacturing operations, such as final assembly, customized packing, labeling, and engraving, have been moved from shop floors to warehouses and distribution centers (DCs).

Javed Sikander, Director of Industry Architecture at Microsoft, in his article "RFID Enabled Retail Supply Chain", states: "Businesses strive to make their supply chains more efficient by improving the information sharing throughout the supply chain. At each node in the supply chain, forecast and actual sales from the next node are collected, and planning may be done on what and how much to make, which drives what and how much to buy from the previous node. Today large demands are placed on manufacturers, distributors, and retailers along the chain to maximize efficiency, minimize cost, and provide the best value to the end-customer."

Click here for larger image

Figure 9. Supply chains are complex networks (Click on the image for a larger picture)

EPCGlobal's stance is that RFID provided the mechanism to provide the visibility necessary in today's complex supply chains. They envisage a sharing of information between companies (see Figure 10).

Click here for larger image

Figure 10. EPCGlobal network (Source: EPCGlobal) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

However, to handle this network effectively, you have to tackle the biggest issue, which is that during the supply chain, the same product maybe referred to by different product codes. The benefits of synchronized data are far-reaching, both from an internal and an external perspective. The sharing of data between trading partners is now one of the most important supply chain processes, because the integrity of the information is critical for the uninterrupted flow of goods. The term used to describe this phenomenon is global data synchronization (GDS). (For more information on GDS, please refer to the Microsoft white paper entitled "Global Data Synchronization.")

Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul

Every day, airlines face the challenge of reducing operation and maintenance costs, and they are forced to look for better options. Advances in information technology (IT) have leveraged the development of enterprise resource planning (ERP), business process management (BPM), corporate process management (CPM), and computerized maintenance systems (CMMSs). Although these solutions have been designed for general purposes, some of their features can be applied to very specific organizations. Yet, though the number of solutions is increasing, there are currently only a few CMMSs that can be used specifically in the aviation industry.

CMMSs or maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) systems for the aviation industry have evolved, and now include modules or applications that can provide reports containing summarized information, or that can communicate with other systems. Juan Francisco Segura, professor in the aviation industry at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico, identified that the need for a CMMS depended on the size of the fleet and the maintenance control requirements (Source: CMMS in the Aviation Industry, Juan Francisco Segura, Technical Evaluations.com, June 9, 2005). There are small airlines or air taxi fleets that control their operations using Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access, and that use Microsoft Project for their forecasting or maintenance planning.

The requirements of the MRO events (Standard Maintenance Activities, Problem Resolution, and Directives) are generally the same:

  • Identify the problem.
  • Access the logbook.
  • Locate the required parts.
  • Retrieve the proper documents.
  • Locate certified personnel.
  • Locate the required tools.
  • Complete the checklists/history log.
  • Obtain a release certificate.

There is no doubt that one of the first signs that we need to have more information about regarding the maintenance processes is its cost and, as a related symptom, its variability. Why does the cost of maintenance service vary when it's applied to two aircraft of the same type? Also, given that interchangeable parts on aircrafts are replaced regularly, this represents a huge ongoing administrative task for manufacturers whose job it is to ensure airworthiness of aircraft in service. But with up to 70 percent of a mechanics time spent locating parts; the process is strewn with inefficiency. RFID technology—or, more precisely, the solutions that incorporate RFID—can greatly reduce these inefficiencies and ensure due diligence in terms of maintenance.

When an RFID tag is assigned to a component in order to record every stage of its repair work, one is able to track the process from its removal from the aircraft, to its subsequent reinstallation. By linking this tracking and tracing RFID-enabled system to an organization's CMMS/MRO, this system can have automated input of location information, to enable engineers to locate it and to know exactly what type of repair work was performed, and by whom.

RFID tags can also be assigned to materials (rotational and consumables) for their distribution to the stations, warehouses, or maintenance bases. Information regarding what components were sent or received, or are in transit, as well as their description, part number, serial number, and lot, is able to be maintained and recorded.

RFID tags can also be used on tools used for the disassembly process, so as to control who is using the tool, and since when he or she is using it. A particular use with gauging tools is that the system will associate the identity code on their tags to their description, manufacturer, and the date of their next gauging, in order to attract the necessary anticipated attention to the tool.

MRO shops, just like any factory, have good receipt and dispatch areas for inventory. The use of RFID to assist in managing a warehouse through tracking and tracing is well known from automotive and CPG industries.

