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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 8: A DS Supply Point is a smaller field distribution center that supplies directly to units in the field. The flatbed truck with 10 pallets entered Station 8, a simulated DS Supply Point, and a portable reader was used to scan the BAP tag on the flatbed and wirelessly upload a list of the entire contents of the truck. Once the contents information was uploaded, Senseware automatically added the 10 pallets to the DS Supply Point's inventory database.

Station 9: The integrity of the pallet is checked as it moves to the DS issue area

Station 9: A forklift without an RFID reader unloaded the flatbed at Station 9. As it moved through a portal identical to the one at the GS Supply Point, a stationary 915 MHz reader was once again used to scan each pallet’s check tag to determine whether pallets moved to the issue area were still intact and inventory added to the DS bulk storage. Pallets were then moved to an issue area to be broken down. This is where the DS Supply Point fulfills requisitions from units in the field.

Station 10: At Station 10, which simulated an issue area at a DS Supply Point, staff took some of the cases off the pallets to create "unit piles"—bundles of pallets and loose cases—of rations ordered by four simulated Army units in the field. The staff then used a handheld Symbol 915 MHz RFID reader to scan the RFID tags on the cases and confirm the orders matched the requests from the units in the field. After the tags were scanned, the reader was put in a cradle connected to a PC, and the units’ issue data uploaded to Senseware running on the PC. Cases were then deducted from inventory at the DS Supply point.

The pilot was conducted over a period of four days. Due to very heavy rain and wind, the last two days were conducted indoors (the DOD was using off-the-shelf readers and computer equipment that were not hardened for military field use). There were some minor glitches. But these issues were quickly resolved through the cooperative efforts of the on-site RFID team and the Defense Depot San Joaquin IT staff.

"If there is anyone out there who thinks RFID is plug and play, they are mistaken," says Darsch. "It takes some effort, but the effort is worth it. The bottom line is we showed that the theater manager truly can have total asset visibility from the first quarter mile to the last quarter mile."

The tests proved that data about cases of MREs being shipped overseas could be aggregated and disaggregated automatically, but there are still issues that need to be resolved before the technology can be widely deployed in the supply chain. For instance, the portable readers were too large to be used in the field. The 2.45 GHz readers interfered with the 2.45 GHz 802.11b wireless LAN used to transfer data to and from the wireless computer on the forklift.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory will do a detailed technical evaluation of the pilot. The lessons learned during the development and execution of the pilot will be shared with other units within the DOD and will likely be incorporated into the final RFID rollout plan that the DOD plans to publish in July. "There are a lot of lessons that we learned during the course of this project," says Darsch. "Hopefully, others will benefit from the work we've done."

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