Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense have issued directives to their suppliers mandating the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology (tags and readers) for all pallet load and case shipments starting in 2005. Material Handling Management reported on the Wal-Mart challenge in its December issue. The January 2004 issue will feature a cover story on material handling in the military. RFID plays an important part in the article, and its readers will learn a lot about logistics best practices in the military. The following are some quotes taken from interviews conducted during our research for that article. --Tom Andel, chief editor
Roger Kallock, former undersecretary of defense, DoD [email protected]
The combination of DOD and Wal-Mart will accelerate the implementation of RFID. There are very serious war fighter issues at stake in the military, boosting the need for better visibility and actionable information. There are billions of dollars of inventory out there and many lives at stake that could be saved with better information. My message in teaching at Penn State and directing a couple executive ed programs is to take the best out of the private sector and the military and put them together. What's best in the private sector is that they have business processes and information technology that's way ahead of the military. Where the military is ahead is its ability to handle the unexpected and to be prepared to fail smartly, meaning they do table top exercises and war games to figure out the what-if questions.
Claire Bandy, traffic management specialist, Department of Deployment Operations, Military Traffic Management Command Headquarters, Alexandria, Virginia
In Saudi Arabia, during the Gulf War, we had people out in a lot somewhere breaking up the containers trying to find out what was in them. Today we have a handheld interrogator with which we can go up to the container and find out what's inside down to the last nut and bolt. This technology has evolved over the last 5-7 years to where we're getting smaller tags and better technology.
Even so, the military will continue to use both bar codes and RFID. With storage on a shelf in the warehouse, the tag may not be able to be read, so for a while you'll have a combination of a bar code and RFID reader together.
Joe Repp, chief of documentation Global Distribution International Military Traffic Management Command Headquarters, Alexandria, Virginia
If we're moving on commercial vessels there's a contractual requirement for the ocean carrier to provide EDI, even if the box has an RF tag on it. When we're in these countries there really isn't anything electronic about EDI. If the container gets off the ship as a delivery transaction, someone has to manually do something or get on the phone and get back to the States for them to update the transaction set. Then it would be forwarded to us as an EDI transaction but it's not coming to us EDI from that country. I don't know if the ocean carriers will ever get to that point.
Richard J. Sherman, president Gold & Domas Research (GDR), Austin, TX http://www.goldanddomas.com
At the end of the day, the DoD's announcements will have a more significant impact on the RFID market than WalMart's. While WalMart's "shot heard round the world" was intended to alert the market to the potential volume of RFID and drive the unit price down, it's shot is a BB compared to the DoD.
The DoD, unlike its commercial counterpart, can afford to implement now and pay the price increase associated with suppliers adding the cost of an RFID tag to DoD products. The ROI for speed and accuracy at the DoD is measured in lives saved and victories won. If they say 2005, they can do it. WalMart, on the other hand, has to be very cost and price conscious, so look for implementation in the commercial sector to be slower than DoD.
The real benefit of working with the military, however, is that due to their ability to spend and justify emerging and leading logistics technologies such as RFID, they will be tested and true... under real battle conditions... when they do hit the commercial market.
Lt. Col. Alan B. Will, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Atlantic Material Management Officer
Many of our requirement are driven by shortfalls in tracking noted during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The military was able to track material well during the transit to the Iraqi/Kuwaiti theater but the Marine Corps had difficulty tracking items to the ultimate user (tankers, infantry, etc.).
FedEx or Roadway may have a better solution, but we have to have coverage in far lands. The Marine Corps' shortfall is communications bandwidth which would allow us to send great amounts of logistics data. The current DoD RFID contract is with SAVI, which provides the tags and interrogators.
The war in Iraq continues to highlight the need for efficient means of storing and transporting material, protection of material from the elements and the ability to quickly issue material once a field warehouse operation has been established.