By Mary Scianna
When inventory costs began to spiral upwards at the Langley, BC, facility of Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services-North America, Elvis Moniz, VP Langley operations, and his management team knew something needed to be done. They decided to replace a manual inventory management system with an RFID inventory management system.
Roger Sutcliffe, supervisor, structures repair, was charged with the implementation. “Two major issues drove the change, says Sutcliffe. “We had one ‘go-to’ person responsible for tooling and other facility supplies and when someone needed something, they would have to track him down; it was a significant waste of time to coordinate inventory through one person. The second issue was that our manual system wasn’t adequately tracking our inventory. All of the shop suppliess were covered under one budget so our shop supply budget was growing dramatically.”
Initially, senior management decided to go with a vending solution and put out a request for quotes to several suppliers.
“Thomas Skinner is a supplier so when we sent out a RFQ, they came to us with an alternate proposal and it was outside of the box of what we were looking for. They came in with a hybrid solution that would allow us to manage shop supplies, consumables and hardware. Their solution included an RFID system for tool control.”
Vector purchased the CribMaster AccuPort, a generation two passive issue-RFID inventory management solution, through Integrated Solutions (IS) a division of Thomas Skinner.
In operation for five years now, Sutcliffe says Vector is in the process of assessing its inventory management system to see where it can make further improvements. “We’ve seen huge benefits from installing an inventory management system in our facility. It’s allowed us to trend the usage of hardware for projects. Now, rather than have the guys go get the hardware from the tool crib, we identify and pre-stock all the hardware required for specific projects at point-of-use, which has reduced travel time for our technicians by about 80 per cent.”
The system isn’t perfect though, adds Sutcliffe. One of the issues is how items are tagged with the RFID system. Tagging large tools works well, but the problem is with tooling and hardware in kits and toolboxes. “If someone returns the box, the box is tagged, but the items in the box may not be complete. We went into this inventory management idea with the hope it would allow us to eliminate a position for a person looking after this stuff but you need to allocate a certain percentage of an individual’s time to ensure tools from kits and toolboxes are returned.”
Sutcliffe says it’s considering a vending model concept with a higher level of security. What he likes best about the new system Vector is considering is a weigh system that automatically calculates the quantity of parts an individual takes out of the system. “With the current system, if someone takes out a bunch of drill bits he has to count out what he’s taking and you’d be surprised how often someone makes a mistake counting.” With the weigh scale, someone may take a handful of drill bits out of the machine. These are stored in a bin location that is linked to a precision scale. The machine figures out how many were taken for the employee. There’s no interaction with the system, adds Sutcliffe.
For any shop considering a tooling or inventory management system, Roger Sutcliffe advises companies ensure “your management information team is onboard. CribMaster supports a high degree of integration. The software can upload inventory usage into a data system but you need to have buy-in from management to allow this. There is lots of opportunity for integration and the CribMaster system could be your inventory management system for your company because it has all the functions you need.”
Vector’s Langley, BC, facility (the company also has a Richmond, BC, facility) provides support for a wide range of airframes from AgustaWestland, Boeing, Eurocopter and Sikorsky, including major inspections and dynamic component overhaul. It offers full service avionics capability, including complete aircraft rewire plus glass cockpit engineering, development and integration. The Richmond facility holds approvals from some of the world’s leading turbine engine, airframe and avionics OEMs. Engine products supported by Vector include a range of General Electric, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney Canada,
Rolls-Royce and Turbomeca. SMT