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Defense Contractor Relies on RFID for On-time Delivery of Armored Vehicles

Navistar Defense is using an RFID-enabled real-time locating system to track the assembly process of the armored vehicles it produces, which are designed to protect troops from bombs.
By Beth Bacheldor
Aug 01, 2008Navistar Defense, which manufactures armored vehicles designed to withstand roadside bombs and other threats, is employing an RFID-enabled real-time location system (RTLS) to help ensure the vehicles are delivered on time to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

WhereNet, a Zebra Technologies company, is providing the RTLS to Navistar Defense, a wholly owned affiliate of Navistar International, a holding company whose subsidiaries produce commercial and military trucks, diesel engines, school and commercial buses, and chassis for motor homes and step vans. The RTLS is being used to help Navistar Defense track, in real time, each MaxxPro MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle as it is assembled, from the time a chassis is delivered to the company's West Point, Miss., manufacturing facility through the assembly and inspection processes and on to when an MRAP is shipped off to war.

Navistar Defense is using a real-time location system to track, in real time, each MaxxPro MRAP vehicle as it is assembled and then shipped out to troops at war.

"We have a really aggressive delivery program with this MRAP," says Rex Baldwin, IT project lead for Navistar Defense. The manufacturer produces approximately 500 MRAPs per month, costing about $500,000 apiece. "Each vehicle looks the same," he says, "and we found it was taking lots of time to locate the vehicles in the various processes. It was very discouraging to us, and we were using labor to accomplish this."

Several times per day, two employees had to walk through the company's yard and buildings—spanning more than 1 million square feet, indoors and out—and write down each vehicle's location. That information then had to be copied onto papers handed out to managers for review at production control meetings. Because the collected data was only a snapshot of vehicle locations, however, it was often outdated by the time the meetings took place.

"It was all taking so much time," Baldwin says, "so we began searching for technology to help." He and his colleagues toured Nissan North America's Canton, Miss., factory, where the car maker is utilizing WhereNet's RTLS to track inbound auto parts, as well as new vehicles rolling off the assembly line (see Nissan North America Installs RFID-based Real-Time Locating System). "That opened our eyes to the possibilities," he states.

In January 2008, Navistar Defense implemented the RTLS, which includes 400 reusable 2.4 GHz active RFID WhereTag tags, five wireless WhereLAN location sensors and 13 WhereLAN locating access points. A tag is affixed to a vehicle's chassis, and every four minutes, it emits the unique ID number encoded to it. The location sensors capture that ID number and transmit it wirelessly to the access points. The implementation also incorporates six WherePort exciters that trigger the tag to emit a signal when the vehicle to which it is attached passes one of three gates: an inbound gate, another at the road test site and an outbound shipping gate.

By tracking the vehicles' location in real time, Navistar Defense can determine where a vehicle is located within a particular process at any given time—such as initial painting, mounting the body and roof, installing the turret, finishing the inside trimming and adding the interior equipment, inspecting the vehicle, or testing it.

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