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Marching to Compliance and ROI

IT products provider GTSI was one of the first Defense Department suppliers to meet the military's tagging requirements. Now it's searching for ways to get a return on its investment.
By Bob Violino
The company put together an RFID team headed by Decker and consisting of representatives from different departments in the company, including supply chain management, purchasing, distribution, contracting and IT.

Next, GTSI conducted a thorough evaluation of the RFID marketplace, looking at tag and reader suppliers, middleware providers and systems integrators and consultants who might best be able to help the company in its efforts to implement RFID and become compliant with the DOD mandate.

In the spring of 2004, GTSI selected ODIN Technologies, in Reston, Va., and Sun Microsystems, in Santa Clara, Calif., to be its major technology partners in the RFID deployment. ODIN supplies consulting expertise in areas such as the physics of RFID infrastructure design, testing and deployment. Its team of engineers, physicists and software developers provided advice to GTSI on how best to use the technology.

Sun provided the RFID middleware that integrates the data captured by GTSI's RFID system with an existing supply chain database that GTSI uses to store information on product shipments and orders.

Representatives from Sun and ODIN were added to the RFID project team, and the group got to work on implementation plans with the firm goal of being ready for the DOD's Jan. 1 deadline.

ODIN wanted to make certain that GTSI would be able to get accurate readings from tags, and that any metal at GTSI's distribution center would not interfere in any way with these readings, Decker says. To ensure this, ODIN ran tests of tags and readers in the distribution center. "We were lucky that our facility was conducive to the RFID environment, as are our products," Decker says. "We're able to get good reads."

Based on ODIN's recommendations resulting from extensive on-site surveys and SKU testing in GTSI's facilities, GTSI is using 915 MHz UHF tags from Alien Technology, in Morgan Hill Calif.; RFID printer-encoders from Zebra Technologies, in Vernon Hills, Ill.; and AR400 readers from Symbol Technologies' RFID division (formerly Matrics) in Holtsville, N.Y.

ODIN engineers helped install the RFID readers and label encoders and test RFID tags in GTSI's 150,000-square-foot distribution center, from which the company ships products to the DLA sites. The deployment consists of two RFID portals (each with a Matrics AR400 RFID reader), with one portal for reading pallet tags and the other for reading case tags. A Zebra RFID label encoder was installed adjacent to each portal. The RFID readers and Zebra RFID label encoders are connected to the supply chain database at the center via a wireless network. The RFID system took about six months to fully implement, Decker says, and GTSI began shipping tagged cases and pallets to the DOD at the beginning of the year.

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