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Focus: RFID and Automated Identification and Data Collection (AIDC)

Feature Article from Our RFID and AIDC Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's OnTarget e-Magazine

Jan. 10 , 2011

RFID and AIDC News: US Air Force Tracking Global Assets with Data Matrix 2D Bar Codes, has Labeled its 1 Millionth Item on Way to 2.1 Million

Program went Ahead of Schedule, as 72,000 Assets Labeled and Scanned Each Month


SCDigest Editorial Staff


Several years ago, the US Air Force was charted to track all of its "Class VII" legacy physical global assets - more than 2 million pieces of equipment in the end - using a unique bar code identifier, or what it calls Item Unique Identification (IUID).

SCDigest Says:


The scope of the effort encompasses 230 locations across the world, and will conclude this March, when approximately 2.1 million assets will have been labeled and tracked.

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In the fall of 2011, the Air Force celebrated a milestone when the 1 millionth asset was labeled and scanned. The tracking program is managed out of Wright Patterson Air Force base near Dayton, OH.

This identification mandate promotes asset life cycle management and supply chain discipline and is enabling the Air Force to tie asset data across multiple sources to the IUID. The Air Force says this will drive more efficient use of asset data in business processes and increases financial and physical asset accountability. Implementation of IUID will ultimately lead to cost savings through processes automation, improved acquisition, and timely capture of reliable data.

The Class VII assets refer to major end items or pieces of equipment, not sub-components, consumables, or other items that may also be tracked.

According to a program manager for the project at the Wright Patterson base, the IUID data is encoded into a Data Matrix two-dimensional bar code symbol. The IUID can be of one of two types in terms of data structure.

Type I IUIDs consist of a single Issuing Agency Code (IAC) spelled out in ISO/IEC standard 15419, followed by an Enterprise ID (EID), followed by a unique serial number unique within the EID. CAGE Code is the most popular EID used in Dept. of Defense. So the syntax for Type I UII is IAC+CAGE+S/N.

Type III IUIDs consist of a single Issuing Agency Code (IAC) spelled out in ISO/IEC standard 15419, followed by an Enterprise ID (EID), followed by a part number, followed by a unique serial number unique within the part number. So the syntax for Type I UII is IAC+CAGE+P/N+S/N.

The two types of IUIDs were developed to account for how different industries serialize items. Some industries serialize within their enterprise (Type I) because part numbers can roll as configurations are updated. Other industries never change the part number and therefore use the serialize within part number (Type II).

There number of different label types being used across the globe, but a Wright Pat spokesperson says that "The most common type of label material used is TESA tape. To create the finished label, the outer coating is vaporized by a laser, exposing the white material underneath" to "print" the text information and the bar code, as shown in the graphic nearby. Other types of materials, such as metal labels, may also be used.

The labels are affixed to the assets, then scanned in using mobile readers to the Air Force's Equipment Management System (AFEMS). The assets will be scanned via the inventory module contained in AF's Automated Inventory and Marking Tool (AIMT) application. AIMT will update AFEMS through the Enterprise Data Collection Layer (EDCL) within the application.

The scope of the effort encompasses 230 locations across the world, and will conclude this March, when approximately 2.1 million assets will have been labeled and tracked.


(RFID and AIDC Story Continued Below)




According to the Air Force, "To meet such an aggressive schedule, the [program management office] assembled a marking team of equipment/asset management functional representatives and IUID vendors/practitioners from the Air Force and private industry. In less than 14 months, and ahead of the planned schedule, the 1 millionth item was marked. To put the achievement in perspective, an average of 72,000 items were marked per month through the efforts of hundreds of military members, civil service members, and contractors globally."

The team members included Deloitte Consulting LLP, A2B Tracking Solutions, Evanhoe and Associates and Command Equipment Management Officers (CEMO) from every Air Force major command, in addition to the office of the Air Force and the Air Force Automatic Identification Technology Program Management Office (AIT PMO). The team first met in the summer of 2009 to initiate planning of the enterprise-wide effort.

That led to the work of configuring and shipping hundreds of hand held terminals and laptops to every installation; internal and contractor teams then executed the physical marking and data management for the effort, which had to overcome a number of natural disasters in base areas to get the job done ahead of schedule.

The ceremony marking the 1 millionth asset being labeled featured Brig General H. Brent Baker Sr., the Air Force Global Logistics Support Center (AFGLSC) Commander, who said that “Today’s milestone represents the next step in a continuous journey to transform the Air Force’s supply chain into a premier business model. By leveraging technology the war fighter will deliver the right part, at the right time, faster than ever before.”



The initial marking of AFEMS assets continues through the end of March. By the time it wraps up, all 2.1 million items in the AFEMS database will be processed, but not all will be marked because some were unavailable at the time (maintenance, in-transit, deployed, etc.). Those remaining assets should be scanned in over the next few months.

Are you impressed by the Air Force's asset tracking efforts here? Sounds like a government program done very well to us. Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

Recent Feedback

I think that the direction the Air Force is going is great. However it could be more aggressive in its use of technology. The 2D bar code is excellent for providing more information that the standard bar code we all know. However, most 2D bar codes use the traditional configuration of specialized hardware peripherals. In this case, it's a hand-held laser scanner that is tied to a specific tracking program. The Air Force needs to move to a cloud-based tracking system that can utilize cell phones. Cell phones can provide a richer logistics analysis with automated information gathering like time, location, and personnel. Legacy systems that can only process information like IAC+CAGE+P/N+S/N causing all other information to be inputted manually, which depends solely on the training and skill of operators.

Patrick Murray
4D Logistics
Jan, 11 2012