RFID Improves Supply Management for Brazil’s Army, Air Force

By Claire Swedberg

Military logistics centers in Sao Paolo are equipped with EPC Gen 2 technology as part of a program to increase the efficiency, accuracy and visibility of distributing supplies to soldiers.


More than a year after its launch, the Brazilian Army’s RFID Adoption Program has improved its process for receiving Class II products, consisting of such items as uniforms, tents, helmets and boots. The system was provided and installed by RFID solutions firm Seal Technology, at the Army’s 21st Supply Warehouse, located in São Paulo, with assistance from GS1 Brazil, which provided the Electronic Product Code (EPC) numbers and consulting services.

The Brazilian military commenced its RFID adoption program in 2005, when Luiz Antônio Silveira Lopes, an associate professor at the Military Institute of Engineering, led a project tracking Army parachutes via EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags. He had been searching for an opportunity to test the technology’s ability to improve logistics visibility for the Brazilian military, he says, and began with a test involving between 3,000 and 5,000 parachutes (which had previously been tracked using bar-coded labels), to determine whether the tags could be read by a fixed interrogator as the parachutes were moved within the Army’s supply center. After determining that the technology worked properly, Lopes and the Army began looking into implementing a full deployment; five years later, the system to track Class II military supplies was the result.

The Brazilian Army tested a variety of portals, but ultimately chose to deploy a metal frame similar to one being tested here, fitted with a total of eight antennas, instead of four.

In the case of Class II supplies, the Brazilian Army’s challenge was to monitor soldiers’ equipment as it was shipped from the Army’s warehouses to those soldiers. The goal was to make the supply chain of uniforms and personal effects more visible, and to automate the inventory-taking, shipping and receiving processes, thereby resulting in fewer mistakes.

“The adoption of RFID technology in logistics was aimed at increasing control and improving the management of supplies,” says Colonel Luiz Antonio de Almeida Ribeiro, who, along with Lopes, led the RFID deployment project. Although the Army is interested in how RFID can be employed to track a variety of items moving through the supply chain, it initiated the system to track uniforms, footwear, and protection and security equipment, such as helmets and vests, he says, “because these materials have a high turnover,” and because they are less likely to block RF transmissions than items containing a large quantity of metal or liquid.

Goods arrive at the Army’s distribution facility directly from vendors, and are then shipped to Army units and soldiers throughout Brazil. Prior to the system’s installation, Army personnel utilized paper and pen to manually track each shipment’s location and status, and made telephone calls to provide status updates to those who shipped or received the items.

“High-level military troops should have the ability to mobilize and build back up [have access to necessary supplies] quickly and completely, with the materials necessary to accomplish its mission,” Ribeiro states. “If the troops get ready and mobilized, and then are delayed, this will be detrimental to operational capability, and would be detrimental to the combat power of this company to accomplish its mission.”

Seal Technology installed the system—known as Control, Management and Tracking of Military Supplies—at the São Paulo logistics center, which is served by 29 suppliers and has an annual turnover of 170,000 square meters (1.8 million square feet) worth of supplies. Each warehouse within the center has the capacity to store 2,000 pallets loaded with various materials.

Seal Technology’s software, residing on the Army’s back-end system, provides two functions. One is to enable a Web application for suppliers to use when sending electronic files indicating when tagged items are shipped. The other is to control the RFID portal readers at the Army site, in order to link the tag ID numbers read at that facility with the electronic files created by the vendor. If an anomaly is detected, such as the arrival of unexpected goods, or items missing from the shipment, the system generates an alert that can be sent directly to the officers responsible for logistics.

The Army tested a variety of reader and antenna configurations, but ultimately opted to deploy portals consisting of a metal-frame archway with an Intermec IF30 reader and four antennas, mounted on a portal’s left and right legs. More than 10 such portals, each fitted with a total of two interrogators and eight antennas, were installed at various locations throughout the facility. By reading the tags at each location, the Army is able to track when tagged products arrive from vendors, as well as when and where they are placed in storage, and when they are shipped out. This information is then stored on Seal Technology’s software.

Suppliers are tagging products with EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags provided by Avery Dennison, RR Etiquetas, Torres Tecnologia and Saint Paul RFID. When tagged items are unloaded from trucks at the logistics center, by means of forklifts and pallet jacks, the tags are read while passing through an RFID portal, thereby indicating that those goods were received. Each item (such as a pair of boots), as well as every carton in which multiple supplies are packed, has an EPC Gen 2 passive tag adhered to it, encoded with a unique ID number. The items’ tag IDs are married to the ID of the specific carton in which they are packed.

Several other portals are installed in egresses to the multiple storage areas within the center. As items pass through those portals, the software is updated, in order to indicate where they are being moved to.

According to Ribeiro, the greatest benefits of using RFID technology, tested over the past year, are the speed and accuracy with which items can be identified. This enables the Brazilian Army to improve its receiving process, by maintaining an electronic record that could be provided with an RFID reader and tags on items.

The Brazilian Air Force is also in the process of installing an RFID system—in this case, at its São Paulo warehouse. The intention, says Captain Robson Teles Peixoto, the project lead for this deployment, is to increase accuracy and reduce the amount of time employees spend picking uniforms to be shipped to troops. When the warehouse receives orders for uniforms, workers will use a Motorola Solutions MC 9090 handheld reader to track the loading of cartons filled with tagged uniforms onto pallets. Once shipped out, the pallets will pass through a portal containing a Motorola XR 450 fixed RFID reader. Data will be stored on software residing on the Air Force database software, provided by the Brazilian branch of Cassioli, a warehouse-management systems provider.