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Tracking Technology Improves Sustainment
Air Force Materiel Command is taking advantage of Automatic
Identification Technology and finding ways to improve it.
By Capt. Paul Baldwin / Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, Aug. 23, 2006 – Air Force Materiel Command is taking advantage of Automatic Identification Technology and finding ways to improve it.

Logistics and depot maintenance experts demonstrated some cutting-edge tracking technology projects during an Automatic Identification Technology Showcase Aug. 15 attended by many of Air Force Materiel Command’s senior people.

The showcase featured a variety of projects that advance the goals of Air Force Smart Operations 21, the Air Force-wide program for continuous process improvement, within the maintenance and sustainment arena.

"Each individual box or product containing a bar code no longer has to be individually scanned. As soon as the products with passive RFID tags are in range of the scanner they are logged into a database."

Michael H. Bigbee, vice president

“We had a unique opportunity to present our projects to a small, focused senior-level audience and explain the benefits, features, and return on investment,” said Kelley Beerbower, program manager for depot maintenance automatic identification initiatives.

“We were able to give them the right technical and programmatic personnel to answer their questions so they can make informed decisions for the future,” Beerbower noted.

Automatic Identification Technology is used commercially in a variety of ways.  One primary method is Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID.

A radio identification component is usually a small device attached to a product or piece of equipment that transmits data.

Companies use this data to track products, restock inventories or locate equipment.

Companies also use bar codes to make supply processes more efficient. Nearly every product in a grocery store has a bar code on its label.  Shipping companies, like United Parcel Service, use bar codes to track deliveries, while also allowing customers to track their shipments through the internet. 

Two companies at the AIT Showcase, Global Ranger and Psion Teklogix, recently won a $1.8-million contract from the U. S. Defense Distribution Center to install passive automatic identification software throughout the center’s facilities.

Working together, these two companies expanded upon bar codes by inserting a small inexpensive transmitter in a bar code sticker, which allows centrally located scanners within the warehouse to identify and log in the bar-coded items.

“Each individual box or product containing a bar code no longer has to be individually scanned,” said Michael H. Bigbee, vice president for federal solutions of Global Ranger.

“As soon as the products with passive RFID tags are in range of the scanner they are logged into a database,” he said.

The passive radio identification technology allows the center to track items quicker and more efficiently, which drives down manufacturing costs, reduces inventory and improves processes, said Bigbee.

Automatic Inventory Systems also are changing the way Air Force Materiel Command does business.

Checking out tool kits from a consolidated tool kit facility historically has been a labor-intensive process.  Mechanics had to wait in line at the beginning of a shift, request a tool kit for a particular job, inventory items in the tool kit, and sign for the kit.  A similar process was repeated to return the tool kit.

The AutoLocker-RoboCrib is improving the checkout process.  Already tested and implemented at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and the command’s three air logistic centers, these lockers are making a big impact in accountability, safety and productivity, Beerbower said.

The locker system is as easy as it sounds, said Richard Sleigh, program manager for commercial software, CDO Technologies, Inc.

Tool kits are kept in lockers. To access the correct locker, workers swipe their common access card and input a toolkit code at an attached computer-like terminal. A locker door will open and the worker can simply take the toolkit and head out to the worksite. 

“These provide savings of money, security for equipment, tracking for equipment and reduce toolkit inventory needs,” Beerbower emphasized.

One depot maintenance shop has reduced its toolkit inventory by 64 percent, a reduction of more than $128,000 worth of equipment.

The lockers proved that the shop employees could accomplish tasks with fewer tools on hand, which equates to the huge reductions, she said.

“Autolockers with radio identification technology can track every single tool in the kit automatically when it is scanned back into the locker,” Beerbower explained. “This cuts down on FOD (foreign object destruction) caused by lost objects on aircraft.”

The locker technology is also being used by information technology personnel at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., to secure and update laptop computers. Each locker is equipped with a terminal port and power outlet.

“The locker can automatically refresh laptop software once it is returned,” Sleigh said. “A program installed on the laptop wakes itself up and does all the updates for you.” 

Besides reconfiguring and updating software, the lockers provide security and accountability for the laptops, he noted.

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Jul. 25, 2014
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