All the situations that I have just described involve a great amount of documentation. Links between RFID and document management systems are in their infancy at the time of writing. Because the Aerospace and Defense industry also involves a large amount of regulatory documentation, I can see RFID being used to automatically trigger the production or updating of compliance document (see Figure 11).

Click here for larger image

Figure 11. RFID with document management and workflow management solutions for compliance (Source: Microsoft Corporation) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

However, we must understand that these information benefits are medium-term, because it takes time for the system (or the database) to collect all the records that are necessary in order to perform an analysis. The results of this analysis will allow us to know the maintenance times, the materials used, and so on, which will have to be interpreted by those employees who have enough knowledge and experience.

Analyzing the information should be helpful for:

  • Maintenance planning.
  • Material planning.
  • Personnel planning.
  • Financial planning.

Of course, the economic and man-hour benefits will vary for every case and system.

One benefit that has already been realized from a project at Airbus is the assurance of legitimate replacement parts use, in place of possibly inferior counterfeits. It is estimated that the use of counterfeits was costing Airbus over $8B in replacement costs.


  • Minimize unplanned maintenance.
  • Manage revisions.
  • Optimize inventory (out of stock).
  • Rapid identification of the right parts in the optimal location.
  • Mechanics can access document, task, and parts info through RFID HH devices, and locate and track approved spare parts.
  • Identify and track tool location, usage history, and repair requirements.


  • Reduce overall maintenance costs.
  • Minimize time out-of-service—this means more seats in the air.
  • Improve customer and regulatory compliance.
  • Improve quality and safety.
  • Auto-completion of required maintenance forms.
  • Full fleet health monitoring
  • Improve worker productivity and reduce the human-error factor.

Click here for larger image

Figure 12. Automated MRO scenario (Source: SAP) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

In August 2005, Virgin announced that it had started trialing RFID to track parts at its Heathrow Airport warehouse. Gareth Lewis, IT services director at Virgin Group, stated that RFID was helping Virgin Atlantic keep its planes in the air longer. Every part of the airplane is tagged with RFID. A mobile reader is used to interrogate the tagged aircraft, in order to get a snapshot of all its component parts, thus providing a quick and efficient way of seeing what is in the plane. Virgin can call up all the details of the engine of a plane, and see whether they can keep it flying for another day or week before they have to service it. This boosts their efficiency (Source: RFID keeps Virgin planes in the air, Graeme Wearden, ZDNet UK, February 21, 2006).

RFID is very useful in monitoring the performance of the aircraft maintenance process, and in tracking components and operations in the technical warehouse.

This technology speeds up the data recording processes in a maintenance system, making them reliable and avoiding human error. It also brings savings in the number of man-hours used in paperwork. However, to install a wireless network and radio frequency antennas, the safety and integrity of the data must be ensured—this subject will become more important as the use of wireless networks spreads worldwide.

Plant Maintenance

Every manufacturing organization has to plan the maintenance of its plant resources. The maintenance of plant is a cost in terms of lost production time. The biggest issue is the amount of unplanned maintenance that can occur and its serious impact on tight production schedules. So how can RFID be used to help control and manage plant maintenance?

I will use the example of some work done in BP. BP tackled the plant maintenance issue at two levels. First, they have digitized operator rounds to improve efficiency and avoid unplanned maintenance. This supported the refining business's drive for a "highly reliable organization," by capturing the complex work rules into mobile applications. The processes followed are the same way each time, and were based on best practices. RFID is used to give a unique identification of the assets. As the operator checks the asset, an audit trail is automatically produced. The mobile applications are used to automatically generate work orders. The result is that, instead of the work being responding to breakdowns, it has been transformed into preventing them.

The second area in which BP has used RFID and wireless technology to reduce unplanned maintenance by using wireless technology to gather information is in a trial of mote technology in a refinery, to capture "secondary readings" and environmental data. Mote/sensors cost a fraction of the cost of wired sensors. Drawing on BP's experience in using this technology in one of their ships, the Loch Rannoch, they worked out how to bring motes and sensors together with intrinsically safe requirements into a fully packaged solution (Source: Sensory Networks in BP, Mike Haley, BP, Chief Technology Office, RFID Networking Forum, May 2005).

