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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
ATAC uses Retrograde Packaging Management (RPM), a software program developed in-house, to capture information about shipments by scanning bar codes. That data is fed into ATAC's Retrograde Management System (RMS), a logistics platform also developed by the Navy. RMS is used by air stations, naval stations, ATAC sites and commercial repair facilities run by Navy suppliers to track parts in transit anywhere in the world. SAIC helped ATAC RFID-enable the RPM system so it could capture EPC data and provide it to the RMS.

Broken parts—gyroscopes, transmissions, avionics components, missile systems, drones and so on—are shipped from Iraq to ATAC Norfolk through Al Asad, or through naval and air stations. For the conventional tracking process, overseas ATAC staff scan the bar code label on a broken part to capture its unique serial number, which is transferred to the Retrograde Packaging Management program. The part is placed in a multi-unit container and associated in the Retrograde Management System with the ID number on the container's shipping label.

The parts are assembled onto pallets and shipped either to a DLA facility or to a commercial contractor for repair.

When the parts arrive at ATAC Norfolk, they go to one of 16 workstations, where each part's bar code label is scanned to confirm receipt. The parts are then assembled onto pallets and shipped either to a DLA facility or to a commercial contractor for repair.

For the field trial, broken parts arriving at ATAC Norfolk between March and August from a variety of overseas facilities were tagged at the Norfolk facility, then shipped to the DLA's Defense Deport Norfolk, Va. Why tag parts in Norfolk, when that would create an extra step in the normal parts processing cycle? Because one aim of the trial was to see if RFID could be used to confirm receipt of items moving between those specific locations.

"There has been an ongoing issue between ATAC Norfolk and the DLA, where we may ship them a pallet with 100 things," says Thomas. "If someone signs for that shipment, he or she doesn't break it apart to see what's in it. So when the pallet is broken apart later on, there may be 99 or 101 items on the pallet. We spend a lot of time between ATAC and DLA, whether they are shipping to us or we are shipping to them, reconciling discrepancies for large-volume shipments. We wanted to see if RFID could minimize that."

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