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Gunning for Change

Sig Sauer, a leading handgun manufacturer, is offering customers the ability to track weapons with a RuBee-based inventory management system.
By Michelle V. Rafter
Sep 29, 2008Sig Sauer wasn't thinking about expanding its business. The private Exeter, N.H., company sells the lion's share of handguns currently used by U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, as well as a third of the guns utilized by state and local law enforcement departments. Sigs are so popular, in fact, they've been written into plot lines for several TV shows, such as Law & Order. But a 2007 phone call from Visible Assets, a startup based in Stratham, N.H., that developed RuBee technology, got the handgun manufacturer thinking about new opportunities.

Visible Assets was working with Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which conducts research and development for the U.S. Department of Energy, to employ RuBee technology—a low-frequency form of RFID—to track weapons used by security guards at the department's nuclear facilities. But the firm had reached a standstill. Visible Assets mainly sells asset-tracking solutions for medical devices, and required advice from a company that knew something about guns. Since Energy Department security guards carried Sig Sauer handguns, Visible Assets decided to reach out to that company, located just 10 minutes away from the company's headquarters.

Peter Kujawski with a Sig Sauer RuBee-enabled handgun, showing the embedded tag.

Sig Sauer agreed to join the team. The gun industry, according to Sig Sauer executives, had been seeking a way to improve the error-prone pencil-and-paper system many of its law enforcement customers used to manually check weapons in and out of armories. The industry also needed a more precise method for counting the shots a particular gun fired, to better predict when a weapon needed to be cleaned or repaired.

Sig Sauer, Visible Assets and Oak Ridge collaborated for nearly a year to create the first-of-its kind Weapons Inventory Network, based on RuBee technology. The system provides real-time visibility into weapons' locations and firing histories, as well as personnel and other high-value assets such as night vision goggles and armored vests.

In February 2008, the partners demonstrated a working prototype of the network at the gun industry's biggest yearly trade expo, The SHOT Show, held in Las Vegas. Three months later, Sig Sauer and Visible Assets announced the product's availability. "It's a game changer," says Pete Kujawski, Sig Sauer's VP for military, government and export sales. "This gives us a proprietary edge in the marketplace that our customers would be very interested in."
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