Where in the Aerospace and Defense industry are there similar circumstances about plant maintenance? Well, from the product side, we have already talked about the use of RFID to provide more-automated MRO. On the production line and in the testing beds, RFID could be used in the same way as BP has used it.

Hazardous Waste Disposal (RoHS and WEEE)

The European Commission worked for a number of years to understand the environmental impact of electrical and electronic waste, and concluded that the volume, the toxic content, and the relative ease of recovering and recycling important materials justified EU-wide action. The environment is defined as the "surrounding in which an organization operates, including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans and their interrelation (Source: ISO)."

The WEEE Directive and the RoHS directives passed into law throughout the EU in August 2004. In spite of the fact that this process is well advanced in the UK and elsewhere, many commentators have observed that there is a lack of understanding of the issues for EU businesses. There are also key details of the legislation that, even at this stage, are not fully finalized; however, the legislation effectively contains retrospective elements, so that many businesses are already substantially affected!

The practical upshot of this is that the equipment you are purchasing now is already adding to your problems under WEEE legislation, unless you have established asset management programs to ensure that every major asset is fully tracked and every minor asset is trapped at time of disposal. The cost of implementing such policies at the last minute will be prohibitive for most companies, and the recycling industry is predicting major problems as companies that have left it until too late find themselves on the front page, portrayed as environmental vandals. The scope of WEEE includes:

  • Large and small household appliances.
  • IT and telecommunications equipment.
  • Consumer equipment.
  • Lighting equipment.
  • Electrical and electronic tools (with the exception of large-scale stationary industrial tools).
  • Toys, and leisure and sports equipment.
  • Medical devices (with the exception of implanted and infected products).
  • Monitoring and control instruments.
  • Automatic dispensers.

Under the directive, there is a dual focus: the producer pays the cost of recycling schemes (a producer is, for instance, a computer hardware or medical equipment manufacturer), and businesses are obliged to implement appropriate disposal policies or face penalties.

What is required is the creation of automatic systems that provide the user organizations with both the process of disposal and also the ability to prove compliance. Using RFID either when the goods are produced (to show when end of life occurs), or when goods are returned to the original supplier, can help with the tracking and tracing of the goods through this special version of reverse logistics. There is a major requirement to prove that a company has complied with procedures for the safe disposal of material. Therefore, RFID, in conjunction with workflow management and document management, provides a solution to this problem.

Health and Safety: Hazardous Conditions

All major organizations have a key corporate responsibility for the safety and health of their employees. For instance, in Rolls Royce's Statement of Accounts for 2005 it is stated: "Rolls-Royce recognizes that exceptional HS&E performance makes sound business sense. Our strategy is to protect our employees, contractors and the wider community; attract and retain a motivated workforce; maintain business continuity; avoid asset damage; and reduce overall costs. We also aim to have zero injuries and environmental incidents and to minimize the environmental impact of our operations (Source: Rolls Royce Statement of Accounts 2005, Rolls Royce website)."

Boeing is committed to providing a safe and healthful workplace for its employees, and to protecting the environment. Safety, health, and environmental improvements are an integral part of the company's efforts to become more efficient and productive.

Smiths Group is committed to ensuring that, as far as is practical, any detrimental effects of its activities, products, and services upon the environment are minimized. Smiths Group is committed to conducting all activities in a manner that achieves the highest practical standards of health and safety. They have been working hard to give EHS issues a high priority in the way they do business, and their performance derives from integrating EHS responsibilities into their day-to-day management activities.

How can a company ensure that an employee, when entering a hazardous operating zone, is authorized to enter that zone, and if not authorized, that he or she is accompanied by an authorized person? How can the employer ensure that the appropriate safety clothing is being worn by that employee?

Let us look at how one organization, BP, has tackled this problem. In 2005, there was a major incident at a BP refinery, in which a number of people were killed or seriously injured. BP set out to see how RFID could be used to improve safety and operations efficiency at chemical plants, refineries, and E&P facilities by locating workers (Source: Sensory Networks in BP, Mike Haley, BP, Chief Technology Office, RFID Networking Forum, May 2005). They wanted the capability to:

  • Track workers who perform tasks in large, remote, or dangerous environments, and to quickly locate workers in an emergency.
  • Provide warnings to workers in hazardous environments.

BP set up some trials to prove the concept, with the aim of refining it to prove operational feasibility by addressing intrinsically safe, form factor, size, and cost issues.

