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Researchers Seek to Reduce Wastage for First-Strike Rations

A Florida group is studying ways to track the temperatures of food rations traversing the U.S. military's supply chain, and is developing software that would calculate how temperature could alter shelf-life.
By Claire Swedberg
Uysal and his colleagues attached sensor tags from all three companies to boxes of First-Strike Rations, and then placed the tagged boxes within a testing chamber. Next, the researchers exposed the tagged boxes inside the chamber to varying temperatures and vibration levels, in an effort to simulate the rigors that the products might experience while traversing a typical supply chain. The performances of sensor tags from each of the three manufacturers were reasonably close, Uysal notes, and the researchers presented those results to the DOD without making any endorsements. He declines to indicate what those results were.

The group used the simulation chamber to confirm a model for estimating FSR pallet temperatures by means of environmental temperature data. In that way, by measuring the temperature on the outside of a given pallet, the model would enable the software to estimate the temperatures of the FSRs themselves. The University of Florida also provided the results of the food-degradation testing, based on rises in temperature, and Uysal and his colleagues employed those results to create algorithms for the jointly developed software.

Tagged boxes of rations were placed inside a testing chamber, where they were exposed to extreme temperatures and vibrations.

For the project's second phase, launched in April 2011, the USF Poly group developed simulation software that mimics the typical supply chain for the movement of FSRs to troops, with the goal of demonstrating the benefits that might be gained by adopting an FEFO system in the supply chain, as opposed to a first-in, first-out (FIFO) procedure. The software will analyze RFID read results for a simulated FEFO plan, calculate the rations' shelf life and recommend which products need to be shipped to a customer first—not necessarily the first product to arrive at a distribution center, but the one with the closest approaching expiration date.

The second phase of the project is expected to end in December 2012, at which time the researchers plan to present their findings to the Department of Defense. Uysal says he does not know if the DOD will eventually adopt an RFID-based temperature-sensing system, but that the results to date indicate to him that RFID temperature sensors could provide visibility that would be of use not only to the military, but also to commercial sectors, such as companies shipping fresh produce to stores.

"Even though we're doing this for the DOD," Uysal says, "the same prototype and algorithms would apply to the shipping of other items."

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