RFID Gives Maintenance Data a Helping Hand

Feature Article | April 20, 2004 by admin

Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt Airport

Some long to get away from it all, others are on their way to business meetings – around 50 million passengers leave or arrive at Frankfurt airport every year. It is thus the largest turnstile for international air traffic and sees 1.6 million tons of air freight come and go each year. A complex logistical system and numerous technical installations managed by Fraport AG keep the huge volume of traffic flowing. For the owner and operator of Frankfurt Airport, smooth, efficient, and secure business processes are absolutely paramount.
This is particularly true for the maintenance of technical installations such as security-relevant components of the air conditioning and ventilation systems or the fire exits and gates. Fraport AG is legally required to control the majority of technical components at the airport at regular intervals and provide proof of this maintenance work. For the service engineers, this means that a check report must be created for the individual components that are maintained, and lengthy forms must be filled out. As they previously completed this work by hand, the data then had to be entered manually in the central SAP R/3 solution. If external companies completed the maintenance work, an additional check had to be carried out on the data. However, despite the huge amount of time and human resources involved, the information did not sufficiently meet expectations.

Detailed reporting

Reason enough for Fraport AG to look around for a new, mobile solution for maintenance tasks. The company wanted an application that service engineers could use to access maintenance plans and orders on a mobile device from which the control data could then be transferred to the ERP software. At the same time, the solution was to provide a way of clearly evaluating the maintenance process.
In December 2002, the company chose SAP Mobile Asset Management (SAP MAM), a solution to control plant maintenance. As Fraport participated in the ramp-up program for SAP MAM, the company’s requirements were included in solution development. This paid off, as Werner Breitwieser, technical project manager at Fraport, explains: “With the mobile solution, the quality and security of the data has increased. The complete documentation of the maintenance processes is extremely reliable. The SAP evaluation options provide us with extensive reporting functions, and as a result, we can access information on frequently occurring faults and the lifetime of the products, which helps us to optimize our purchasing processes.”
Fraport uses SAP MAM in conjunction with the “netpad” handhelds from SAP partner Psion Teklogix. These mobile devices are extremely robust and with their 1/2 VGA screen have a large display area on which service engineers can easily read the order data. Pilot operation began on September 15, 2003, and the solution has been in productive operation on 16 mobile computers since January 1, 2004. It will be gradually extended to around 80 devices by the end of 2004, and 150 by the end of 2005.

Obtaining information via radio frequency

As Fraport’s maintenance solution is based on RFID technology, the handhelds are fitted with an RFID scanner. RFID tags, which contain the required information, are attached to all technical components that require proof of maintenance. The information currently stored in the tags includes the tag ID number, the equipment number from SAP R/3 Plant Maintenance (PM), the technical ID number, and the date and time of last maintenance. The 2 KB storage capacity of the transponders is sufficient for enhancements at a later date. The maintenance engineers call up the information via radio frequency connection with their handhelds and save the new data to the RFID tags.
Before maintenance, they load the relevant orders to their mobile computers via a docking station. However, they can only open and process the orders in conjunction with the RFID tag data and a personal ID, which is available as a bar code on their company ID card. Numerous damage codes make it easy for employees to enter the technical status of the components correctly in SAP MAM. Once the maintenance work has been completed, the engineers write the new data to the tags. Among other things, they use a time stamp to document when the maintenance work was carried out. The order can only be completed when the new data has been written to the RFID tag. Subsequent changes are then impossible.
In the evening, the engineers transfer their check reports from the netpads to the central ERP solution via the SAP Web Application Server and a LAN connection. Synchronization between the mobile solution and SAP R/3 is achieved via a web frontend based on the synchronization software ActiveSync and HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol). If further repairs are specified in the check report, a process is automatically triggered in SAP R/3 to create the orders required for internal and external service providers. The system evaluates the messages based on their classification by damage codes, for example “seal faulty”. Based on this evaluation, the employees decide how the damage should be repaired, and create the repair orders in SAP R/3. Another application, which is currently being developed, can be used in future by service engineers to request data from the RFID tags again for control purposes.

Close cooperation

In the project, SAP, Psion Teklogix and Fraport worked closely together. In joint planning conferences at Fraport, all the parties involved discussed the tasks needed, and decided who was to carry them out, and by when.
SAP adapted the SAP Mobile Infrastructure, a component of SAP NetWeaver and the basis for SAP MAM, to Fraport’s requirements. One of the main tasks here was to integrate the interfaces for the barcode and RFID scanners into the existing software, and to include the Fraport damage codes. These customer-specific modifications are integrated in the standard solution as of SAP Mobile Infrastructure 2.5. The SAP Mobile Infrastructure is based on CREME Java Virtual Machine, which runs on the Windows CE .NET operating system on the netpads. The handhelds, including operating system, were validated by SAP. Psion Teklogix developed the Java drivers and interface software for reading the barcodes and RFID tags based on the SAP interface specification. The greatest challenge was adapting the operating system and synchronization processes to meet the SAP MAM requirements.

High quality data

With the maintenance solution at Frankfurt Airport, RFID technology is in productive operation for the first time in the area of plant management. Fraport is benefiting from this innovation in many ways: on the one hand, service engineers save time during data entry, on the other, accurate data is available without media fragmentation. The solution documents precisely when a service engineer inspected a technical installation, and what faults were determined. Fraport thus meets the legal requirements for proof of maintenance work with a much higher quality of data. As the solution automatically transfers information about the necessary repairs to SAP R/3, the corresponding work is authorized immediately. Fraport can create detailed check reports at any time thanks to the integrated reporting functions.

Robert Rößler

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