One of these trials involved the use of RFID tags to check that protective clothing and equipment was being used correctly. This check occurred as the employee was about to leave the control (safe) environment and enter the hazardous zone (see Figure 13). The RFID reader in the confined entry point checked for the following:

  • Is the correct clothing being worn?
  • Does the worker have the necessary safety equipment (hard hat, goggles, gloves, and so on)?
  • Is the breathing apparatus detected?
  • Is there a "permit to work"?
  • Is there more than one person present, and who are they?
  • Do those who are present have valid training certificates?

The trials also involved integration with local handhelds or backend systems.


Figure 13. Safety equipment check (Source: Sensory Networks in BP, Mike Haley, BP, Chief Technology Office, RFID Networking Forum, May 2005)

Implementation Challenges of RFID

Implementing RFID involves a multitude of challenges. Multiple goals of an RFID deployment can lead to a complex project. It's better to focus on a few clear objectives. In an interview, Overby of Forrester Research said, "The fragmentation of the business case is forcing people to be more cautious and more analytical in how they approach the technology."

The other big challenge, Overby says, "continues to be cost," although she predicted that the adoption of the EPC Class 1, Gen 2 standards will put downward pressure on pricing. The Gen 2 standard makes the use of one secure tag possible worldwide, and it is expected to aid adoption of RFID across all industries. Other challenges include:

  • Resistance to change—Many organizations today rely heavily on manual processes or barcode scanning to track goods. In any organization, moving from a familiar technology to a new technology poses a challenge, especially when it requires process change.
  • Established barcoding infrastructure—In many manufacturing facilities and distribution centers, barcode systems have been used for many years. Since barcode systems are efficient and represent a substantial investment, it can be difficult to justify a change to RFID.
  • No one size fits all—Today's RFID systems are customized for each deployment. "In fact, a successful implementation typically requires considerable experimentation to achieve adequate read rates and the delivery of actionable information to appropriate recipients," according to Alok Ahuja, Senior Product Manager of RFID at Microsoft.
  • Environment—The physical properties of the products to be tagged, the antenna design, and other environmental factors can make it difficult for readers to work reliably. Liquids absorb radio frequency signals, and metal reflects them. As a result, performance can be affected by the item on which the tag is attached. External factors such as RF noise from nearby electric motors can also impact performance. However, as RFID technology matures and experience increases, tag and reader placement will become less an art and more of a science.
  • Lack of integration—Lack of integration and isolated islands of automation can pose other problems for those considering RFID. Manufacturers' enterprise resource planning systems may not be linked in real time to shop floor systems. Currently, integration with back-end systems generally requires the creation of custom interfaces, which is often a time-consuming and expensive undertaking.
  • Lack of skilled personnel—RFID-knowledgeable IT personnel are hard to find. Many organizations, regardless of size, will discover they have no qualified IT personnel in certain locations.
  • Evolving standards—Managing multiple readers and related hardware can be a challenge, especially across multiple facilities. That's because global standards governing how RFID devices communicate with higher-level systems are evolving. At present, communication between hardware and software requires custom configuration. The situation is similar to that found in the early days of personal computing, when a specific vendor driver was required in order to link a printer to a PC and print documents. For those moving forward with RFID deployments, the fluid standards situation makes it imperative that system components provide an easy, inexpensive upgrade path.
  • Data overload—An RFID reader will continuously scan each tag several times per second, for as long as the tag remains in its read range; therefore, the potential for data overload must also be considered. Some readers can be programmed to eliminate duplicate information, but data volume still can be overwhelming to the network. The reason is that RFID systems can capture information at more points than was practical with manual or barcode systems. Because few ERP systems were originally built to accept a high volume of low-level data, RFID system designers typically include some data filtering at the edge (device level).
  • Data noise—The torrent of RFID data (called "noise") can overwhelm readers or cause ambiguity, especially in dense reader environments where scanning areas may overlap. Read rates are improving, but often they are not anywhere near 100 percent, due to unreadable, damaged, or missing tags. In addition, because reading is based on proximity, mistakes can happen. For example, a reader may read the tag on an item passing by on a forklift, rather than the tag on a stationary target. To prevent inaccurate data from being transmitted to enterprise applications, a successful RFID solution must be able to deal with erroneous or missing information.
  • Multiplicity of vendors—No single vendor does it all, and therefore most RFID systems must be assembled from multiple sources. This can create integration obstacles if hardware and software don't work together.
  • Resistance to information sharing—In systems that depend on information from various trading partners, information sharing issues must be resolved in order to achieve maximum benefit.
  • Privacy issues—Finally, some privacy advocates claim that RFID will violate consumer privacy, and they have become vocal opponents of the technology. Although much of what they fear isn't currently practical (or, in some cases, technically feasible), these critics are being heard. Of particular concern is the use of RFID technology without advising the consumer of its presence and how it is being used. Vendors and users of RFID should be committed to using the technology responsibly, and to being vigilant about any perceived or actual misuse of personal data.

