DOD Issues RFP for Active RFID

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The new request for proposal will enable the military to purchase active RFID technology from more than just a single vendor.

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Nearly two years after it issued a request for information (RFI) from vendors equipped to provide active RFID equipment operating at 433.92 MHz and compliant with the ISO 18000-7 standard (see DOD Seeks New Active-Tag Suppliers), the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for the technology. Vendors have until Sept. 3 to respond.

The winning vendors will be able to sell products and services to the DOD under a three-year contract, dubbed RFID III. Language used in the RFP, however, suggests the contract could be utilized by any government agency: “Orders may be placed by any authorized Contracting Officer or purchase card holder supporting the Department of Defense, the United States Coast Guard (CG), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Coalition Partners, other Foreign Military Sales (FMS), and other Federal agencies.”

According to the documentation, there is a maximum dollar amount of $428,664,432.00 allowable for the total of all contracts awarded against the RFP. This would be the aggregate of the hardware, software and services solicited from the selected vendors over the life of the contract.

The U.S. Army’s Product Manager Joint-Automatic Identification Technology division, responsible for procuring active RFID technology for the Army, has issued both of the earlier active RFID contacts—RFID I and RFID II—which were awarded solely to Savi Technologies, a vendor based in Mountain View, Calif.

The Army has employed Savi’s active tags, interrogators and software to track the whereabouts of materiel in transit, in order to support the needs of deployed war-fighters. The military branch began utilizing active RFID in the mid-1990s to replace inefficient manual systems for tracking supplies.

Now, the DOD is opening the contract to multiple vendors in an effort to generate competition among suppliers, and to move away from a single-vendor sourcing model to ensure that all active RFID systems in use throughout the department will interoperate herein. What’s more, the current RFP calls for a much wider set of RFID applications than the container tracking for which the earlier active RFID acquisitions were used.

“RFID III is not your grandfather’s ITV [in-transit visibility] container-tracking contract,” says Erik Wood, VP of business development for active RFID vendor Hi-G Tek. That’s because the RFP for RFID III has a longer list of applications for active RFID than those described in the RFID contract, and because the types of active tags and their functions are more varied in the RFP for RFID III than for those employed under RFID II.

Vendors will need to offer five separate tag types to meet the RFP requirements. These tags range from a simple battery-powered license-plate type of identifier to a tag used for container security, and must support five sensors used to track light, temperature, humidity, shock and tampering.

To create active RFID systems that comply with the department’s requirements, however, Hi-G Tek and other vendors that plan to submit proposals for the RFID III contract first had to license intellectual property from Savi, since that company holds IP essential to meeting the ISO 18000-7 standard (see Seven Companies Sign Up for Savi IP License).

Of the seven companies that licensed the IP, three have confirmed to RFID Journal their intention to submit proposals for the RFID III contract. Hi-G Tek and Identec Solutions have decided to band together to meet all of the RFP’s requirements.

Evigia, a manufacturer of active RFID tags, will also throw its hat in the ring. The firm has been developing and testing products for more than a year, says Karl Ma, Evigia’s VP of sales and marketing, in order to meet the RFP’s technical specifications. It has also been raising funds and entering partnerships to compete for the contract, Ma adds.

Ron Arbogast, operations supervisor for Graphic Industry Inc. —one of the seven companies that licensed Savi’s IP linked to ISO 18000-7—says his firm is undecided. “We don’t know,” Arbogast states. “We did go through the preliminary testing, and we are in the midst of making a decision.”

Another licensee, Apogee Total Solutions, indicates it does not intend to respond to the RFP.

According to the RFP’s Solicitation Provisions section, it is anticipated that a maximum of three vendors will be chosen. This section states that “contract awards will be based on the best overall (i.e., best value) proposals that are determined to be the most beneficial to the Government, with appropriate consideration given to the five evaluation factors: Technical, Management Support Plan, Performance Risk, Price and Small Business Participation.” The vendor with the lowest price, the document indicates, may not necessarily win.

The RFP notes that the contract awards are expected to be made no later than four weeks after the close of the RFP, which is currently slated for Sep. 3. Vendors chosen may then need to provide oral presentations and/or a demonstration of their proposals.