RFID Keeping Tabs on the Largest Supply Chain in the World

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, May 24, 2012 @ 11:10 AM

Tags: RFID, Supply Chain, DoD, IT Asset Tracking

DoDThe United States Department of Defense (DoD) has used RFID in its supply chain for almost 30 years. Long before that, during World War II, the US Army kept track of equipment using IBM punch cards and electric accounting machines. After the benefits of RFID were quickly discovered and used for other types of applications, in 2005 the DoD mandated that its suppliers had to mark each item sold to the department with a passive RFID tag.

Lack of item-level visibility in the supply chain posed problems for the DoD, leading the department to develop a Radio Frequency In-Transit Visibility (RF-ITV) network to track container shipments. Because of the success and return on investment with that deployment, the DoD looked at other ways it could leverage RFID in its supply chain.

The DoD’s latest project is to use both active and passive RFID to track equipment that comes out of Iraq, sent to certain locations to be rebuilt, and then shipped to Afghanistan where it will be put to use once more. Much like the Commander in Chief has advance men, DoD personnel have advance information on equipment. According to an RFID Journal story, the visibility helps streamline the process for receiving the supplies and equipment and planning for the rebuilding work.

The advance information – or visibility into the supply chain – helps government employees know what supplies are needed so they can place the right orders at the right time. Equipment coming out of Iraq destined for Afghanistan can be scheduled for necessary repairs with far more efficiency. That could mean soldiers getting bullet proof vests faster, or driving armored vehicles in better condition.

RFID could have potentially helped account for the equipment and supplies that were purchased with the hundreds of billions of dollars approved by Congress to support the war in Iraq in 2007. I understand that it is a huge sum of money to trace compounded by the fact that it’s the world’s largest supply chain. However, we should try to learn from that experience and look for other ways that RFID can help with accountability in government. One idea comes to mind.  

It was recently reported that Teri Takai, the DoD Chief Information Officer, talked about an active effort to assess risk in the government’s supply chain in the midst of Cyber attacks that have plagued the nation. The effort would entail having better security for computer hardware and software, and having visibility into everyone who has access to the network, and knowing what information they access. I think we’ve identified RFID’s next government job.

RFID for Disaster Management

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 @ 10:25 AM

Tags: RFID, DoD, Disaster Management

Auto ID Technologies Help Deliver Supplies and Locate People During 72 Hour ‘Golden’ Rescue Period

As noted in previous posts, RFID can be used in many aspects of urban planning and construction.  But what happens when carefully planned and urban areas and buildings are destroyed by a disaster and emergency response efforts are needed?

Well, RFID can help there too.

A study published in the International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development earlier this year claims that RFID could be used in the immediate aftermath of major disasters, like an earthquake, to help save lives.  To support their study, researchers modeled the magnitude 8.0 Sichuan earthquake of Disaster ManagementMay 2008 and 100 magnitude 4.0 aftershocks to study how RFID could be used to mitigate a wide array of logistical challenges such as monitoring evacuees and managing the flow of medical supplies.

Researchers found there is a 72 hour ‘golden’ rescue period following an earthquake during which the efficiency of emergency response procedures is key to the rescue operation.  Particularly challenging, the study states, is knowing how many people are present in a damaged building or structure that needs to be evacuated.  In these scenarios, RFID can facilitate the dispatch of rescue personnel and provide real-time information that could be used to organize search and rescue missions. 

A real-world example of the value that RFID can provide in emergency situations was realized immediately following the 7.0 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 12th, 2010.  As detailed in an RFID Journal report, the U.S. Department of Defense leveraged its In-Transit Visibility (ITV) network to track shipping containers as they moved to and from the island.

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Riddle, the commander of the 832nd Transportation Battalion, in Jacksonville, FL described the benefits of ITV network: "From a commander's point of view, I'd say that the ITV was critical to the recent aid operations in Haiti.  This was a very complex mission, with a rapid deployment. It's something we don't do every day, but we prepare for every day. And the ITV network was absolutely critical [to its success]."

If faced with a ‘golden’ rescue period of only 72 hours, I know I’d want all available technology, including RFID, used to aid recovery efforts.  How about you?

