Defence RFID deployment hits snag

Defence RFID deployment hits snag

Summary: Australian Defence Force (ADF) plans to use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to monitor consignments to troops in Iraq have been delayed for about six months due to difficulties with the project software. The ADF had planned to deploy several hundred RFID-tagged pallets and containers to Iraq by March as part of plans to enhance the monitoring and utilisation of its assets.

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Australian Defence Force (ADF) plans to use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to monitor consignments to troops in Iraq have been delayed for about six months due to difficulties with the project software.

The ADF had planned to deploy several hundred RFID-tagged pallets and containers to Iraq by March as part of plans to enhance the monitoring and utilisation of its assets. However, Brigadier David McGahey, director general of material information systems at the ADF, told ZDNet Australia the capacity and replication problems would see containers shipped to the Middle East without the tags until late July or early August.

The tags are expected to store and transmit information such as maintenance and repair scheduling of Defence property inside the containers and on the pallets.

Brigadier David McGahey, director general of material information systems at the ADF

Despite the difficulties, tags were still being installed in 32 Defence distribution sites around Australia so tagged containers could be sent to Iraq once the software was ready, according to McGahey.

"We're putting all the hardware in place so that once we resolve the replication issue, we'll be fine," he said.

McGahey said the system -- which included an in-transit visibility (ITV) application and a SQL Server platform -- worked fine in the pilot phase, but when it was forced to handle a number of data input sources and different levels of replication, it couldn't cope.

"We had to re-engineer it, it was a volume issue. There were too many inputs for the system, and it slowed down."

When the deployment is finally green-lit, the ITV graphical user interface will allow Defence logistics staff to view RFID-tagged pallets and containers throughout Iraq from Australia. The ITV provides a link between the RFID tags and readers and the Defence Mincom enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Defence was now reviewing its network topology to iron out any difficulties.

"We've been redesigning ITV so we get better system performance," Brigadier McGahey said. "In some cases you want data replicated every 30 seconds, sometimes you want it every week, so it's about getting the right mix between SQL Server and ITV," he said.

In the meantime, Defence troops in Iraq continue to use the current barcode-based cargo visibility system.

In Australia, Defence was currently conducting RFID pilots focusing on tagging individual items, said McGahey. These included tagging parachutes, where the tags would store data on the chute's history, repair, maintenance and inspection details. Around 1,000 Defence warehouse staff have had their regular training programs expanded to accommodate RFID, as the technology is expected to help stocktaking in warehouse operations.

However the wide array of pilots didn't mean the technology would necessarily be used everywhere in Defence, according to McGahey.

"The question is where are the winners? We're not buying technology for technology's sake. If there's an item that's fairly static and not too complex, barcodes will probably do."

Defence's first return on investment study on RFID will be completed later this month, said McGahey, with more to come. These included evaluating a range of RFID devices that had been deployed in the pilots.

"[The reports] will be relatively influential in regards to the support of our operations.

"We want better visibility of our asset and inventory management."

Another factor Defence may have to factor is United States (US) defence contractor Lockheed Martin's announcement of its intention to acquire Savi Technology, the major supplier of RFID tags to the US, United Kingdom and Australian defence forces.

McGahey said he did not anticipate any complications arising from the pending acquisition.

Topics: Government, Consumerization, Enterprise Software, Government AU, Security

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  • RFID: reading indivudual tag on parachute

    you said (In Australia) Defence was currently conducting RFID pilots focusing on tagging individual items, including tagging parachutes, where the tags would store data on the chute's history, repair, maintenance and inspection details.
    I am currently seeking to use RFID to track individual parachtes. Can you tell me your findings - with particlar interest in reading individual tag on parachutes? Where did you place tag? What material did you use for RFID tag? Successful?
    anonymous