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Major Aerospace & Defense Company Taps IoT Sensor Solutions to Boost Productivity

BAE Systems improves efficiencies with Enterprise Sensor Integration (ESI) from Tapestry Solutions

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Smart factories are fast becoming a reality as manufacturers leverage Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technologies to connect people, data and processes across their factories and supply chains.

This case study examines how BAE Systems achieved IoT connectivity – significantly boosting productivity, asset visibility and supply chain management – with the help of Enterprise Sensor Integration (ESI) from Tapestry Solutions, a Boeing Company.

Overview

BAE Systems, an international defense, aerospace and security company, had an immediate need to find new technologies and techniques to accelerate manufacturing production processes in response to increased customer demands.

The primary task was to replace existing manual processes with an automated, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) solution to efficiently track and manage inventory, assets/tools and workflow processes. This would support the company’s overall goals of enhancing factory tracking and awareness capabilities; supporting ramped-up production efforts; and reducing non-value-added activities.

The company hoped to attain a near-real-time view into its assets and processes, and integrate that data with its existing sensor technologies and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. It also wanted the solution to have sufficient flexibility and scalability to grow with technology advancements and its evolving enterprise needs.

The Challenge

Previously, the company had a largely manual process for tracking and managing inventory, asset and tools, as well as enhancing workflow on the assembly floor.  It used a manual barcode scanning process to track and replenish inventory at multiple sites. Procurement teams then released orders manually, which often resulted in longer than desired lead times.

To achieve lean manufacturing goals and reduce costs, BAE Systems sought a solution where materials could be replenished using “pull” methodology – based on just-in-time demand – rather than a “push” system where materials are stocked based on forecasted demand. 

Without automation, the company lacked asset visibility and accountability. As an added complication, particular tools had to be manually monitored for calibration to meet compliance and regulatory requirements.

The Approach

Tapestry Solutions set out to provide an Internet of Things (IoT) solution for BAE Systems, leveraging RFID as well as Enterprise Sensor Integration (ESI) technology that it implemented across 50 factories for Boeing, its parent company.

ESI is a software solution that connects myriad sensors and data sources onto a common platform.  As a sensor-agnostic solution, ESI can be integrated with an organization's legacy RFID and sensor systems – regardless of hardware or sensor type.  It integrates sensor data with customer enterprise systems, such as ERPs, to drive operational automation and efficiencies.  ESI can operate in the cloud or on dedicated, on-premise servers.

ESI technology saved Boeing $100 million during its first year alone – largely due to reductions in assembly time, automated asset receipt and payment, enhanced inventory management, and improved quality and safety.

Tapestry commenced work at BAE Systems in July 2017, and then installed the hardware in two phases during the fall of 2017. By 2018, the solution was successfully implemented at BAE Systems’ Electronic Warfare Integrated Manufacturing Center (EW-IMC) in Nashua, New Hampshire, followed by several other sites.   

The installation supported the following business use cases:  automated material replenishment, asset and calibratable tool tracking, and Work-in-Process (WIP) tracking.

The Results

BAE Systems reports that the ESI-enabled RFID solution has significantly increased production capability at its factories and through its supply chain, thereby improving current and future production programs for its customers. The technology provides BAE Systems with the capability to track 200,000+ assets, 30,000 parts, and an estimated 6,500 work orders at its facilities.

The company is beginning to eliminate manual barcode scanning processes in many areas. This has enabled BAE Systems to transform from a “push” scheduling process to a “pull,” where there is a just-in-time inventory flow through its supply chain.  

Material Management

To track and replenish materials via RFID, BAE Systems selected a TwinBin RFID Kanban system with specialized material-storage containers. The system is used in conjunction with customized mechanical RFID flags, which send signals to suppliers once the stock level has been depleted to the determined re-order level.

That data is collected every day via BAE Systems’ centralized database. Orders are automatically generated every night, and the parts arrive at a pre-determined time at the Material Center. The ESI software provides web-based reports for the location of material-storage containers, bins and shelving systems.

Today, BAE Systems has more than 9,000 unique parts numbers that are actively available for auto-replenishment directly to its suppliers.

Tools and Asset Management

For asset and tool tracking, BAE Systems has applied UHF RFID tags to tools used during the assembly process. A combination of RFID readers are installed at portals or chokepoint areas to capture data from the RFID tags as they pass.

The system can also track which items enter specific zones and which ones return from those locations, thereby helping users to identify any misplaced tools or materials.

The software enables workers to create parameters indicating which zones specific tools or assets can enter and leave. They then receive alerts via email, XML, or SMS messages if there is a change in status or an unauthorized event occurs.  

ESI has improved operational visibility through its mapping applications, visually displaying asset locations on maps and building layouts – based on a part or tag number entered in the system – providing decision-makers with total asset visibility.  ESI can also monitor recalibration due dates on equipment and can send associated alerts to management.

For WIP, RFID tags are applied to printed work orders as they are initiated, which enables tracking of each open order as it moves through the production floor. The work order then follows the movement of each product as it proceeds through the assembly process, allowing the company to keep track of the order’s status and identify possible bottlenecks.

Future Enhancements

The next steps for BAE Systems include launching portal readers at engineering labs this year, as well as selecting installation sites for 2019 and 2020. Future enhancements will include supporting chemicals management — automating the tracking of perishable materials and providing expiration alerts — as well as electrostatic sensitive device (ESD) audit validation.


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