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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
During the project, ATAC Norfolk shipped a total of 17,760 tagged containers and items to the DLA depot. The tagged shipments were sent through a portal before leaving the ATAC Norfolk facility. The portal interrogators interfered with cordless phones in a room on the floor above the shipping area, so the portal had to be taken off-line for 38 days. As a result, the portal interrogators scanned only 5,865 tagged containers and items. Of those, only 85.5 percent of the container tags and 50.4 percent of the item tags were successfully interrogated, mainly because the tags were put on metal parts.

Since the DLA declined to participate in the trial, no portal was set up at the DLA facility in Norfolk. When the tagged containers and items arrived there, ATAC Norfolk employees interrogated the tags using a handheld reader. However, the device went down for 24 days, and it took time for the ATAC staff to get security clearance to be inside the DLA facility. As a result, only 9,401 tagged containers and items were interrogated at the depot.

Once tagged containers and items arrive, ATAC Norfolk employees interrogate the tags using handheld readers.

During the trial, 93.8 percent of the container tags and 82.4 percent of the item tags were interrogated successfully at the DLA facility. Because the DOD requires the item tags to be associated with a container, however, a total of 99.6 percent of items were confirmed as delivered because either the container or item tag was interrogated successfully.

The total value of all tagged parts was $200.2 million. During the trial, the RFID system confirmed as delivered more than 350 items—worth a total of $12.6 million—that were not captured with ATAC's existing bar code system. The bar code system confirmed only 97.1 percent of items as having been delivered.

The total cost of the project was a little over $254,000. That includes $11,400 for 30,000 EPC tags (NAVICP anticipated using 30,000 during the trial but wound up with 6,000 unused tags) at 38 cents each; $45,768 for two handheld and two fixed RFID interrogators, two bar code scanners, three label printer-encoders, mounting equipment, computers, antennas and software; and $197,237 for contractors supporting the project and travel (see chart on next page).

The portal reader's interference with the cordless phone and the malfunctioning handheld were just two of the problems ATAC ran into during the trial. There were also problems with the quality of the RFID labels and difficulties reading tags reliably as they moved through the portal. ATAC reports that 30 percent of the 64-bit Class 1 tags it tried to encode were inoperable and, consequently, discarded.

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