How Boeing Decided Which

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-10-11 Print this article Print

Parts Would Be Tagged"> The Dreamliner, which will cost well more than $100 million, has about 4 million components. Of those 4 million parts, Boeing decided to tag 2,000 parts, mostly those that were either of "known low reliability" or more expensive parts such as "computer, landing gear and hydraulic pumps" along with the black box mechanisms.

One critical item-level-related cost-savings for Boeing customers is a reduction in time for mandatory maintenance checks, where flight personnel verify that, for example, life jackets and oxygen masks are where they are supposed to be.
Instead of having personnel physically looking, it can be scanned in fewer than five minutes.
The RFID devices are intended to last for as many as 20 years. Beyond that is not needed, Porad said, because its likely something will have technologically replaced RFID by then. "Technology changes and we keep abreast of it. The game may not be RFID in 15 or 20 years. We might be using Tholian webs in 10 years," he said. Keeping the RFID units hardware (which have no moving parts) functional for 20 years isnt the problem, Porad said, as long as they are periodically accessed by a reader. If the units are ignored for many years, however, there is the possibility for its memory to start breaking down. "We dont need to replace the nameplate. We just need to refresh the memory every eight to 10 years by accessing it with a reader," he said. "You have to make sure you activate it." The initial technology being used by Boeing is a passive backscatter device, with an extensive maintenance history stored on it. "At a future time, we can talk about active tags with built-in censors" to monitor temperature, altitude and other physical facts, "but were not there yet," Porad said. Given the cost of the aircraft (the primary flight computer alone costs about $400,000) and the potential cost savings from the faster and more accurate maintenance, Porad said the investment is easy to justify. "The price of the transponders is negligible compared with the value it provides," he said. But the transponder cost is also small compared with the necessary supporting hardware and software, such as the reader/writers (about $5,000 each), the programming time to modify backoffice applications to "accept this kind of data," plus major middleware enhancements and "the whole infrastructure." The transponders themselves are being purchased by Boeing for about $10 million over the next three to five years from an RFID manufacturer called Intelleflex, according to Suresh Palliparambil, Intelleflexs business development director. Click here to read about possible legislation that will limit the use of RFID. The additional memory is needed to deliver the kind of comprehensive aircraft readiness logs that airplane purchasers expect, including a full serialized inventory and printed wiring assemblies. To make it work, Boeing used a high-memory UHF silicon product. "You can simply store more data," Palliparambil said. "You can store pages worth of data about this particular part." One Boeing concern that Porad had to overcome was whether 2,000 RFID devices on the aircraft might interfere with sensitive flight equipment. To make his case, Porad said he had to do something dramatic. "I have actually populated an airplane with RFID three different times and flew them to prove that there was no electromagnetic interference and no detrimental environmental effects," he said. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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