DOD’s RFID Efforts Are Winning the War on Inefficiencies

By Mark Roberti

Last week's RFID in Defense conference highlighted some of the successes the U.S. Department of Defense and its suppliers are having with radio frequency identification.


Last week, we held RIFD in Defense 2010, our first conference focused on the use of radio frequency identification in the defense industry. Several of the 130 attendees expressed to me how much they learned from the presenters, and there was a lot of interest in taking advantage of RFID technologies.

One thing that differentiated this vertical-industry event from others we have run in the past is that the discussion covered all types of RFID—active, passive and sensors. At other events, it has mostly been about one type or another. For instance, last year’s RFID in Fashion conference focused mostly on passive RFID in the apparel retail sector, while our RFID in Health Care events focus primarily on active real-time location systems (RTLS).

Kathy Smith, the special assistant for customer support and supply chain integration for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), said her agency’s active RFID network spans more than 30 countries and collects in excess of 237,000 tag reads weekly. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which supplies the U.S. Armed Forces, has 18 sites using passive RFID. This has led to a 40 percent decrease in errors, compared to manual entry at passive RFID-enabled receiving, and a 60 percent labor savings to accomplish full inventory within passive RFID-enabled Air Force facilities.

Angela Richwine, a business-process analyst for DLA Troop Support (which handles the U.S. military’s clothing and textiles supply chain), described the challenges involved in stocking the uniforms that soldiers require when there are 140 different sizes of combat boots and 65 different sizes of men’s Army dress coats. Her unit has shown that RFID can significantly improve operational efficiencies with RFID.

The average inventory discrepancy is 0.2 percent at Lackland Air Force Base, which is employing radio frequency identification, versus 5.1 percent at non-RFID sites. RFID has reduced the amount of time required to issue uniforms to recruits to 45 minutes, down from 165 minutes, and has also reduced the time required each day to receive shipments into inventory to 30 minutes, down from four hours. What’s more, the technology has decreased the time required to conduct physical inventory counts to eight days per year, from 40 days, for the main issue facility at the Lackland site.

Jeremy Mercer, Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing‘s chief engineer and director of IT, offered an excellent presentation in which he explained the benefits that a DOD supplier could achieve using RFID. Killdeer is tracking work-in-process (WIP), sharing that information with its customers and using the data internally to become leaner. According to Mercer, RFID has led to a 47 percent reduction in lead times, a 71 percent decrease in average cycle times, a 35 percent reduction in product line WIP, a 35 percent decrease in floor space and a reallocation of 35 percent of program operators.

There were other great presentations as well. Patrick J. Sweeney II, the president of ODIN, the event’s cornerstone sponsor, described RFID as “Twitter for your assets and products.” He made a compelling case that the technology has now evolved to the point at which it is possible for managers to receive updates on the items they track, in the same way that Twitter followers get updates on what their friends are doing.

What struck me the most about the conference was the progress that the DOD is making in RFID-enabling its supply chain. The agency is far ahead of most companies in terms of achieving the benefits that supply chain visibility provides. As one attendee from a small DOD contractor said to me during a break, “I had no idea how much impact RFID is having.”

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor’s Note archive.