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U.S. Marines' Blount Island Command Attaches Passive Tags to Containers

The facility responsible for maintaining equipment and supplies aboard "maritime prepositioning ships" is deploying long-range Omni-ID EPC Gen 2 tags to expedite the loading and unloading of cargo.
By Claire Swedberg
Based on the test results, which showed that using passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags reduced labor hours and increased the percentage of readable tags (compared with using active RFID tags), the command intends to continue tagging vehicles and containers for all MPS vessels with passive RFID tags.

The system employs Intermec handheld readers and Alien mobile and fixed readers, as well as a software system known as Integrating Placement and Registration of Identified Materials and Equipment (IPRIME), which Blount Island Command created by enhancing existing software. By using the passive RFID tags, Layher says, the command is gaining higher accuracy and reliability rates compared with existing inefficient systems, such as 2-D bar-coded labels and active Savi Technology tags.

Savi Technology points out that it provides the DOD, including Blount Island Command, with more than just 433 MHz active RFID tags. The company supplies an end-to-end solution that can accommodate data from all types of technologies, including bar-coding, passive and active RFID tags, GPS and satellite communications—contingent on the application. "Savi's active tag technology been successfully deployed by the U.S. Department of Defense since the mid-1990s," says Mark Nelson, a Savi spokesman, "because of its long read ranges (300-plus feet), nearly 100 percent accuracy, ruggedized and battle-tested form factor, storage capacity (128 kilobytes of programmable memory) and omnidirectional read capabilities—all of which requires less reader infrastructure than other forms of RFID."

Mobile UHF RFID readers are deployed at ship loading ramps and lift-on, lift-off choke points.

Blount Island Command's cargo containers bear multiple ID tags and labels. At approximately the same time that the command was launching the passive RFID test, the DOD began mandating that each cargo container and vehicle have an Item Unique Identification (IUID) label, with a Unique Item Identification (UII) number printed in text and bar-code format. Also attached to every container or vehicle is a separate bar-coded label, with a different serial number printed as a bar code, used by an older tracking system that has not yet been phased out. Blount Island Command opted to link the item's UII number to the new MaxHD tag by writing the UII number to the tag's memory at the time that it was attached to the container or vehicle. Because the older bar-code system—which links to data about the container or vehicle—is still in use as well, each piece of equipment currently still has a bar-code label, as well as the printed IUID label and a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag. What's more, to meet Department of Defense requirements for containers, the active tag also remains.

The passive RFID tagging process (which was used for the tests involving the USNS Pless and is now being utilized for other vessels as well) begins with the attachment of an Omni-ID MaxHD, a tag embedded in a rigid protective plastic casing that measures 140 by 100 by 14 millimeters (5.5 by 4 by 0.6 inches). As each new container or vehicle is added to the IPRIME system, a passive RFID tag is permanently attached to it via adhesive, as well as the bar-coded label, active tag and IUID label. Employees use an Intermec CK61 handheld computer fitted with an Intermec IP30 RFID interrogator and capable of reading or scanning the passive RFID tag, the bar-coded label and the IUID dot-matrix label. After the item's UII is scanned, that number is written to the passive RFID tag, and the data is sent to the IPRIME software on the back-end MDSSII system via a Wi-Fi connection, where the RFID tag's unique ID number and the UII are linked together and stored.

To read the passive RFID tags of the containers and vehicles being loaded onto the vessel, the SITF created two mobile reader portals with Alien ALX-9010 readers at the checkpoints leading to the vessel. The passive RFID readers must be mobile in order to accommodate the loading of containers and vehicles onto the vessel.

An ALR 9900 reader at a permanent portal was installed at the entrance gate to the pier's staging lot (where containers and vehicles are delivered to the pier for shipping) with two outdoor Poynting PTCH A0025 antennas. As tagged vehicles and cargo containers pass through a gate at which the permanent portal was deployed, the tag is read and its status is updated in the back-end system, thereby indicating that particular container or vehicle has arrived at the pier. The tag is then read by a mobile portal deployed at either of two other locations: at the ship's ramp, or at the site at which containers and vehicles are lifted onto or off of the pier via a crane.

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