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I POSITION AN IDENTIFIER ON A COMPONENT /52 OF THE ARTICLE OF MANUFACTURE
INSTALL THE IDENTIFIED CDMPDNENT 0N THE _/54 ARTICLE 0F MANUFACTURE
INTERROGATE TRANSPONDER PORTION /94
OF THE IDENTIFIER
I READ AND/DR WRITE ENABLE THE /96 TRANSPONDER PORTION OF THE IDENTIFIER
READ AND/DR WRITE INFORMATION TO THE /95 TRANSPONDER PORTION OF THE IDENTIFIER
1 SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR CONFIGURATION MANAGEMENT
This invention relates generally to information management, and more particularly, to systems and methods for configuration management in commercial products.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Complex articles of manufacture frequently include a plurality of component parts that cooperatively form the desired article. In general, the number of component parts in the product may range from a feW hundred parts to many thousands of parts. Various fixtures, tooling, test equipment, templates and other similar devices may also be used during assembly of the various component parts into the desired article. Accordingly, the production of complex articles of manufacture constitutes a highly disciplined process requiring extensive coordination and documentation to ensure that the component parts, tooling and manufacturing processes conform to accepted standards to yield a product that is structured and performs as designed.
For example, and referring in particular to commercial aircraft production, a configuration control system is typically used to verify that the aircraft conforms to a common product design in accordance With a production type certificate. In particular, it is necessary to verify and document the presence and status of selected critical components on the airplane. Currently, verification that the selected components are properly installed on the airplane is accomplished by a visual inspection, and the results of the visual inspection are documented in a paper-based documentation system maintained by a manufacturer. FolloWing delivery of the airplane, verification that the airplane conforms to a predetermined configuration is also necessary, since the airplane is subject to various repairs, maintenance procedures and inspections While in service. Since the aircraft may also incorporate various approved modifications as described in service bulletins, or other similar documents, the configuration may change in various respects, While the aircraft is in service. Accordingly, the aircraft may obtain an “as flying” configuration that differs from an “as delivered” configuration. Airlines must document the “as flying” configuration of the aircraft during its operational lifetime, and generally rely on a paper-based documentation system to record the “as flying” configuration.
Current configuration control systems for aircraft have various shortcomings. For example, current configuration control systems generally entail visual inspections of various components of the aircraft, Which may include a labor-intensive disassembly of the article. Furthermore, paper-based documentation systems may include inaccuracies and are also generally labor-intensive to maintain. Therefore, novel systems and methods to manage the configuration of a manufactured article that reduce the labor required to manage the configuration, and that reduce or eliminate paper-based documentation, Would have utility.
The present invention comprises systems and methods for configuration management in an article of manufacture. In one aspect, a system for documenting a configuration of an article of manufacture includes an identifier positioned on the article of manufacture. A local positioning system is used to determine a positional location of the identifier on the article
of manufacture. A multifunction apparatus configured to interactively communicate With the identifier and the local positioning system is present that is operable to communicate configuration information to the identifier.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Embodiments of the present invention are described in detail beloW With reference to the folloWing draWings.
FIG. 1 is a block diagrammatic vieW of a system for documenting the configuration of an article of manufacture, according to an embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 2 is a plan vieW of the identifier shoWn in FIG. 1, according to another embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 3 is a block diagrammatic vieW of the multifunction device of FIG. 1, according to still another embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 4 is a diagram that is used to describe a method for spatially locating a component according to another embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 5 is a method of managing a configuration of an article of manufacture, according to another embodiment of the invention; and
FIG. 6 is a side elevation vieW of an aircraft having one or more of the disclosed embodiments of the present invention.
The present invention relates to systems and methods for configuration management in commercial products. Many specific details of certain embodiments of the invention are set forth in the folloWing description and in FIGS. 1 through 6 to provide a thorough understanding of such embodiments. One skilled in the art, hoWever, Will understand that the present invention may have additional embodiments, or that the present invention may be practiced Without one or more of the details described in the folloWing description.
