Virgin Atlantic Airways Investigates the RFID-enabled Warehouse

Airline deploys Symbol handheld readers and wireless infrastructure to gain visibility into critical airplane parts at airport facilities

Airline deploys Symbol handheld readers and wireless infrastructure to gain visibility into critical airplane parts at airport facilities

Winnersh, UK — April 12, 2006 — British airline Virgin Atlantic Airways has tapped Symbol Technologies and its partner PEAK Technologies to supply radio frequency identification (RFID) technology as part of a pilot project to track critical, high-value aviation assets moving through its logistics supply chain at Heathrow International Airport.

Virgin Atlantic stakes a claim as the first airline in the United Kingdom to use RFID technology to track parts onsite. The company has deployed Symbol's MC9000-G RFID handheld mobile computers with RFID readers and a Symbol wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure, including a WS2000 wireless switch and AP300 access ports. The aim of the pilot is to track and trace high-value repairable aircraft parts, often at short notice.

Dual Mode "Essential"

The installation is based at Virgin Atlantic's logistics facilities at Heathrow Airport, with additional facilities at Gatwick Airport. Heathrow is the central distribution hub for the Virgin Atlantic logistics network.

Three AP300 access ports with external antennas support onsite data exchange at each location, and the MC9000-G mobile computer enables real-time scanning and data entry, providing Virgin Atlantic's staff with inventory control and visibility into their supply chain.

The MC9000-G mobile computer is an RFID mobile reader that supports Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system for both RFID and bar code applications. This dual-mode operation was considered an "essential capability" by Virgin Atlantic when selecting the technology for their investment.

Project TRIM

The project, called Tracked by Radio Identification Method (TRIM), utilizes RFID tagging and was deployed at Virgin Atlantic with the specific aim of tracking serialized aircraft parts and tools at their main supply facilities and throughout their supply chain. Airplane parts are given a full inspection upon entry to the warehouse and logged into the inventory system computer before being associated with an RFID tag.

Oracle is integral to the TRIM project. Oracle's Fusion Middleware and Database 10g and other RFID-enabled applications capture and manage Virgin Atlantic's supply data via the MC9000-G RFID mobile computer.

Additionally Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. provided consulting and system integration expertise, while PEAK Technologies was responsible for the implementation of the Symbol equipment, which included hardware commissioning, installation of the Symbol wireless network and MC9000-G mobile computers, and the associated installation project management for the hardware.

Investigating the RFID-enabled Warehouse

"As Britain's second largest carrier, Virgin Atlantic is keen to investigate the efficiency of the RFID-enabled warehouse," said Graham Holford, senior systems analyst at Virgin Atlantic. "Symbol's RFID technology was seen as a way to improve efficiency by tracking and tracing items instantly and in real time."

Symbol said its RFID technology has demonstrated high-performance capabilities such as data capture and data accuracy while also improving the accuracy and frequency of inventory management through stores and warehouses. RFID solutions have also increased the visibility of parts and materials within maintenance environments and offered more accurate inventory control at the point of entry to the aircraft stores, according to the solution provider.

Consequently, Virgin Atlantic has greater ability to comply with anticipated guidelines from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) concerning the traceability and authenticity of aircraft components. Virgin Atlantic will also be able to integrate with the RFID specifications proposed by Boeing and Airbus for use within the aircraft supply chain.

"Virgin Atlantic is doing precisely what we advise our most progressive clients to do — evaluate the application of this emerging technology in their own environment, and measure the effectiveness of the RFID solution based on the return on investment (ROI) and a clear business case," said David Picton, logistics solutions director for Symbol Technologies.

Additional Articles of Interest

— Contemplating RFID? Here are three critical questions to answer before embarking on a radio frequency identification initiative. Read "Recognizing Real RFID Adoption Potential," in the February/March 2006 issue of Supply & Demand Chain Executive.

— A recent independent study revealed that Wal-Mart customers are finding the items they wanted in stock more often due to the retailer's use of RFID technologies when compared to control stores. Read more in "Wal-Mart Achieving Improved On-shelf Availability with RFID, Study Finds" on