RFID technology is on the march within the Department of Defense (DOD). As of late September, 19 Defense Distribution Centers (DDCs) in 11 states had been outfitted with RFID readers and were ready to begin accepting shipments supplied with RFID tags. Many of them are already doing so, according to ODIN technologies, the company that installed the RFID hardware. (Officials from the Department of Defense did not return calls for comment prior to the publication's deadline.)
ODIN, which was awarded the $7.7 million contract only last May, says it completed the RFID rollout in just under 130 days, a record for the industry. But that doesn't mean it was easy. The rollout required extensive acceptance testing at each site before the go live was approved.
"We had to demonstrate 100-percent accuracy on read rates at the case level before we could get paid for each pOréal," says Patrick Sweeney, chief executive officer of ODIN. "Each pOréal had to read 20 different Gen 1 and Gen 2 tags on the pallet at 100-percent levels. We were required to do 10 trials of acceptance testing for each pallet. It's much more complex than Wal-Mart, which is just trying to read one pallet tag."
Now it's on to stage two. Sweeney reports that the first phase of the project called for his company to install "hundreds" of pOréals at 69 facilities within the 19 DDC sites. Phase two includes outfitting seven "OCONUS" facilities, the military's term for those located outside the continental United States. That project will begin by year's end.
The effects of the DOD's RFID push are expected to ripple across industry. Gregg O'Connell, government sales director at Zebra Technologies, reports that his customers are rapidly progressing from pilot stage to actual implementations as more and more government contracts are rewritten to require that products be shipped with RFID tags.
"We have helped dozens of RFID entities within the DOD market conduct their pilots," says O'Connell. "There's been tremendous pilot activity and slowly we're seeing pilots turning to actual deployments." Sweeney adds that the DOD's RFID deployment has prompted several other large customers to boost their budgets for future RFID projects. "With the DOD fully online and Wal-Mart continuing to expand its efforts, what we're seeing is that others are definitely putting some big numbers in their budgets for RFID," he says. "We're seeing multiple seven figure deals."
As for what's ahead, O'Connell predicts that the Air Force, the Marines and the Navy will lead the government's RFID deployment effort, with the Army following on their heels. O'Connell notes that the specific goal of the Air Force is to integrate a passive RFID tracking system into its cargo movement operations system, which will allow personnel to load and unload planes much more efficiently.
For the Navy, the initial goal is to use RFID to track goods from its DCs to and from ships. The Navy, however, has faced a particular challenge in proving that RFID signals won't interfere with ammunition transported on ships. "The Navy's constraints in using passive RFID are more [restrictive] than [those of] the other agencies," O'Connell says. "One big action item for them is to prove [RFID] causes no interference with ordnance stored on Navy vessels. They've had to provide a lot of answers to questions that people in the commercial world would never [have to deal with]."
Sweeney also says he's noticed distinct differences between the government's RFID implementation strategy and private industry's, which he views as haphazard. "Wal- Mart has been a textbook example of how to publicize the technology, but their execution, processes and methodology have been [flawed]," he says. "The DOD has been a fantastic contrast to that. There's a dramatic difference between using physics and science [at the DOD] versus using trial and error."