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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

The units that the Navy will use will be a modified version of the company's MultiTrak reader, which is designed for outdoor RFID and Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring. The device comes with built-in UHF RFID and GPS functionality to identify a unit's location as its tag is being read. The standard MultiTrak device also has a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio and a Wi-Fi unit, and offers cellular connectivity. In the case of the Navy deployment, however, the device will omit BLE and Wi-Fi functionality since those features aren't required for the Navy's specific application.

With the deployment, each forklift will have a reader mounted on it, with an antenna on each side of the vehicle to capture data from all tags around its perimeter (an installation known as drive-by cycle-count mode.) Venture Research also offers a front-facing version with an RFID antenna mounted on the front to interrogate tags on containers as they are being moved by forklifts. However, Baker notes, "Cycle counting is more suitable for what they want to get done."

John Baker
As the vehicles move around the yard, the readers will capture the unique ID number encoded on each container or equipment tag, then link that identifier with the forklift's GPS-based location, thereby pinpointing the asset's location. Tag location can be pinpointed to within about 15 feet, the firm reports.

The readers come with an application programming interface (API) protocol for software integration. When a reader receives data, it interprets that information and forwards it to the Navy's own management software, which can manage and share that data. Authorized personnel can then view the locations of particular assets and thereby improve shipyard management.

Meanwhile, Brown says, while Venture Research, the Navy and NCMS are awaiting HERO certification, they have worked out technical details for the solution, including performing site evaluations. Once the first system is in place at the Puget Sound Naval pier, the next installations are expected to be rolled out at a rate of one new site every month. Full deployment at all four sites is expected to be completed around August of this year.

Venture Research has been in business for more than 20 years. Since 2008, Baker says, the firm has been making its own hardware. Based on customer demands, he adds, the company has gravitated toward making specialty readers for challenging environments. It provides its solutions to pharmaceutical, construction and waste-management companies, as well as to those in the aerospace and military sectors.

At the conclusion of this Navy project, Brown says, NCMS plans to work with the military agency to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of Venture Research's solution. Once validation is completed, the company intends to promote its expansion to other bases, depots, shipyards and warehouses as well. "NCMS will promote the successes of the project," he states, "as well as future purchases by other military installations, to tout the solution's usefulness."

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