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RFID marches on at the DOD

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is expanding its use of radio-frequency identification technology for military use in the American armed forces. The DC Velocity website reported in early November that by late September, the DOD had equipped 19 defense distribution centers with RFID-capable readers and has already begun to accept shipments supplied with RFID tags.

ODIN Technologies (www.odintechnologies.com), Dulles, VA., installed RFID hardware under a $7.7-million DOD contract that it was awarded in May, with the company proclaiming that it completed the RFID installation in just under 130 days. That's considered an industry record, the report says, even though each site required extensive acceptance testing before the equipment was approved for use. Notes Patrick Sweeney, ODIN's chief executive officer, "We had to demonstrate 100-percent accuracy on read rates at the case level before we could get paid for each portal. Each portal had to read twenty different Gen One and Gen Two tags on the pallet at 100-percent levels. We were required to do ten trials of acceptance testing for each pallet. It's more complex than Wal-Mart, which is just trying to read one pallet tag."

In September, the DOD began issuing contracts for deliveries of products that include a requirement for passive RFID tags on cartons and pallets, according to a report in Modern Materials Handling Magazine. The first shipments began arriving at Defense Distribution Depots in Susquehanna, PA, and San Joaquin, CA, last January. But the program is quickly rolling out beyond those two sites, and by Jan. 1, 2007, all DOD manufacturers and suppliers will be required to use RFID tags on all shipments. The transition has apparently been a smooth one.

Implementing the technology is becoming easier than it was when Wal-Mart's top 100 suppliers began working with RFID technology—a result of experience and lessons learned by early adopters and new Gen 2 standards for passive RFID in the supply chain. What's more, the DOD gained experience working with RFID through strategic relationships with its key suppliers prior to an official rollout, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Electric. "The technology is just more robust," says Damon Bramble of Alien Technology (www.alientechnology.com), which the report indicates has developed an RFID program to help small companies understand and comply with the DOD's requirements.

The Navy and Air Force are also getting on the RFID bandwagon, says Greg O'Connell, manager of government sales for Zebra Technologies.

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