When you look through all the scenarios described in "Using RFID to Solve Current Business Issues," it becomes very apparent that the solutions involve more than just the use of tags and readers: they also involve support for integration with ERP solutions that run the company's businesses; collaboration with supply chain partners, both up and down the chain; and security/privacy support. This requirement, plus all the issues discussed earlier, means that the architecture in question must be both agile in nature, as well as heterogeneous in nature.

How Does the Microsoft RFID Architecture Address Business Needs?

To encourage widespread adoption of RFID technology, and to address the customer pains of managing multiple devices, smoothing the data, translating data into meaningful events and combating costly integrations, Microsoft is developing a layered RFID infrastructure, using an open-building-block approach. It relies on the Microsoft Windows Server system, related Microsoft applications platform products, and a growing number of integrated partner solutions. This approach provides a wealth of solutions for any size of organization or industry vertical, including manufacturing, pharmaceutical, or aerospace. Also, the combination of the Microsoft technology platform and partner solutions offers a multiplicity of applications, reflecting the broad potential of RFID.

The Microsoft RFID infrastructure enables compliance, automation, and business process transformation, while shielding users from changing standards/regulations. Toward this end, the company is developing core infrastructure components to support RFID applications and solutions. It is also RFID-enabling select systems within its family of Microsoft Dynamics enterprise applications products. The infrastructure provides a base set of tools for device abstraction and management, event processing, and applications integration.

Independent hardware, software, and systems integration partners play a key role in developing RFID applications based on the Microsoft .NET foundation technologies and Microsoft applications platform products such as BizTalk Server, which provides data integration services for supply chain operations. The Microsoft RFID technology can be embedded within third-party applications, or used on its own, to capture and interpret data from sensors, and to manage business events in an easy-to-deploy, user-friendly environment.

The Microsoft Layered Approach

The Microsoft RFID infrastructure platform consists of layers (see Figure 14). The architecture incorporates:

  • Devices, such as readers and sensors.
  • The Device Service Provider Interface (DSPI).
  • Event processing engine.
  • RFID application programming interfaces (APIs).
  • Tools and adapters.

Click here for larger image

Figure 14. The Microsoft Real Time Enterprise Platform (Source: Microsoft Corporation, 2006) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

Because the layers are tightly integrated, applications and devices can seamlessly interconnect. Here's how the layers work together:

Devices Layer

The bottom Devices Layer consists of hardware such as RFID readers, printers, sensors, barcode scanners, 802.1X access points for wireless local area networks, handheld terminals, and Pocket PCs, which are provided by partners. Data transmissions from EPC readers and other devices from multiple vendors are processed through a Device Service Provider Interface that is included in the Microsoft RFID infrastructure. It provides a platform for independent software vendors and system integrators to install hardware in a plug-and-play fashion, resulting in a complete and seamless RFID solution.

Data Collection and Management Layer

To accommodate the potentially large variety and number of devices that could be resident in an RFID implementation, a Device Service Provider Interface provides a consistent way for devices from multiple hardware vendors to expose their device services to the Microsoft platform. DSPI provides a scalable, extensible infrastructure that allows customers to read data through any standards-based or non-standards-based sensor, regardless of format, thereby reducing dependency on a specific technology and protecting RFID investments long-term.

Event Processing Engine

This layer includes event and workflow management, messaging, and a business rules engine. The Event Processing Engine enables context-based or rules-based processing of RFID data, to provide information directly to line-of-business applications. Information also can be delivered to business processes that span applications, by means of Web services integration and orchestration products such as BizTalk Server. This layer provides the structure for integration across multiple facilities and partners. It also includes device management, in order to convert data into business process relevant information.

