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Social Security Moves Forward With RFID

The agency is using RFID to improve accuracy and reduce labor at its Maryland warehouses; in the future, it hopes to expand its use of RFID for asset tracking.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 22, 2007The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) has moved from its antiquated, slow and error-prone manual shipping and receiving process to a system based on bar-code technology. The change has led to major improvements for the agency, which provides 240,000 line items—primarily forms, booklets and other documents used by the Social Security program—to its offices across the country.

The agency was able to cut labor and operational expenses by nearly $1 million. Now, it has deployed an RFID tagging system it believes will further streamline its shipping and receiving processes, improving outbound shipment accuracy by up to 5 percent. The SSA says its receiving accuracy may improve by 25 to 30 percent once all its suppliers begin tagging shipments.


The SSA uses an RFID-enabled conveyor system, identical to the one pictured, to read the case tags and build pallet manifests.

The SSA isn't new to RFID. The agency has been working with the technology since a 2002 pilot test was held in an SSA supply room, in which it tested the use of RFID for an asset-tracking application (see Asset Tracking in Big Organizations). "The pilot showed management the feasibility of using RFID," says Gary Orem, former SSA project manager and information technology specialist (now retired).

With management's buy-in, Orem initiated a 2004 test using RFID for verifying cases and pallets of documents being shipped to SSA offices from its main warehouse and distribution centers in Woodlawn, Md. The SSA also purchased an RFID portal reader and tags, extending the relationship it had already established with Everett, Wash., RFID hardware manufacturer Intermec during the supply room pilot.

Intermec contracted systems integrator System Concepts, based in High Point, N.C., to design and deploy a means of tagging and verifying shipments. System Concepts worked with Canadian supply chain software provider Radio Beacon to develop integration points between System Concepts' MasterTrax RFID middleware, which controls the RFID hardware and collects and filters RFID tag data collected by the readers, and the Radio Beacon warehouse-management system the SSA uses to process orders.

Presently, four additional SSA warehouses and distribution centers in the Baltimore area are RFID-enabled, and the agency is placing tags on roughly 30 percent of the goods it ships—most bound for SSA offices, with a small percentage sent between the warehouses. The tags are used as an automated means of verifying that orders are picked accurately and leave the facility complete. As it receives an order from the SSA's order management system, the Radio Beacon warehouse management system uses a set of business rules (based largely on the size of the order) to determine whether the cases and pallets require RFID tags.

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