FIG. 1 is a block diagrammatic vieW of a system 10 for documenting a configuration of an article of manufacture, according to an embodiment of the invention. The system 10 includes a local positioning system (LPS) 12 that is operable to accurately determine positional locations of a component portion 14 of an article of manufacture 16 When the article 16 is positioned Within a predetermined area 18. Accordingly, the LPS 12 may include any suitable device that is configured to determine the positional location of the component portion 14 relative to a selected coordinate system 15 by time difference of arrival (TDOA), angle of arrival (AOA), received signal strength (RSS) or time of arrival (TOA) methods. In a particular embodiment of the present invention, the LPS 12 includes one or more radio frequency devices that are coupled to a plurality of antennas 20 that are physically spaced apart to alloW positional determinations of the component portion 14 to be effected by triangulation methods. The LPS 12 is further operable to communicate signals 22 to an LPS receiver positioned Within a multifunction device 24, Which Will be described in greater detail beloW.
The component portion 14 of the article of manufacture 16 includes an identifier 26 that is typically positioned on an external surface of the component portion 14. The identifier 26 includes optical encoding features that may be read by a suitable optical reading device, and a transponder device that is operable to communicate signals 28 to the multifunction device 24 in response to interrogating signals 30 emitted by the multifunction device 24. Although the article of manufacture 16 of FIG. 1 shoWs a single component portion 14, it is understood that the article 16 typically includes a plurality of
component portions 14, Which may include substantially identical components, generally similar components, or entirely dissimilar components. In any case, the identifier 26 is configured to uniquely identify the component portion 14, and to provide a data storage capability. The identifier 26 Will also be described in greater detail beloW.
Turning noW to FIG. 2, the identifier 26 of FIG. 1 Will noW be discussed in detail. The identifier 26 is coupled to a surface location on the component portion 14. Accordingly, the identifier 26 may be positioned on a flexible substrate having an adhesive backing, so that the identifier 26 may be permanently aflixed to the surface portion of the component portion 14. Alternately, the identifier may form a portion of an identification plate that is aflixed to the surface portion using rivets, permanent adhesives, or other knoWn attachment methods.
The identifier 26 may include an alphanumeric field 40 that includes one or more alphanumeric characters that may be used to identify a selected characteristic of the component portion 14. For example, the alphanumeric field 40 may include a part number, a serial number or a draWing number for the component portion 14, although other information associated With the component portion 14 may also be included in the alphanumeric field 40. The identifier 26 may also include a machine-readable graphic field 42, so that selected characteristics of the component portion 14 are presented in a suitable format that may be read by an optical scanning device. For example, the machine-readable graphic field 42 may include a “bar code” that is operable to encode data in Widths and spacings of printed parallel lines. Alternately, the machine-readable graphic field 42 may include any other suitable data or information, including, encoding data in patterns of dots, concentric circles, and may further include encoded data that is hidden in images.
Still referring to FIG. 2, the identifier 26 also includes a transponder device 44 that is operable to emit signals 28 (shoWn in FIG. 1) in response to an interrogating signal 30 (also shoWn in FIG. 1). Accordingly, in one particular embodiment, the transponder device 44 may include a radio frequency identification (RFID) device. The RFID device may be an active or a passive device, and may include a memory device. Briefly, and in general terms, passive RFID devices do not include an integral poWer supply, and rely upon a small electrical current induced in an antenna Within the RFID device during interrogation to provide suflicient poWer to enable the passive RFID device to emit a responsive signal. In contrast, an active RFID device includes an integral source of electrical poWer, such as a battery. Accordingly, active RFID devices generally exhibit greater radio ranges and may possess larger memories than passive RFID devices. For example, presently available active RFID devices may have practical radio ranges up to several meters, and have a battery life of more than several years. Accordingly, particular embodiments of the present invention may include active and passive RFID devices, and the memory device present Within the RFID device may be configured as “read only” memory device. Alternately, the memory device may be configured as a “read/Write” enabled memory device.
Passive and active RFID devices may also utilize various operating frequencies. For example, loW-frequency (LF) RFID devices are knoWn, and commonly use one of tWo selected frequencies, Which include 125 kilohertz (kHz) and 134.5 kHz. High-frequency (HF) RFID devices are also knoWn and are configured to operate at a frequency of about 13 .56 megahertz (MHz). Still other RFID devices are knoWn, and operate at still other frequencies, including ultra high frequency (UHF) ranges, Which may include about 868 to
about 956 MHz, and microWave frequencies, including about 2.45 gigahertz (GHz). Particular embodiments of the present invention may include RFID devices that operate Within any of the foregoing frequency ranges. One suitable RFID device is the INTELLITAG 500 RFID tag, available from Intermec Technologies Corporation of Everett, Wash., although other suitable alternatives exist. Still other transponder devices 44 may be also be used. For example, infrared identification (IRID) devices are also knoWn, and typically emit signals at infrared frequencies to permit the IRID device to communicate With an interrogating device.