DC-Area Software Firm Partners with National Industries for the Blind

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, DoD, Inventory Management

RFID Technology Aids People Who Are Blind in the Workplace

The following was submitted by ThingMagic partner SimplyRFiD, highlighting one of their recent RFID solution deployments.  We’d like to hear from you too.  If you have developed or deployed an innovative use of RFID, please submit it to ThingMagic for potential inclusion in our 100 Uses of RFID program.


SimplyRFIDA new technological system that allows people who are blind to work more accurately and efficiently was recently installed at four US locations, all factories that manufacture garments for the United States Department of Defense.

The company that developed and implemented this system is SimplyRFiD, a Warrenton, Va.-based software company.

Since 2005 a federal mandate has required that Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags be affixed to any clothing or other supplies sold to the DoD. The RFID tags are used to help the DoD better manage their inventory. The tags ensure that all shipments have come from verified providers, and that all packages contain the items they are meant to contain.

Many of the facilities that manufacture goods for the DoD are staffed by workers who are blind. The National Industries for the Blind (NIB), a non-profit organization that helps improve employment opportunities for people who are blind, became interested in ways that RFID technology could be used not only to fulfill government mandates, but to aid factory workers with certain tasks.

The NIB wondered whether a system could be created that would allow workers who are blind to accurately pack boxes with the correct type and quantity of an item.

Engineers at SimplyRFiD developed such a system. By linking RFID tags with audio equipment and allowing workers to communicate via a touch-screen, it is now simple for employees who are blind to know how many items are in a box they are packing, whether the items are the correct items, and which items to remove if a box is packed incorrectly.

“It’s almost a foolproof system,” said Mike Sebach the operations manager at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, located in Salisbury, which was the pilot location for this technology. “If [SimplyRFiD] hadn’t done what [they] did we would have had to give these jobs to sighted workers.”

Sebach said his workers are now able to pack boxes more accurately than sighted workers would. “The system will actually not allow us to over pack or under pack a carton.”

So far, in addition to the Maryland location, this system has been installed in facilities in Texas, New York, and North Carolina. Plans are underway for SimplyRFiD to implement the program at garment factories across the nation that employ workers who are blind.

 “This technology could work in any warehouse, absolutely,” Sebach said.


To promote your use of RFID and educate customers about the innovative ways in which RFID and Sensing technologies are being used to automate data collection, identification and location systems worldwide, please email sdowney@thingmagic.com.

Mission Accomplished with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Sep 02, 2010 @ 11:08 AM

Tags: Aviation, RFID, DoD

RFID Lends Precision to Fighter Jet Refueling

We’ve seen how RFID can be used for on-board parts tracking in the plane industry, primarily to streamline aircraft configuration, maintenance and repairs. But the military has found a way to use RFID to improve in air refueling.

F-16When an F-16 Fighting Falcon approaches a KC-135 for fuel, the receiver aircraft is manually tracked by the Boom Operator. The information tracked for the receiver plane includes tail number and squadron and must either be visually identified or communicated by radio. During night operations and radio silence situations, this can be complicated. And when visual identification and communications are hindered, it takes longer for the KC-135 crew to accurately log the aircraft and fuel information. Adding to that complexity is manually entered information which can be inaccurate and thus costly.

The Air Force Flight Test Center constantly conducts flight tests and gathers data to maintain America's tactical dominance in the sky. Along with that, the AFFTC looks to improve the Air Force's efficiency. The KC-135 Automatic Receiver Aircraft Identification (ARAI) testing aims to do just that.

The ARAI is to be installed on KC-135 tankers to make the air-to-air refueling to a receiver plane more efficient and economical. Phase 2 testing for the ARAI began at Edwards Air Force Base, which included a flight test using an NKC-135 test tanker installed with ARAI and an F-16 Fighting Falcon equipped with RFID tags.

The NKC-135 will use its ARAI antennas to scan the F-16 to authenticate it and accurately gauge the amount of fuel transferred. The data that the ARAI retrieves is logged into a computer aboard the tanker. Accurate information is important because when an aircraft is refueled by a KC-135, the plane's squadron is responsible for the fuel cost. The Air Force is now able to budget for their fuel needs and costs more efficiently.

Millions of dollars can be lost every year because of unaccounted for fuel tracking or fuel tracking that is allocated incorrectly. When there is no communication between aircraft, it becomes necessary to estimate. The RFID-enabled process lets the boomer focus on what's important - refueling the aircraft and accomplishing the mission.

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