The aerospace industry is a highly competitive space and requires companies to focus on streamlining their manufacturing processes for maximum efficiency. With a high priority on quality control and component reliability, there are many opportunities for implementing long-lasting barcodes to ensure accurate asset management. Especially in today’s environment, durable barcode labels and nameplates are found throughout the aerospace industry.
The primary end-users for aerospace equipment are the airline, space exploration, and defense industries. These businesses are governed by extensive regulations that standardize the production, assembly, operation, and upkeep of flight vehicles and aerospace components. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the best barcode options available to aerospace manufacturers based on durability requirements and other standards and specifications. Properly implementing barcode inventory management systems helps protect the entire aerospace supply chain with a reliable method for tracking these essential assets.
Barcode Options for the Airline Industry
Aerospace manufacturers that are producing parts and equipment for the commercial airline industry must pay particular attention to the regulations defined by the Airlines for America (A4A) trade association. In particular, Spec 2000 has been created to capture specifications related to the entire parts supply chain. The barcode standards are defined in chapter 9 of the regulations, Automated Identification and Data Capture.
The preferred barcode symbologies are Code 39 and Code 128, though Data Matrix codes can also be used for situations when the available space for a barcode on an item is very limited. Additional commercial airline requirements, such as airworthiness certification, may define additional criteria that apply to barcode types and specifications and should be consulted, as well.
Barcode Options for Military and Defense
Given the complexity of the military equipment supply chain, there are a number of different regulations that aerospace manufacturers must be mindful of. The primary documents of interest for barcode applications are managed by the United States Department of Defense (DoD):
- MIL-STD-129P with Change 4 – Department of Defense Standard Practice – Military Marking for Shipment and Storage. This document includes a definition of appropriate barcode designs and requires the use of Code 39 and PDF417 symbologies.
- MIL-STD-130N with Change 1 – Department of Defense Standard Practice: Identification Marking of U.S. Military Property. This specification applies to government property in general and also applies to aerospace assets. Appropriate barcode symbologies for use with Item Unique Identifiers (IUID or UID) are Code 128 and Data Matrix.
In addition to these US-based regulations, there is also an important extension of the IUID program that is communicated for international use in North America and Europe by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Individual countries may have their own local requirements, but this document helps to align the standards across the member states.
- STANAG 2290 AST (Edition 2) – NATO Unique Identification of Items. This document mirrors the barcode details specified in MIL-STD-130N and refers to Code 128 and Data Matrix symbologies.
Barcode Options for Space Exploration
NASA has adopted the MIL-STD-130 and STANAG 2290 standards for their own use, which aligns with the requirements for military and defense end-users listed above. In addition to these regulations, NASA has also instituted their own regulation that applies to Data Matrix barcode identifiers. The document, NASA-STD-6002 Applying Data Matrix Identification Symbols On Aerospace Parts, may have some additional criteria for barcode symbol design that may be useful for reference.
Barcode Applications in the Aerospace Industry
While unique barcode symbologies may vary based on the specific needs of each end-user, there are a number of applications in the aerospace industry where barcodes are used to track individual items. These include:
- Aircraft instrument panels
- Battery labels
- Engine labels
- Spacecraft equipment labels
- Missile labels
- Safety labels
- Aerospace component labels
When selecting a specific barcode label or panel for an application, the choice is often made based on the durability and design requirements. These are some of the most popular categories of barcode labels and durable asset tags used by the aerospace industry:
- Rigid Metal Labels. Available in Metalphoto® or Anodized Aluminum, rigid metal labels are used extensively in aerospace applications. In particular, Metalphoto® has an exterior life of up to 20 years even in extreme outdoor environments.
- Foil Metal Labels. Foil labels have many of the same durability benefits of metal labels but are produced with a thin substrate that can conform to surface contours. These labels and tags are also available with Metalphoto® or Anodized Aluminum substrates.
- Plastic Labels and Tags. Plastic labels come in a variety of materials and have excellent durability. They are also lightweight and less expensive than metal labels. They are a good choice for aerospace applications that require high tensile strength.
- Variable Information Tags. This style of equipment tag is frequently used in the aerospace industry because the information can be fully customized. They can be pre-printed with the desired graphics and barcodes or purchased as blanks for internal use.
- Front Panels. Available in a variety of metal and plastic materials, front panels are commonly used for instrument panels and other unique equipment layouts in aerospace applications. At times, a barcode may also be included for custom tracking and asset management purposes.
Aerospace manufacturers must consider a multitude of design requirements when constructing components and equipment for their customers. By reviewing individual requirements and developing consistent asset labeling workflows, it is possible to integrate unique barcode identifiers into their products that are useful across the entire supply chain. As barcodes continue to be prominently used across aerospace and other industries, there are many opportunities to support the creation of system-wide asset management technologies that can boost the performance of the entire industry.