Marine Corps RFID System Integrates for Intelligent Warehouses

Published: October 17, 2023

After deploying an RFID system at several bases over the past two years, the Marine Corps Logistics Command is integrating the location data from that system with the DoD’s warehouse management software.

The U.S. Marine Corps has unique challenges in tracking inventory in and out of its many warehouses. With thousands of containers of goods transiting through and around warehouses, keeping an eye on the location and status of those goods is a daunting task at best. So, in the past few years, the Marine Corps Logistics Command (MARCORLOGCOM) has been rolling out a passive UHF RFID system to manage goods better as they flow toward the troops who need them. Most recently, the logistics department has built a link between the captured RFID data and the DoD’s property management system to make inventory management more seamless.

The interface MARCORLOGCOM completes links the Defense Property, Accountability Service Warehouse Module (DPAS-WM) and the RFID application dubbed Marine Corps Platform Integration Center (MCPIC). The interface will be live in September.

MARCORLOGCOM has been implementing MCPIC at designated Consolidated Storage Program (CSP) sites to automatically update equipment and container location data within their warehouses, says Scott Prouse, LOGCOM Command Data Analytics office (CDAO) supervisor.

MARCORLOGCOM supports all the thousands of pieces of equipment the Marine Corps employs. The visibility of these items, as they flow through warehouses and to their destination, has been a traditional challenge. Warehouse workers often could not find designated items and, in some cases, shipped incorrect items. Prouse says the agency seldom had concrete evidence that its inventory numbers were correct, which negatively impacted operational readiness.

In seeking a solution, MARCORLOGCOM looked at technology options. The agency was aware of a Blount Island Command (BIC) project, which developed a UHF RFID system to track equipment on and off Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships. This approach was successfully tested decades ago during Operation Desert Shield.

To leverage the same technology for its purposes, MARCORLOGCOM conducted a Proof of Principle (PoP) by tagging 900 pieces of equipment with passive UHF RFID tags and reading those tags as goods were received, stored, or delivered at warehouses with mobile readers. Based on the results, they decided to tag the entire Military Equipment (ME) inventory for the Marine Force Storage Command (MFSC), thus launching the MCPIC program in 2017.

According to Prouse, the technology has taken warehouse managers from the days of “stubby pencils” for inventory management to passive RFID technology that automatically detects and digitizes the identification and location of goods. The Logistics Command won the Best Supply Chain/Logistics RFID or IoT Implementation at RFID Journal LIVE! 2023 in Orlando in May.

Leveraging the Existing Management System

The system uses a combination of Wi-Fi nodes and mobile and fixed RFID readers to capture tag data at laydown or other outdoor areas, as well as in warehouses. Over two years, the agency has implemented MCPIC at 10 warehouses in Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB) Albany, Ga., and five warehouses at MCLB Barstow, Calif., tracking 185,000 items and improving the operating efficiency at both bases. The technology has also been deployed at four Consolidated Storage Program (CSP) warehouses at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Lejeune, NC.

Since the system was deployed, users know what they have on-site and where it is and can respond to customers faster than they had and ship the correct item on time, Prouse explains.

Multiple technologies are deployed for location accuracy. The MARCORLOGCOM team needed to develop a way to identify where tagged goods were located, even where GPS was not available (inside buildings with thick roofs, for example). So, they introduced robots with laser-based Lidar technology and, in some cases, Source Acquisition Signal Location (SASL) antennas. The system can map warehouses and then translate Lidar or SASL (or GPS) coordinates into physical locations that the inventory software can understand. This enables commanders and inventory managers to see the physical areas of their assets in near real-time. “All of this provided revolutionary asset visibility that was scarcely dreamed of before we implemented MCPIC,” Prouse says.

No two configurations are identical. “As part of our implementation of MCPIC, we assess the facility, the type of inventory involved, the business operations, and then configure the facility to meet the needs of the customer,” Prouse says. The sites employ a range of fixed readers, mostly placed at warehouses’ entrances and egress points. In locations with a lot of movement of assets and a high need for asset visibility, robots are used to inventory warehouses at night.

The benefits have been significant, Prouse says. Before MCPIC, it took, on average, 14 months to count MCLB Albany’s inventory of rolling stock items. “With MCPIC, we now do it in three hours.” The ME inventory in warehouses took years to complete and periodically did not occur due to the time and level of effort required. The Marine Corps warehouse workers can now count inventory of the entire ME stock every 30 days as part of normal operations.

In 2022, the MFSC was audited and received a 100 percent rating on the ME accuracy for the first time. In addition, the reduction in wrong serial numbers being shipped is estimated at approximately 85 percent.

Integrating with Property Management

Most recently, MARCORLOGCOM has been building interfaces to automatically update the location of assets in the property management system DPAS using MCPIC data. With the integration of systems, MARCORLOGCOM has been testing the visibility of the equipment using RFID as it moves from the MCPIC system to DPAS.

Prouse says the agency will have achieved a truly smart warehousing system with integration. “The DoD has an enormous amount of equipment that’s constantly moving,” he says. With an implementation combining MCPIC and DPAS, “the Marine Corps will no longer be reliant on a person to record the movement of a container or equipment, and the new location of that asset.” Instead, the MCPIC system will identify the item’s movement, see the new location, and automatically send that to the DPAS system.

One common scenario showcasing the benefits of integration might be the tracking of uniforms and equipment allocated to recruits. The DPAS system already tracks what goods are available and who was assigned what item. However, the data was essentially input manually.

Goods are issued out of a container, while the containers have RFID tags identifying the contents it stores. So, because the MCPIC system knows where those containers are stored, integration to DPAS will help the departments understand the location of its property, even as a Marine has arrived to pick up their uniform, making it faster to fulfill that soldier’s requirements. The system will also help management know when goods are running low and need to be reordered and when they are moved.

“One of the big reasons we implemented MCPIC in the first place is that all of these warehouse management systems are entirely reliant upon someone to record a move and the new location,” Prouse points out. If that doesn’t happen, a warehouse worker spends unnecessary time searching. “That’s a horrible problem to have when trying to manage a lot of equipment and gear,” he says. “So, we’re excited about the implementation of this interface.” He adds that he and his team see the combination of MCPIC and DPAS as a powerful synergy “that will improve inventory accuracy and auditability across the DoD.”

Key Takeaways:

  • The Marine Corps Logistics Command is integrating its RFID solution into the DOD’s existing warehouse management system to create a single system for warehouse intelligence.
  • With the solution rolling out at several bases today, commanders and inventory managers can view where their assets and goods are located, reducing labor and passing audits.