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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
At ATAC's Norfolk facility, a Zebra R110Xi RFID label printer-encoder was used to print and encode RFID labels. The labels were placed on 11,140 items and 620 containers. Alien ALR-9780 UHF interrogators were used to create a shipping portal, and Savi Technology's SmartChain Site Manager 5.5 transferred the RFID data to the RPM program.

The DLA declined to participate in the pilot, so ATAC used a Symbol MC9060 RFID handheld computer to interrogate items and shipping containers as they arrived at the DLA facility. This allowed them to confirm receipt of the parts.


ATAC tracks more than 500,000 broken parts annually as they move from locations overseas to facilities in Norfolk and San Diego, then on to DLA warehouses or Navy contractors.

From July to August, the ATAC facility in Al Asad applied passive UHF EPC tags to broken parts processed at the facility. All parts were tagged, even those not being shipped to ATAC Norfolk, to simplify the process. ATAC staff in Al Asad used the Zebra R110Xi RFID label printer-encoder to print labels with the DOD's standard shipping format, including a bar code. The R110Xi encoded an EPC to an RFID transponder embedded in the label. In all, Al Asad personnel tagged 764 parts and 18 multi-unit containers, with most parts coming from airplanes.

Staff at Al Asad used a Symbol MC9060 RFID handheld computer to interrogate the tags on broken parts in order to collect their EPCs. And Savi's SmartChain Site Manager 5.5 was again used to transfer the RFID data to the Retrograde Packaging Management program, which then transmitted the data to ATAC's RMS so the parts could be tracked.

The system was designed this way, according to Doug Litten, RFID program manager at SAIC, because Al Asad didn't always have a network connection. The Symbol handheld computer enabled workers to print and encode RFID labels, then upload the data to a Web server when they were able to connect to a network. Then the information would be available securely to staff at ATAC Norfolk.


Broken parts from Iraq arrive at ATAC Norfolk receiving door No. 4, where interrogators are installed in a portal configuration around the door.

Broken parts, mainly on pallets or in multi-unit containers, arrived from Iraq at ATAC Norfolk receiving door No. 4, and Alien ALR-9780 UHF interrogators were installed in a portal configuration around the receiving door. ATAC Al Asad tagged a total of 782 shipments (764 items and 18 containers) during the trial.

All 782 tags were successfully encoded, the data uploaded to the RPM software. This enabled ATAC to view all shipments, receipts and containers, either by EPC or by existing Navy document numbers or national stock numbers. Only 274 tagged items were shipped to ATAC Norfolk; the containers and other items went to other ATAC facilities. All 274 tags were read when they arrived at ATAC Norfolk, using a handheld interrogator.

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