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Navy Tracks Broken Parts From Iraq

The U.S. Navy completed a six-month field trial involving the tagging of more than 12,000 airplane parts and containers. Learn how much the project cost, the challenges that were overcome, the results and why the Navy wants to expand the project.
By Mark Roberti
Nov 14, 2005The Naval Inventory Control Point (NAVICP) provides logistics, warehousing, maintenance and other services for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps In 1985, NAVICP created the Advanced Traceability and Control (ATAC) transportation system to manage the movement of retrograde materiel. Today, ATAC annually tracks more than 500,000 broken parts worth $25 billion as they move from locations overseas to ATAC facilities in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego, then on to either warehouses run by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) or any one of more than 100 contractors that do repairs for the Navy.

Earlier this year, NAVICP ran a field trial in which it used passive radio frequency identification tags to track parts from the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq to ATAC Norfolk, and from ATAC Norfolk to a DLA depot also located in Norfolk. NAVICP had three aims for the field trial:

• Verify the feasibility of using passive item-level RFID in real-world, high-volume environments.
• Investigate the potential to improve processes and enhance asset visibility.
• Gauge the costs of a passive RFID implementation.

Dell computers are used to run the label printing-encoding stations.

Beverly Thomas, NAVICP's RFID project supervisor, says that because the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had mandated the use of passive UHF RFID tags based on EPCglobal's Electronic Product Code specification to track shipments, the Navy decided to look for ways to use the technology to improve operations. It selected ATAC facilities in Al Asad and Norfolk for the field trial because of the large volume of retrograde materiel they handle.

In January, the Navy hired SAIC, an employee-owned research and engineering firm based in San Diego, to act as the contractor for the project. SAIC did site inspections to determine the RF conditions in facilities that would be used for the trial. The next step was to purchase RFID hardware and integrate it with ATAC's existing software systems. SAIC helped NAVICP choose hardware and software for the project.

NAVICP purchased 30,000 RFID labels from Zebra Technologies, which were embedded with 64-bit or 96-bit Class 1 EPC transponders from Alien Technology. (Initially, 64-bit tags were used since they were the only ones available; later in the trial, however, 96-bit tags were used exclusively.)

The organization also bought fixed interrogators (readers) from Alien; Symbol Technologies handheld computers with the ability to interrogate and write to RFID tags; RFID label printer-encoders from Zebra; and one laptop and two desktop Dell computers, which were used to run the label printing-encoding stations. (A list of equipment and associated costs is provided later in this article.)

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