Autonomous Tool Tracking with UWB + RFID

 

WISER’s asset tracking and micro-location system helps to reduce workloads, prevent loss, and simplify asset management. It does so by tracking tool locations in real time and logging when they are checked out or returned.

 
Hand tools in an RFID asset tracking crib.

THE PROBLEM: LOST TOOLS

In aerospace maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operations, tools mislaid or left on an aircraft could cause catastrophic results. Tool loss during maintenance often requires an extensive search, just to be sure that nothing has been left inside an engine. In some cases planes have to be grounded specifically to conduct these searches, because even small, inexpensive hand tools could pose huge dangers when left behind.

It is often highly trained technicians who spend their time searching for lost tools; untrained workers cannot dismantle the needed parts to find missing objects. This means that aerospace technicians spend large amounts of time backtracking, repeating their work, or hunting for missing tools when they could be moving on to the next project.

The costs in technician time alone are enormous. These costs escalate quickly since searching for missing tools delays deliveries and prevents technicians from undertaking future work as quickly as they are able. The challenge of searching for lost tools is compounded even further since these tools are so often small—too small to track specifically with real-time location systems (RTLS) requiring powered devices.

THE SOLUTION: WISER’S UWB ASSET TRACKING SYSTEM + PASSIVE RFID

MRO specialists must keep their tool inventory extremely current to prevent this. In this use case, inexpensive tools are equipped with passive RFID tags. This allows tool check-in and check-out around specific RFID scanning portals, like at the site where these tools are stored. To know where tools are in real-time, however, would require constant RFID scanning throughout the day, which is not practical. WISER Tracker Tags—which allow WISER’s system to locate and track assets actively, autonomously, and in real time—quickly mitigate this problem.

Workers using these tools are given a WISER Tracker Tag. Tags might come as employee badges, belt-clips, or WISER-equipped helmets. When an employee and an RFID-tagged tool leave the storage portal together, their tags are autonomously associated with one another, pairing the passive RFID location with WISER’s actively-tracked tag. This lets WISER’s software locate and track each tool actively throughout the duration of its use without placing tags on individual tools. It also shows who checked each tool out and when, and it does so without any paperwork or manual data logging.

Once a worker is done using the tool, he or she simply returns it to its original place. Once again, an RFID scanning portal logs that the tool is where it belongs, now disassociating it from the WISER tag. This leaves a detailed, granular history of where a tool was, how long it stayed in any one place, and who used it last. No manual inventory-taking is necessary during this process.

THE RESULTS: LESS TECHNICIAN HOURS SEARCHING FOR TOOLS

This use of WISER’s asset tracking system saves countless hours. Upfront, employees no longer need to waste time waiting in line to manually check out or return tools. They also save many hours spent searching for lost items on the hangar floor. If a tool is not returned at the end of a working shift, end-users can create specific alerts based on who checked the tool out. WISER’s system also records tracking histories, leaving a granular, inches-accurate trail to follow when finding a lost tool. So, instead of hunting through a large swath of the facility, inventory managers and technicians can retrace the narrow, specific path along which the tool might have been left.

Even in-transit across multi-hangar facilities, real-time tool locations will always be known. This system also helps identify patterns in tool use, such as likely places for items to be left behind, or how long specific MRO tasks are likely to take.

Ultimately, WISER’s system enables aerospace technicians to spend less time on logistical problems and more time maintaining and repairing aircraft.