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RFID Improves Supply Management for Brazil's Army, Air Force

Military logistics centers in Sao Paolo are equipped with EPC Gen 2 technology as part of a program to increase the efficiency, accuracy and visibility of distributing supplies to soldiers.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 12, 2011More than a year after its launch, the Brazilian Army's RFID Adoption Program has improved its process for receiving Class II products, consisting of such items as uniforms, tents, helmets and boots. The system was provided and installed by RFID solutions firm Seal Technology, at the Army's 21st Supply Warehouse, located in São Paulo, with assistance from GS1 Brazil, which provided the Electronic Product Code (EPC) numbers and consulting services.

The Brazilian military commenced its RFID adoption program in 2005, when Luiz Antônio Silveira Lopes, an associate professor at the Military Institute of Engineering, led a project tracking Army parachutes via EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags. He had been searching for an opportunity to test the technology's ability to improve logistics visibility for the Brazilian military, he says, and began with a test involving between 3,000 and 5,000 parachutes (which had previously been tracked using bar-coded labels), to determine whether the tags could be read by a fixed interrogator as the parachutes were moved within the Army's supply center. After determining that the technology worked properly, Lopes and the Army began looking into implementing a full deployment; five years later, the system to track Class II military supplies was the result.

The Brazilian Army tested a variety of portals, but ultimately chose to deploy a metal frame similar to one being tested here, fitted with a total of eight antennas, instead of four.

In the case of Class II supplies, the Brazilian Army's challenge was to monitor soldiers' equipment as it was shipped from the Army's warehouses to those soldiers. The goal was to make the supply chain of uniforms and personal effects more visible, and to automate the inventory-taking, shipping and receiving processes, thereby resulting in fewer mistakes.

"The adoption of RFID technology in logistics was aimed at increasing control and improving the management of supplies," says Colonel Luiz Antonio de Almeida Ribeiro, who, along with Lopes, led the RFID deployment project. Although the Army is interested in how RFID can be employed to track a variety of items moving through the supply chain, it initiated the system to track uniforms, footwear, and protection and security equipment, such as helmets and vests, he says, "because these materials have a high turnover," and because they are less likely to block RF transmissions than items containing a large quantity of metal or liquid.

Goods arrive at the Army's distribution facility directly from vendors, and are then shipped to Army units and soldiers throughout Brazil. Prior to the system's installation, Army personnel utilized paper and pen to manually track each shipment's location and status, and made telephone calls to provide status updates to those who shipped or received the items.

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