The Aircraft Project

NFC monitor, track and recover assets worldwide. We provide asset tracking systems to the open market fulfilling the world’s most complex asset tracking requirements.

Two very different solutions, real time tracking around airfields and an integrated supply chain visibility offering.

The core of both systems is the same, Orion gateways that send data back to a cloud based server. The only difference is that in the supply chain visibility solution, there are gateways on other sites, (even vehicles), that feed data to the cloud as well. The aim for both solutions is to provide minute by minute information on the location of all key components. This could mean anything from specialist transportation packaging through to engines. Additionally, items in transit can be monitored for shock and vibration, so that rough handing can be detected.

Aircraft tracking diagram

Within a supply chain, there are always items in service, local spares and spares that are in the repair loop. On larger assemblies, this can be thought of as items in service, items repairable on site and then assemblies that need to be sent away to be repaired. Any spreadsheet or system dynamics model of aircraft components in the supply chain, will show that aircraft serviceability is directly related to spares availability. The critical factor in the number of spares that are needed is often dominated by the time it takes the for the parts to be overhauled at the supplier.

Imagine a rotor head on a helicopter. On a large machine these are big and expensive parts. The rotor head will need regular servicing but then a complete ‘swap out’, every so many flying hours. If the hours flown are variable, then the time between changes is variable and sufficient spares must be to hand to maintain aircraft serviceability. That much is simple.

Now think about this example, ten helicopters flying one hundred hours a month. If the helicopters need a new rotor head every three hundred flying hours, then over a year that is 30 spare rotor heads, if they take 12 months to go through the manufacture’s service and reconditioning process.


However, if the manufacturer could turn them around in just six months, the fleet would only need 20 spares. The savings would be huge. If pushed, the manufacturer could probably turn them around in a month, so only 10 spares would be required. So by knowing where things are in the supply chain, the KPIs can be set in the right place in the contract and the savings on anything that flies are substantial. The model is true for nearly all industries, there is either too much money tied up in spares or the wrong type of spares, or the wrong spares in the wrong place. Either which way, by providing the visibility to look at what is really happening, there is an opportunity to save money or increase productivity.

Supply chain visibility can improve many elements from the production of aircraft through to their maintenance and servicing. Each project, although tightly focused on a specific aspect, makes use of the gateways installed on site which provide universal support to the process.

Airfields are large and distributed sites by their very nature. Finding small items on large airfields can take an age. Especially when the items are in short supply and being moved about. There is a tendency the world over for people to horde useful items. This is especially true if the items are hard to find in the first place. This behaviour in turn re-enforces the problem by making the items even harder to find.

To locate items on airfields, the standard equipment used is an Orion GPS tag with a fifteen minute update. (The tags actually transmit every two minutes but just update their GPS co-ordinates every fifteen minutes to extend their battery life). These are small, rugged, battery powered items that are fitted to everything from stairs to power packs. The result is that the location of the items is continually updated on the control board and any item can be quickly located. Users often break items down by class, so they can simply find the nearest one on a colour code web display. By giving access to users on their smart phones or iPads, it breaks the hording mentality. The users feel confident that they can locate what they need when they need it.

The core mantra behind all of this is that better visibility leads to better management. In many cases there are items at aircraft factories or at airfields that are important, if not expensive and should really be tracked because it would improve productivity. Traditionally, putting together real time asset management solutions was expensive and complex because it required the use of GSM devices. Very often battery powered GSM devices do not function well around the sort of strong radar transmissions associated with airfields. Orion is unique in that the nature of the radio with its dual modes enables a digital ‘dots on maps’ images and at the same time, the ability to use, small, hand held scanners. This means it is possible to track an individual item, for inspection or repair, however small.

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