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Four Naval Shipyards Deploying Forklift-Based RFID System

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences is preparing to deploy UHF RFID readers from Venture Research at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard this spring, followed by three more piers, to manage container location and movement.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 12, 2019

The U.S. Navy is preparing to leverage the forklifts that travel around its shipyards to enable an RFID- and GPS-based solution to track containers at four U.S. piers. The system will enable the Navy to collect data regarding where loaded or empty containers are located, by reading passive UHF RFID tags on containers via RFID interrogators, in conjunction with GPS, mounted on forklifts moving around the yard.

With the system, provided by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) using technology from Venture Research, the Navy can more easily view the locations of its goods, as well as better manage the storage and movement of those products accordingly. The installations, slated to begin this spring, will take place at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the Naval Station Pearl Harbor, the Naval Shipyard Portsmouth (in Maine) and the Naval Station Norfolk (in Virginia).

A forklift moves around the yard with an RFID reader attached.
NCMS serves as a consultant and project manager to help the Navy understand and deploy new technologies for the U.S. military effort. It not only helps to select systems, but also orchestrates the deployment and acts as an overseer. NCMS and the Navy have been collaborating on such projects for more than 20 years, says Nicholas Brown, NCMS's project manager. Those projects have included additive manufacturing, software platform development and strategic process improvement.

In December 2017, the Navy reached out to NCMS for a container-management solution. "The Navy was seeking a solution for locating mobile assets in large areas, including outdoor environments," Brown recalls. The military agency sought a system that would enable it to identify not only that assets were in a specific port or storage yard, but also their exact location within that yard. Most RFID systems require fixed RFID readers to accomplish location tracking. Instead, NCMS wanted a solution that could provide RFID reads and GPS-based data, linked to those read events, without requiring a fixed infrastructure of readers at each yard.

The Navy's shipyards contain large quantities of mobile equipment, Brown explains, such as trailers measuring 40 feet in length. "Keeping track of it is a daunting task that the mobile RFID technology can simplify," he states. "Streamlining their processes frees up resources to perform other functions, thus saving money."

The Navy has several requirements for any hardware used on its sites. The technology needed to be IP67-rated, and it provided integrated RFID and GPS on a forklift-mounted device, according to John Baker, Venture Research's president. The military also requires Hazard of Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance (HERO) certification—testing that determines whether units meet electromagnetic requirements to ensure safety when operated around ordnance.

The Navy asked for proposals from its network of technology vendors for forklift-tracking devices. "We had multiple participants bid," Brown says, "with Venture Research winning the award in the spring of 2018." Development for the installations began last September.

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