FIG. 3 is a diagrammatic vieW of the multifunction device 24 of FIG. 1, according to still another embodiment of the invention. The multifunction device 24 includes a processor unit 50 that is operable to manage information communicated to and/or from the multifunction device 24. Accordingly, the processor unit 50 may include any programmable electronic device that is configured to receive pro gramming instructions and information, and to process the information according to the programming instructions. The processor unit 50 is further coupled to a plurality of external devices that are configured to perform various tasks. Accordingly, the device 24 includes a data input device 52 coupled to the processor 50 that permits user input commands and/or data to be transferred to the processor 50. The data input device 52 may therefore include a keyboard or keypad, a pointing device such as a mouse, or other similar data input devices.
The multifunction device 24 may also include a voice synthesis device 54 that is operable to receive audible commands from a user, and to send corresponding signals to the processor unit 50. Alternately, the voice synthesis device 54 may also accept signals from the processor unit 50 to audibly communicate With a user. The device 24 may also include a visual display device 56 that is operable to receive information from the processor unit 50 and to display the information to a user of the multifunction device 24. Accordingly, the visual display device 56 may include a liquid crystal display (LCD) device, a light emitting diode (LED) display device, a cathode ray tube (CRT) device, or other similar devices.
A data storage device 58 may also be coupled to the multifunction device 24 to store selected information obtained from the component portion 14 (FIG. 1). Additionally, the data storage device 58 may also be used to store configuration data that is transferred to the device 24 through the communications port 60. Accordingly, the data storage device 58 may include a magnetic disk storage device, or, in another particular embodiment, a solid-state memory device, such as a flash memory device, Which may include an USB-compatible flash drive. In another particular embodiment, the data storage device 58 may be a removable flash media card, such as the SMART MEDIA card, available from Toshiba Corporation of Tokyo, Japan. In other particular embodiments, the data storage device 58 may include a PCMCIA memory card, although other suitable solid-state memory devices may be used.
The multifunction device 24 may also include a communications port 60 that is operable to support communications betWeen the processor unit 50 and an external communications system (not shoWn), Which may be coupled to still other processing devices and/or data storage devices. The communications port 60 may be configured to exchange information With the communications system (not shoWn) using a universal serial bus (U SB) communications protocol, or by using other suitable communications protocols. For example, the communications port 60 may be configured in accordance With IEEE 1394, and commercially knoWn as FIRE WIRE, in
order to communicate information betWeen the processor unit 50 and other processing devices and/or data storage devices.
Still referring to FIG. 3, in this embodiment, the multifunction device 24 includes an optical scanner 62 that is operable to scan an image and to translate information present in the scanned image into a suitable form. Accordingly, the optical scanner 62 may be configured to distinguish images that include alphanumeric characters, or to distinguish a graphical image that may include predetermined geometrical shapes, colors and/ or continuous tones according to a gray scale. In a particular embodiment, the optical scanner 62 is configured to read a bar code graphical image.
The multifunction device 24 includes an interrogator 64 that is operable to communicate With the transponder device 44 (FIG. 2). In general, the interrogator 64 is configured to transmit an appropriate signal to the transponder device 44 to activate the transponder device 44. The transponder device 44 then transmits a responsive signal to the interrogator 64 that identifies the transponder device 44. Accordingly, the interrogator 64 may identify a selected transponder device 44 from a plurality of transponder devices 44 positioned Within the article of manufacture 16. Additionally, the interrogator 64 is operable to communicate information to a memory device coupled to the transponder device 44. For example, the memory device may be used to store maintenance information for a selected component, service records for the component, an installation date for the component, an identity of a person installing and/or servicing the component, service bulletin incorporation dates and/or service bulletin information, in addition to other similar component-related information. In one specific embodiment, the information stored in the memory device is formatted in accordance With the SPEC 2000 Standard, Chapter 9, as revised, available from the Air Transport Association, Inc. of Washington, D.C.
As discussed above, the memory device may be read and/or Write protected. The processor unit 50 may thus prompt a user to enter an authorization code, such as a passWord, through the data input device 52 so that the memory device may be Write enabled. Subsequent to authorization, information may be read from the data storage device 58 and transferred by the interrogator 64 to the transponder device 44. Altemately, if the selected transponder device 44 is read protected, the authorization code alloWs a user to read-enable the memory device, so that the processor 50 may read selected information from the memory device coupled to the transponder device 44.