Click here for larger image

Figure 15. The Event Processing Engine (Source: Microsoft Corporation, 2006) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

Services Layer

The Services Layer includes product information resolution lookup, business process management, analytics/reports/notifications, and enterprise content solutions. The Microsoft RFID infrastructure makes it easy for partners to embed functionality directly into their application, or to build applications on the infrastructure. Open APIs and .NET-centric tools allow partners to quickly create specialized vertical solutions across a wide range of applications. The Services Layer also provides lookups to EPCIS servers where data about a tagged object resides.

Application Solutions Layer

This uppermost layer relies on services, data, and tools from the lower layers to implement application solutions that drive business processes for the end user. Microsoft relies on its partners to build out many of the solutions, which are divided between two classes of applications: real-time enterprise/point applications and batch-oriented enterprise applications. In addition, the RFID infrastructure also supports the Microsoft Dynamics family of enterprise applications.

Business Benefits

The Microsoft RFID infrastructure offers many potential business and technology benefits to those considering RFID systems today. In all cases, careful attention has been placed on open standards, and on overcoming the shortcomings of today's custom systems. Thus, the Microsoft RFID infrastructure is designed to lower total cost of ownership; simplify integration end-to-end, from the device level to back-end applications; convert data into actionable information; and provide a platform where Microsoft and its partners can build applications that take advantage of the volume and real-time nature of RFID data.

  • Lower total cost of ownership—One of the most significant potential benefits is helping clients leverage existing investments in Microsoft Windows Server 2003, SQL Server, and BizTalk Server, as well as popular ERP and CRM systems, including Microsoft's own ERP systems, Microsoft Dynamics. These familiar tools also shorten the learning curve and make the applications easier to use.
  • Simplified integration—The Microsoft RFID infrastructure allows for seamless integration of devices, with provisions for discovery, configuration, communication, and management. Essentially, it provides ways to integrate data from disparate sources from the physical layer, such as the shop floor, warehouse floor, and trading partners, and it governs how information flows through the stack and ends up in business solutions provided by partners or Microsoft Dynamics.

    Because the DSPI basically makes hardware such as readers and printers plug-and-play, it helps system builders assemble the optimum solution and focus on larger project issues, without worrying whether a driver exists. Meanwhile, organizations deploying RFID are better positioned to take advantage of the hardware innovation and falling prices that DSPI promotes.

    Firmware updates can be performed remotely across an enterprise, eliminating the need for physical intervention. Hardware health can also be monitored remotely. If a reader does not respond as expected, an administrator receives an alert so that corrective action can be taken.

  • Converting data to actionable information—Above the Microsoft Devices Layer, an Event Processing Engine filters incoming noise while providing alerts and transformations. It reduces the data "noise" created by the volumes of redundant data it receives, and converts it into actionable information. This functionality is enhanced by the use of English-like vocabularies for rule creation, and a high degree of built-in configurability, thus making it easy for users to modify it. Similarly, performance and scalability are built-in, so that large volumes of irregular event streams can be handled and deployment can be distributed.

    Built-in edge processing includes a highly flexible and configurable rules engine that addresses potential business problems. For example, if a shipment of 24 cases is expected, but only 20 tags are read when it arrives, the system can send an alert so that the operator can check the pallet. The operator can then confirm the presence or absence of the four unread cases, and transmit accurate receiving information to the enterprise application. Whether done at the edge or centrally, processing of data is transparent to the user.

    Data management also requires context. Is the object arriving? Departing? This information can be provided by sensors on the Devices Layer that show the direction of movement. Or, it can be done by a combination of history and rules. For example, if the system has seen an object before, this would suggest it is departing rather than arriving. Adding the context of pending orders provides further confirmation of status.

  • Application platform—Open APIs and a rich object model make it easier for partners or users to build new RFID-enabled applications, or to integrate RFID data with back-end applications. Tools include a centralized dashboard for device monitoring and configuration, and a Tag Data Simulator that permits RFID events to be simulated without input from actual devices. Tight integration with BizTalk Server and existing enterprise software makes it possible for partners and clients to convert RFID events to BizTalk Server messages, and to build closed-loop "RFID-aware" business processes.

For details of a sample of key Microsoft partners who are developing RFID-based solutions, go to www.microsoft.com/partners.


