Boeing Makes Item-Level RFID Fly

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 10-11-2006

As retailers and consumer goods manufacturers struggle with achieving the supply-chain nirvana of complete item-level tagging, $60 billion aerospace giant Boeing has gotten item-level RFID to soar, with 2,000 high-memory passive tags in every plane of an upcoming line.

Boeing's item-level RFID efforts are intriguing because of their scope, but also because of the extreme environmental and frequency hardships they must endure.

Beyond the expected vibrations, altitude, air pressure and humidity impact of routinely flying that far above the clouds, the tags must be able to handle temperatures that range from 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) below zero and they were tested to 1,200 degrees above zero, which is what the exhaust nozzle right outside a jet engine experiences.

For more on RFID, see CIO Insight's Special Report: RFID in the Real World

Typically, though, the units need only handle 300 degrees above zero.

The wireless unit must be inflammable and be accessible to frequency ranges between 860MHz and 960MHz, so it can communicate with devices from any country that is using UHF RFID readers.

They also must last about 20 years. That's a lot to ask for a tag that sells for between $15 and $20.

Today's retail item-level tags cost much less—in the 40 cent neighborhood, which is higher than the desired 5-cent-mark—but deliver much less functionality.

Globally, Europe has its own item-level RFID struggles—most revolving around frequency conflicts—although Marks & Spencer is plowing ahead.

Retailers in China are preparing to go their own way with item-level tagging, while some retail technology vendors in the United States are hoping to partner some of the problems away.

But Boeing decided that it couldn't use the typical RFID tag being used today—even if it's packaging was strong enough to sustain those heaven-bound hardship headaches—because so much more information needed to be stored about every critical airplane component.

Read the full story on eWeek: Boeing Makes Item-Level RFID Fly