The interrogator 64 may also be configured to operate in a search mode, Wherein a selected one of the interrogator 64 and the processor unit 50 is suitably programmed to revieW the plurality of transponder devices 44 positioned on the article of manufacture 16 and to display pertinent information regarding each of the transponder devices 44 on the visual display device 56. When a desired one of the plurality of transponder devices 44 is displayed, the user may select the transponder device 44 depicted on the display device 56 for selected reading and/or Writing operations.
A local positioning system (LPS) receiver 66 is also coupled to the processor unit 50. The LPS receiver 66 is configured to receive signals from the LPS system 12 (shoWn in FIG. 1), and determine a position of the receiver 66 based upon the received signals. In general, the LPS system 12 determines the position of the receiver 66 using a plurality of antennas 20 that are mutually spaced apart. Upon receipt of pulsed signals 22 (FIG. 1) from the LPS system 12, the receiver 66 computes a time-of-flight (TOF) value, and computes the position of the receiver 66 by triangulation of the TOF values.
The multifunction device 24 may also include a ranging system 68 that is operable to determine a distance betWeen the ranging system 68 and a selected object. In one particular embodiment, the ranging system 68 includes a laser range finder apparatus, Which generally includes a pulsed laser light source and a receiver operable to detect a reflected light pulse so that a corresponding time-of-flight (TOF) interval is measured. A microcontroller or other programmed processor may be provided to calculate a distance based upon the measured TOF interval. In another particular embodiment, the ranging system 68 includes an ultrasonic range finder apparatus that includes a pulsed acoustic source that is operable to emit narroWly-focused acoustic energy at ultrasonic frequencies and an acoustical receiver that is operable to detect reflected acoustic energy. A microcontroller or other programmed processor may also be provided to calculate a distance based upon the measured TOF.
FIG. 4 is a diagram that Will be used to describe a method 70 for spatially locating a component 14 (shoWn in FIG. 1), according to another embodiment of the invention. A first spatial point 72 and a second spatial point 74 may be determined relative to the LPS system 12 using the LPS receiver 66 of the multifunction device 24 (shoWn in FIG. 3). Based upon the first point 72 and the second point 74, a line 76 may be calculated by the processor 50 (also shoWn in FIG. 3) that extends through the first point 72 and the secondpoint 74. The line 76 may be used to determine the location of a third spatial point 77. The third spatial point 77 may be located adjacent to a fixed structural portion of the article of manufacture 16. When the multifunction device 24 is positioned at the third spatial point 77, the ranging system 68 of the multifunction device 24 may be used to determine a distance “r” betWeen the third spatial point 77 and the component 14. The component 14 may thus be spatially located by locating the multifunction device 24 at the third spatial point 77 and projecting along the line a distance “r”.
With reference still to FIG. 4, and in another specific method 70 for spatially locating a component 14, at least one of the spatial points 72 and 74 associated With the component 14 is determined (relative to the LPS 12) and stored in the data storage device 58 associated With the multifunction device 24 (FIG. 3). A spatial point 79 that is positioned on a portion of the article 16 is then determined (also relative to the LPS 12) using the multifunction device 14 and stored in the data storage device 58. The spatial point 79 may thus be employed as a datum point that is coupled to the article 16, and the spatial points 72 and 74 associated With the component 14 may be referenced to the datum point by a suitable coordinate transformation. A remotely positioned LPS transmitter 78 that emits positioning signals may then be coupled to the datum point so that spatial points may be referenced to the datum point. Accordingly, the position of the component 14 may be determined using positional information stored Within the multifunction device 24 When the article 12 is moved to a physical location that is beyond the operational range of the LPS 12.
FIG. 5 is a method 80 of managing a configuration of an article of manufacture, according to another embodiment of the invention. With reference also to FIG. 1, an identifier 26 is positioned on a component portion 14 of the article of manufacture 16 at block 82. Altemately, the identifier 26 may be attached to the component portion 14 prior to installation on the article of manufacture 16. The identifier 26 may be adhesively attached to the component portion 14, or it may be attached to the component portion 14 by other suitable methods. At block 84, the component portion 14 that includes the identifier 26 is installed on the article of manufacture 16. At