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RFID Gets Boots on the Ground for Air Force

Wellco is using a solution from Odyssey to create passive UHF RFID labels for every pair of boots, case and pallet, and confirms shipping orders are correct by reading those tags before loading goods onto trucks.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 03, 2013

For the past year, Wellco, a Tennessee manufacturer of combat boots, has been ensuring the accuracy of its shipments, as well as complying with a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) mandate, by applying radio frequency identification labels to every pair of boots that it ships to the U.S. Air Force. The company is reading the labels attached to those boots, as well as to the cases and pallets in which they are packed, in order to confirm that the shipments are correct.

Wellco has been a supplier of combat footwear since 1965. The present generation of combat boots come with a rubber-based sole and a rugged high-traction rubber tread. The company recently opened a new facility in Morristown, Tenn., where its boots are packaged prior to being shipped to military agencies.

To fulfill an order, Wellco packs six tagged pairs of boots in a cardboard box and passes the carton down a conveyor, where two sets of RFID readers and antennas capture the tag ID numbers.

To track those boots, Wellco is employing a software and RFID hardware package supplied by defense commerce solutions company Odyssey. As part of that package, Odyssey is providing Avery Dennison ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags, Zebra Technologies R110Xi printers and a Printronix SL4M printer to encode the tags. Odyssey's cloud-based hosted RFID software, known as Visual Shipment Builder, then stores data regarding each order, and about every pair of boots being packed in that order that is linked to a tag number. The information can be accessed by the supplier, and can be submitted electronically to the DOD's Wide Area Workflow (WAWF) system. The RFID-based system also includes Alien Technology readers to interrogate tags attached to cases loaded with goods filling a specific order, according to David Mason, a senior network administrator at Tactical Holdings Operations, Wellco's parent company.

Odyssey has been providing software solutions for the DOD's textile and clothing suppliers since 2006, says James Lusk, the company's director of sales and marketing. "RFID is at the core of what we do," he states. Without the Odyssey software and RFID data, Lusk explains, suppliers received orders and filled them manually, electronically entering data that they could then send to the DOD as an advance shipping notice.

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