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Satellite Equipment Center Automates Inventory Tracking

A military center for satellite communications equipment has successfully deployed an RFID-based inventory-tracking system that has reportedly led to significant time and labor savings.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 07, 2006Inventory used to be a major chore for personnel at the Extremely High Frequency Satellite Communications (EHF SATCOM) branch of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, Calif.

Under U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) regulations, physical inventory of all goods with serial numbers is required annually at SPAWAR centers. For the EHF SATCOM branch, that means counting more than 4,000 serialized configuration-control components. The facility stores these circuit cards, which can be built into subassemblies used in satellite communication devices, to serve the needs of DOD depots around the world.

Barry Jones
Serco, a business-services firm based in the United Kingdom, counts SPAWAR's EHF SATCOM branch among its clients. Barry Jones, Serco's senior logistics consultant, had planned to improve the branch's manual inventory-taking process by adding 2-D bar codes to each serialized item, then using handheld scanners to read them. The system would send the unique ID collected from each bar code directly to the inventory software used by the branch, saving personnel from having to hand-count and enter the IDs into a spreadsheet.

This spring, however, before Jones implemented the bar-code tracking system for the branch, he learned about how RFID technology can be used for inventory applications. Intrigued, he took an educational course offered by RFID hardware provider Alien Technology. Throughout June and July, Jones led a team at the EHF SATCOM branch, evaluating the capabilities of a system in which Alien's Squiggle UHF Gen 2 passive tags could be attached to circuit cards and read using a handheld reader. The tag data, he says, would need to be filtered for duplicate reads and sent to the Catalog Ordering Logistic Tracking System (COLTS), the branch's existing inventory-management software, made by Avantix.

Jones and one of his Serco colleagues, John Bolton, worked with a third-party software consultant to write a program that generates a 96-bit unique identification number for each item. This unique ID, as well as a 2D bar code encoded with the serial number, is printed on an RFID smart label, and also encoded to the embedded Squiggle inlay. The 2D bar code acts as a backup to the RFID inlay. The team applies each label to a 4- by 2-inch piece of card stock attached by string to each inventory item.

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