Multiplying Value in active RFID

With DoD’s award last December of a 10-year, $428 million contract for (RFID)-III initiative, Military Logistics Forum asked two of the awardees, Savi Corp., a Lockheed Martin company, and Unisys Inc. and RFID Global Solution if they would speak to MLF readers about the direction they feel DoD is taking the RFID industry in the research and development of this key asset tracking capability.

Today, the Department of Defense’s massive In-Transit Visibility network operates as the largest active RFID-based cargo tracking system in the world. With nodes stretched across more than 40 countries and 4,000 locations, the RF-ITV network tracks an average of 35,000 supply shipments per day across the entire supply chain that are mission-critical to the success of the warfighter at the tip of the spear.

THE VALUE OF RF-ITV

The genesis of the RF-ITV can be traced back to logistics problems during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the early 1990s, when more than 40,000 containers were shipped to the Gulf, with redundant materiel and supplies resulting in enormous “iron mountains” of containers staged in ports and holding yards. At least two-thirds of these containers actually had to be opened to see what was inside. Once RF-ITV was validated in follow-up conflicts such as Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti and elsewhere, the Government Accountability Office reported that such a system could have saved about $2 billion in inefficiencies in Desert Storm. Other benefits identified in recent years include:

• The reduction from weeks to days of the delivery of in-stock supplies

• Reduction from days to minutes in locating supplies in theater

• Significant reductions in transportation costs, excess inventories and shipment assets such as cargo containers

• Improvements in asset utilization

• Process changes that improved how the DoD manages deployment, sustainment and returns from military operations.

Increased multi-national and multi-agency interoperability— and potential worldwide market growth—of the RF-ITV technology was recently enhanced by DoD’s (RFID)-III contracting vehicle. (RFID)-III is a multi-year, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract established by the U.S. Army on behalf of all services with a total value of $429 million for active RFID hardware, software and engineering services. The competitively bid (RFID)-III contract, administered by the U.S. Army’s Product Manager Joint-Automatic Identification Technology (PM J-AIT) office, is now open to purchase orders from other U.S. federal agencies and non-U.S. defense forces.

ISO 18000-7 DRIVES ADOPTION AND INNOVATION

In addition to expanding the potential end-user base beyond DoD, RFID III helps fuel market adoption by requiring products to be compliant with ISO 18000-7:2008 standards. This requirement is a clear validation that active RFID solutions based on this standard have matured and “come of age.” The 18000-7 requirements will help to facilitate interoperability, stimulate innovations, expand market adoption, and create more choices for users. The DoD awarded the procurement contract last December to four prime contractors: Savi, Unisys, Northrop Grumman Information Services, and Systems and Process Engineering Corporation (SPEC).

The evolution of technology leveraged by RF-ITV has spawned numerous related solutions for multiple applications, ranging from the creation of rapidly deployable reader infrastructure and monitoring the condition of temperature-sensitive medical supplies to locating “hot parts” for urgent assembly in the repair or maintenance of military aircraft. In general, many of these solutions have fused wireless data from a range of AIT technologies, including UID, passive RFID, sensors, GPS and satellite Communications, onto software platforms and applications. Below are five examples of innovations derived from active RFID and the ITV solution.

TECHNOLOGY AND APPLICATION INNOVATIONS: HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE

One of the key technology solution innovations arising from warfighter needs has been the development of the Portable Deployment Kit (PDK). The PDK is a suitcase-sized total solution that enables logisticians to order, locate and track critical military supplies while in most any remote and austere environment where there is no fixed reader infrastructure. The PDK is a mobile choke point that integrates several AIT technologies, including bar codes, 2-D barcodes, active RFID and GPS location and satellite communications— all in a single carrying case. The PDK, which also includes a Zebra printer for military shipment labels to support unit move changes, communicates directly via satellite communications with DoD’s ITV. PDKs also are used by the U.S. National Guard for emergency relief efforts.

Another recently demonstrated innovation is the integration of active RFID with sensors that detect changes in temperature, humidity, shock, light and security breaches (i.e., container door intrusions). Many of these newfound capabilities are used by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel centre Europe (USAMMCE) to track the location and condition of medical sets, kits and outfits (MESKOs) of surgical instruments, dental supplies, pharmaceuticals and other “Class VIII” products that are assembled, stored and shipped to downrange customers.

DOD HURDLES

The challenge for the DoD is to provide RFID expertise and technologies that enable focused logistics, total asset visibility and integrated global supply chains for the department. Additionally, they support the U.S. Coast Guard, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Coalition Partners, and other federal agency requirements. Because crises and unexpected demands occur, the DoD must be positioned accordingly to meet end user needs. To rapidly and effectively respond to surge requirements, contractors must maintain a certain level of equipment inventory that can be distributed immediately. Additionally, they must be able to expand equipment production on short notice, greatly improving our ability to quickly respond to surge requirements.

To meet these challenges, DoD must perform comprehensive, centralized project management oversight, control and support activities. Consistent processes, techniques, and tools are required to plan and organize the work; manage the scope; focus on effective risk and issue management; balance program priorities across projects; and verify that correct resources to optimize program benefits. Because Unisys supports other programs, repeatable processes are documented and available for reuse. Unisys can leverage these artifacts like the deployment model that was created for the RF In-Transit Visibility program. By leveraging repeatable processes and our commitment to their continual improvement, DoD can take the necessary steps to confirm mission success.

The main hurdles the DoD faces in maintaining continuous visibility of logistics movements are: keeping in-transit visibility contiguous as modes of transportation change; keeping visibility in the last mile to points of distribution and on the shelf in warehouses; and leveraging RF technology so enough advance notice of potential errors or exceptions can be provided, to prevent errors from occuring. RFID solutions are being formulated to allow for data aggregation from passive to active tags, so that chain of custody and source data are not lost. RFID technology is being integrated with GPS to provide multi-faceted data acquisition methods for multimodal transport. RFID SmartShelf solutions have been developed incorporating reader and antenna technology into shelving units, and new passive RTLS technologies are emerging at a rapid pace. Sophisticated software applications supporting complex business logic enable triggers and alerts well in advance of shipping errors or mis-routes, enabling error prevention.