RFID keeps Virgin planes in the air

RFID keeps Virgin planes in the air

Summary: Radio tagging lets Virgin Atlantic get more value from its fleet of aeroplanes, and also helps BP keep tabs on its gas cylinders

TOPICS: Networking

Two of the UK's largest companies are using RFID tags to make their businesses more efficient, but in rather different ways.

Gareth Lewis, IT services director at Virgin Group, said on Monday that RFID was helping Virgin Atlantic to keep its planes in the air longer.

"Every part of the aeroplane is tagged with RFID. Now, we can point a gun at it and take a snapshot of all its component parts — it's a really quick and efficient way of seeing what's in the plane," explained Lewis, appearing on a panel at the UK Technology Innovation & Growth Forum.

"If you can call up all the details of the plane's engine, and see that you can keep it flying for another day or week before you service it, that can boost your efficiency," Lewis added.

Virgin announced in August 2005 that it had started trialling RFID to track parts at its Heathrow Airport warehouse.

RFID tagging involves tiny wireless-enabled chips, which can be fitted to an object and used to track it.

Energy giant BP has begun using RFID to track its train carrages in the US, which are used to transport chemicals around the country. Back in 2003, it sent its top executives on a training course to learn about the potential of radio tagging.

But, as technology director Ken Douglas revealed, the company did have its doubts about deploying RFID tags on its LPG cylinders, which are used for domestic and outdoor cooking.

"The beer industry has a habit of putting RFID on its kegs. So they asked why we didn't put them on our LPG cylinders. We initially said 'no chance', but it's now one of our best recent moves, letting us tell one gas cylinder from another and track where it's been," said Douglas, who also appeared on the panel.

The UK Technology Innovation & Growth Forum is taking in place in London, and is organised by the European Technology Forum, a sister company of ZDNet UK.

Topic: Networking

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  • Maybe Gareth Lewis can tell Wal-Mart where he got the gun that can take a snapshot inventory of his planes. Wal-Mart is having trouble reading just a pallet load of case goods, and has to resort to reading cases one at a time. Maybe Virgin is using more magical software.
  • Chris, I think Gareth Lewis has been misquoted. One must assume Virgin is using passive chips, long range active tags surely wouldn't be compatible with the operating environment, and anyway cost too much. I suggest the 'gun' interrogates the aircraft on a per component basis to discover condition data written to the chip. I would guess read range at less than 5cm. Meanwhile we discussing the implantation of passive RFID in under seat life vests to track movements and inspections.
  • Stephen, Unfortunately hyped up stories like this is what scares people into thinking of RFID as "Spychips" that will control their lives. The application related to life vests seems reasonable provided that the tags can be read without dismantling the seats.