Marines Look at RFID To Track Supplies

June 1, 2004
Material Handling Management recently received an update from Lt. Col. Alan B. Will of the U.S. Marine Corps. He was one of MHMs 2003 Innovation Award

Material Handling Management recently received an update from Lt. Col. Alan B. Will of the U.S. Marine Corps. He was one of MHM’s 2003 Innovation Award winners, honored for his “WMS in a box” concept — an RF system in a deployable container that communicates with the Marines’ STRATIS WMS. Col. Will is now responsible for developing the logistics common operating picture for the forces at Camp Lejeune. Included in that is the RFID tagging initiative and satellite-based communications. The main objective is to provide a near real-time common operating picture of logistics to all units in a theater of operation.

RFID is one of the key enablers in achieving that objective. The U.S. Marine Corps is focusing on an active memory tag that allows it to manifest the contents of a container in its memory. The information is actually tiered so you can first see the tag "license plate" and then move down into line item contents.

Once the tag has been created and attached to the container/pallet, it is then to be tracked across the battlefield to final delivery at the customer unit's site. Once at the unit's site, a status of "delivery complete" is assigned. The customer can read the contents of the container either with a hand-held interrogator or access to the common operating picture database and search for the tag license plate. Some of the challenges to overcome are:

1. Creating the association between the RFID tag license plate and the vehicle number once the container is loaded aboard the vehicle.

2. Selecting a satellite tracking system that includes a GPS device and can be utilized globally. This device would be mounted in all vehicles. Marines would be able to monitor the location of each vehicle through the logistics common operating picture.

3. Having the capability to interrogate the RFID tags attached to pallets/containers while they are loaded aboard delivery vehicles. Marines want to also see the contents of the truck through the logistics common operating picture. They may offload one pallet at a customer location and continue on to the next unit. That tag has to then drop off that truck's manifest.

4. Since the Marine Corps is expeditionary in nature, Marines don’t have the luxury of placing fixed RFID interrogators in a concrete building that will be in place 40 years. They have to utilize temporary kits that can be set up at a container lot/field warehouse and connect to the common operating picture via satellite.

5. Selecting a system that takes all the data feeds from the battlefield, i.e., WMS balances, container lot balances, RFID tags, location of RFID tags and vehicles, and combines it to shows where all of this material is on a map displayed on a computer screen.

Camp Lejeune is also the pilot test site for DoD's passive RFID tag initiative. The first phase is to utilize passive tags as a license plate for pallets/containers.

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