The business benefits of using RFID in the aerospace sector can be summarized as follows:

  • Safety and security—Authenticating assets
  • Improving track and trace, and reducing shrinkage
  • Improving field maintenance and spares supply
  • Managing and reducing airline parts inventories
  • Establishing audit trails for each uniquely identified object
  • Real-time component performance information
  • Early malfunction detection
  • Real-time aircraft/system usage
  • Real-time subsystems monitoring
  • Confirmation that the correct part is being used in the right place, according to specifications
  • Collection of warranty-related data is possible
  • Use of RFID as a quality management tool

The University of Cambridge Auto-ID Aerospace ID Technologies Programme, in a recent presentation, predicted the following post-2006 situation:

  • Technology—Clearly specified, cost-effective, logical mix of ID technologies and low-class and high-class RFID
  • Applications—Moving asset-based, multiple application, multi-company pilots, public demonstrators
  • Standards—Tags, product data, network management and support (interfaces)
  • Prices—Prices at pre-1999 ratios for all classes
  • Vendors—Vendors focused on the industry as a whole

In the longer term, what will we see? A number of organizations have talked about RFID-enabled aircraft. This environment would provide the best conditions for cutting costs in the MRO scenario, as well as providing ePedigree authentication of parts (see Figure 16).

Click here for larger image

Figure 16. The RFID-enabled aircraft: pipe dream or real possibility? (Source: Aerospace ID Technologies Programme, Duncan McFarlane, Cambridge Auto ID Labs, June 2005) (Click on the image for a larger picture)

This scenario is based on there being a limited numbers of readers, but a large number of antennas that cover seats, maintenance spaces, crew areas, holds, and doors/hatches, supported by the use of intelligent software in order to provide not only automatic collection and correlation of data, but also business intelligence information.

The potential of RFID technology is enormous. Realizing the value however, requires a business-wide approach:

  • Maximize the value through understanding the full breadth of the implications and opportunities presented by the technology.
  • Minimize the risk of failure through appreciating the pitfalls involved in RFID technology selection, integration, and implementation in the end-to-end supply chain.
  • Bring the right skills to bear, including:
    • Supply chain process reengineering.
    • RFID physical layer implementation.
    • Technology integration.
    • Enterprise systems.
    • Finance and tax planning.
    • Regulatory implications.
    • Program management.
    • Change management.
    • Corporate and social responsibility.

Awareness of RFID technology and the benefits that it delivers is increasing across the industry globally. By playing a key role in developing the infrastructure required for RFID, Microsoft is contributing to the momentum of mass deployment.

The fully-integrated Microsoft architecture for RFID embraces a vision for increased operational efficiency and reduced costs. It enables the exchange of RFID-related data, in near-real time, across disparate systems and corporate boundaries. It also supports standards for global data synchronization and interoperability with EPC, which is a prerequisite for global adoption of RFID.

Microsoft is playing a leadership role in RFID, data alignment, and traceability, through participation in a number of industry initiatives and involvement in the development of standards for RFID. Our RFID Council is also contributing to the development of the technology by helping organizations track items more effectively.

Through a network of world-class partners, including ISVs, hardware vendors, and systems integrators, Microsoft is delivering RFID solutions that add value to businesses and enable fast returns on technology investments.

The key to realizing the benefits of RFID technology is treating it as a true enabler of business reengineering—a step change in improving both integrity and efficiency.

Appendix A: More Information About the Microsoft RFID Solution

For more information about the Microsoft RFID solution, please call:

Also, more information about the Microsoft RFID solution is available on the Web, at msdn.microsoft.com/canada/rfid.

The following organizations provided invaluable research and insights for this white paper, and the author would like to thank them for their contributions. Industry officials interested in obtaining more information about the research cited in this report should contact the organizations at these websites.

Table 1. Research firms and Microsoft solution partners mentioned in this white paper

About the author

Simon Holloway is Manufacturing Industry Architect at Microsoft EMEA. He is responsible for defining and developing solution-based architectures within the manufacturing sector. He is the EMEA Manufacturing lead on RFID and Shop Floor Security.

Simon's background spans some 20 years as an IT consultant specializing in IS/IT strategy planning, information management, corporate data and process modeling, business process reengineering, structured business analysis, software selection, and project management. He has worked in a wide variety of industry-based and service-based companies. Simon is the author of eight books on the subject of data management, development approaches, and open systems.