U.S. military relies on Zebra for visibility to keep equipment shipments on track

Posted August 5, 2010

Zebra Thermal Printers

Challenge
As military personnel continue to carry out the mission known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” innumerable amounts of material, from food to ammunition to spare parts, need to follow the troops wherever they go. This would be a tough situation for any supply chain, but add to it the austere conditions of the Iraqi desert.

The Department of Defense (DoD) needed a portable system that its movement control teams (MCT) within the transportation movement battalion could use at the point of activity to monitor and report material receipt and shipment, as well as correct any problems regarding shipment identification.

Solution
The DoD turned to Zebra Technologies to create a mobile material tracking system. What resulted was the deployable asset visibility system (DAVS), a self-contained mobile system that utilizes mobile computers plus bar code and radio frequency identification (RFID) to track assets throughout the transportation process. Using this system, soldiers have immediate access to the data necessary to create a new military shipping label or rewrite a tag. Should communication with the DoD host server be necessary, a satellite-based messaging and routing system works with the mobile unit to do the job. The DAVS system also enables the MCT to monitor receipt and shipping, plus correct problems that would otherwise delay the shipment.

Before DAVS, there was no way for the Army to keep track out there. There were no communications available. When a shipment came through that was missing a label or needed to be redirected, it was deemed ‘frustrated’ and would end up in a frustrated yard until someone figured out what to do with it. Now, nothing sits as soldiers use the mobile system to access data from either a tag or server and make the critical changes that will keep that material moving.

When a new barcode label is warranted, soldiers send the command to a Zebra Technologies mobile thermal transfer printer, which fits easily in the one-case solution.

After scanning bar codes or reading RFID tags, the soldier uses the hand held computer to match the data collected and applicable logistics report(s) with a GPS/MGRS grid position. Then, the data and text is transmitted to the messaging system using the satellite modem. The soldier also may message or transfer data files directly to any other DAVS unit, allowing case-to-case communications.

The messaging system, in turn, processes the data/report and sends a formatted data message to the RFID in-transit visibility server and joint deployment logistics module, giving full visibility to the status of shipments, convoys, rail cars, passengers, inventory, and supplies.

The system featured some solutions already being employed within the military, including Zebra printers and Savi RFID systems, which was a major plus for the DoD, according to a subject matter expert within the DoD. “For this reason, DAVS was able to be incorporated into existing processes with a smaller learning curve than would be required of other systems.”

The Zebra printer is rugged, but it’s also in wide use in other DoD systems, so they are very familiar with Zebra.

The Zebra mobile thermal printer can produce long-lasting military shipping labels and other labels up to four inches wide with linear and two-dimensional (2-D) bar codes. It is made from durable plastic and rubber for reliable use in challenging mobile environments, and features a variety of accessories for convenient use.

Results
Now, no assets critical to the Operation Iraqi Freedom mission are left sitting in times of military need. The MCTs currently are using 18 DAVS to keep material on the move. Future plans call for the deployment of many more units.

The Air Force is also looking into using a similar system for its rapid deployments.

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