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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: July 23, 2003
No: 03-27

Auto-ID to transform military logistics

NATICK, Mass. -- Information never before obtained about supplies and equipment will be available to the military through the next generation of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology known as Auto-ID.

The Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate here at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, has joined nearly 100 companies and five international research universities as sponsors of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), founded in 1999.

The center is developing technology based on non-proprietary, global standards that will create an affordable solution for the Defense Department and commercial industry worldwide. Combat Feeding calls this initiative "Global Asset Visibility."

"The global supply chain is a bigger network than most people realize," said Kathy Evangelos, executive assistant to the Combat Feeding director. "Auto-ID will automate the global supply chain."


The Universal Product Code (UPC), a bar code of lines and numbers now used to identify objects, has existed since the 1970s for logistics management, but the technology is limited.

During Operation Desert Storm, the military did not know what was in 25,000 of the 40,000 containers sent overseas, she said. Containers today can be tracked with RFID tags, and they have greatly improved the situation for operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Still, Auto-ID offers more.

"We're starting to see tags with microchips in all kinds of products," Evangelos said. "Industry sees RFID as a replacement for the bar code, and Auto-ID takes it a step further."

The technology is based on the Electronic Product Code (EPC), a 96-bit code capable of identifying more than 80 thousand trillion, trillion unique items. An electronic tag containing an EPC on a microchip wirelessly stores and transmits data to a reader. The EPC code serves as an address directing users to an Internet site where managed levels of information on the item are found.

Information retrieval is possible using the Object Naming Service, which associates the EPC with an item. It points to a server that uses the Physical Mark-Up Language to distribute and represent related information, such as shipping instructions, inspection schedules, location, expiration dates or even technical manuals. Savant software technology manages the flow of data and provides an interface to legacy systems.

Sensing trouble

Auto-ID will provide real-time visibility. Accurate automated inventories will eliminate the need for manual counts, according to Evangelos, which ultimately reduces the supply chain footprint and associated costs.

Furthermore, EPC tags will allow automatic manifests to be written to containers, and sensor integration will provide the capability to monitor the status of an item, pallet or container by detecting variables such as temperature, vibration, rough handling, or chemical or biological contamination that could affect product quality.

"Initially we want to track rations, but imagine what it can do for vaccines and other medical supplies and other temperature sensitive items," Evangelos said.

She said one possibility with the technology is reading a temperature profile from a container or pallet tag that translates complicated data using a shelf-life model, developed by MIT for Combat Feeding. The model will allow food inspectors to determine the condition of Meals, Ready-to-Eat or Unitized Group Rations using a simple, easy-to-understand color-coded system-green for "issue", yellow for "limited inspection" and red for "100 percent inspection."

Corporations plan to track down to the item level, such as packages of disposable razor blades or bottles of laundry detergent, but Combat Feeding is interested in tracking at the case, pallet and container level, she said.

Case level or Type 1 passive tags come in various shapes and sizes and cost anywhere from 20 cents to $1. Eventually, these tags will cost less than 5 cents. Pallet and container or Type 3 battery tags today cost as much as $150.

"The tags we are testing currently cost around $17 and eventually, revolutionary technology advancements using tiny NanoBlocks will bring the cost down to $1 to make widespread use affordable," Evangelos said.

Combat Feeding is conducting DoD's first technology demonstration of Auto-ID at the Defense Distribution Depot San Joaquin this fall with Alien Technology, Inc., OatSystems, Defense Logistics Agency and Oak Ridge National Labs.

The demonstration will simulate rations being tracked from an assembler or depot to general and direct support supply points in a field setting with distribution to individual units. Preliminary testing and a shakedown were conducted in the spring, and follow-up testing is ongoing in preparation for the fall demonstration.

Beans and beyond

Goals for the demonstration are automatic, real-time tracking and visibility at the supply points; automatic inventories to units issued; capturing historical product temperature data; and automatic tracking and updates of container inventories.

Results and lessons learned from the demonstration will help set the framework for a proposed Defense Logistics Agency Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) in 2005. Additionally, EPC technology is proposed as an expansion of a current RFID ACTD being conducted by the Navy, according to Evangelos.

Although combat rations are the demonstration product, any military item, including ammunition and spare parts for vehicles, can be tracked under the program to help warfighters ultimately get what they need when they need it.

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This page last updated on 28 February 2003.