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Vendor to Foxhole Tracking

The U.S. Military's Combat Feeding Program pilot shows that RFID can be used to provide real-time visibility of rations as they move from the manufacturer to units in the field.
By Mark Roberti
Station 3: The military already has the capability to scan Savi active tags on containers as they enter and leave rail yards or ports. So there was no need for the demo to show containers arriving at ports and rail yards and being scanned automatically. So the next station simulated a General Support (GS) Supply Point, a depot overseas where supplies arrive before being distributed to units in the field. As the truck with the container arrived at this station, the BAP tag was scanned (indicator lights attached to a fixed reader at the entrance to the supply point indicated a successful scan). The container was identified, and all of its manifest data was read off the BAP tag. Before the container was even opened, the data was transmitted to Senseware, which added the items to a database of the supply point's inventory.

Station 4: A portable reader downloads temperature data

Station 4: One of the Combat Feeding Program's objectives was to show that RFID temperature sensors could be used to determine the quality of rations arriving overseas. Natick worked with the Auto-ID Lab at MIT to develop a shelf-life model that was used to create a quality index based on the temperature recorded by a pallet BAP tag during the trip (the tag can be programmed to record the temperature once an hour, once a day or at whatever interval the user wants).

While at the simulated supply point, the data from one temperature sensor was read from the tag using a portable 2.45 GHz reader from Alien (a fairly large device on a cart with rollers) and wirelessly transferred to Senseware running on a PC. Senseware calculated a quality index number—between one and 100, with 100 being the best—based on the MIT shelf-life model. Any number above 75 meant the food was fine. A number between 50 and 75 meant some of the most sensitive items in the rations could have deteriorated and should undergo a limited inspection, and anything under 50 meant the rations might not be useable and should undergo a full inspection. This system would allow field inspectors from the Veterinary Service Activity, a DOD unit responsible for food safety as well as medical care for all government-owned animals, to quickly determine which shipments should be sent on to troops and which should be removed from the supply chain. Inventory managers would be able to ship products out based on the remaining shelf life rather than the date of receipt.

Station 5: At station five, all of the pallets were offloaded from the containers and put into the supply point's inventory. As an RFID-enabled forklift unloaded the container, the EPCs on the pallets were read and Senseware added them to the supply point bulk storage inventory. When forklifts moved the pallets to the issue area—a distribution area within the overseas depot—they were driven though a 915 MHz portal connected to a local area network to a PC running Senseware. This portal ensured that no cases had been removed from the pallets while in transit. A red-yellow-green light stack on the portal was used for user feedback. When case tags were read, the yellow light was lit. A subsequent green light meant that the reader identified a check tag and that the pallet was intact. The red light would indicate that no check tag had been read and that the pallet should be set aside for manual counting of cases. As the pallets moved through the portal, Senseware associated the case EPC data with the supply point issue area.

Station 6: The next step was to create an order of mixed pallets at the GS Supply Point based on the MREs and UGRs ordered by multiple units in the field through a Direct Support (DS) Supply Point. Ten pallets from three different cargo containers were loaded on a flatbed trailer. The portable reader was used to commission a 2.45 GHz BAP tag attached to the trailer. The portable reader then interrogated the BAP tag on each pallet, and wrote the EPC of each pallet to the BAP tag attached to the flatbed. The EPC written to the BAP tag on the flatbed was stored in Senseware, so that commanders at the DS could access a Web portal and determine what was in transit. A tractor was brought in to haul the flatbed to the next station.

Station 7: The next station simulated the GS Supply Point exit. A fixed reader was set up with a light stack. As the truck pulling the flatbed went by, the driver was given a green light when the BAP tag on the flatbed was read. At that point, the data was transferred to Senseware via a LAN, and Senseware removed the pallets on the flatbed from the GS Supply Point's inventory database.

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