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GSS Gets Tagging Down to a Science

A major government supplier of scientific lab equipment examines the unique challenges of tagging the goods it distributes, and says it's ready to meet upcoming RFID mandates and its customer needs.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 24, 2005Government Scientific Source (GSS) sells or distributes hundreds of thousands of different items used by medical clinics and laboratories, from Petri dishes and other disposable items to bulk quantities of chemicals, electron microscopes, gas chromatographs and other high-tech instruments. The company purports to be the largest dedicated distributor of scientific equipment and supplies to federal, state and municipal government laboratories.

GSS processes approximately 40,000 orders each year, and most recipients for those orders are federal agencies, many within the Department of Defense (DOD). Because of that, the letters RFID became important to GSS vice president of sales Steve Sellentin more than two years ago, when the DOD first announced its plans to begin requiring suppliers to begin tagging cases and pallets of goods with RFID tags.

Steve Sellentin, GSS' vice president of sales, affixes a smart label to a box used to ship goods at subzero temperatures.

While GSS ships goods to the DOD largely on the behalf of manufacturers who have DOD contracts, the company also has two direct supplier contracts with the DOD. The Defense Logistics Agency, which procures goods for the DOD, has already told GSS that if the company wants to keep these contracts, it will most likely need to start tagging cases and pallets of many it distributes to the DOD, starting as soon as January 2006.

GSS has more than its own DOD contracts in mind, however. As a distributor, GSS wants to offer RFID tagging as a value-added service to its customers also coming under the DOD mandate. "A supplier called me the other day and asked, 'Do you know about this RFID stuff?' I told him, 'We're already on it,'" says Sellentin.

According to Sellentin, RFID tagging will be an extension of the services it already offers customers. "Our role is to help manufacturers, corporations and other distribution companies move product into the federal government. Now that RFID has become a reality for us, we have the ability to help [our customers] get items tagged properly. Otherwise, [they] will get this service from somebody else," he says.

Sellentin expects that as many as 25 of the vendors using GSS distribution services to ship goods to the DOD will take the company up on its offer to provide tagging services, as well. The tagging service will consist of printing RFID smart labels and encoding the embedded RFID inlay in the label with an EPC that meets DOD requirements. After verifying that the tag is accurately coded and functioning, GSS will apply the tags on the cases and pallets. Once the pallets for each order have been loaded, GSS will verify that all goods in the order have been accurately picked before sending the shipment. It will also aggregate the EPCs assigned to the tags in each order, then send them to the receiving agency in an advance ship notice.

All hardware, software, installation and integration services and training GSS has received has been complimentary, Sellentin says, as these vendors believe their relationship with GSS will lead to contacts with other DOD suppliers. The only cost the company has incurred to deploy its RFID system has been the amount of time he and his staff have spent learning how to use it. Consequently, the tagging service is likely to generate profits quickly for GSS.
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