Small Mobile Printers Make Big Difference for Tracking Government Port Activity

Posted July 14, 2010

Zebra Mobile Printers

When the Department of Defense (DoD) was looking for new bar code label and receipt printing solutions for a wide variety of demanding applications, Zebra Technologies clearly stood out from its competitors. Zebra’s line of rugged, mobile, and easy-to-use printers and accessories provided the speed, power, and durability that the DoD’s various agencies needed.

One of the agencies currently using Zebra® printers is the Virginia-based Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC), which provides worldwide single-port management, transportation and traffic-management services, and deployment planning and engineering for the DoD.

MTMC has used the Worldwide Port System (WPS) to account for military cargo being shipped around the world through water ports. This Automated Information System(AIS) supports MTMC units operating in both domestic and overseas water terminals.

An early proponent of the use of bar coded labels, the DoD has utilized Military Shipping Labels (MSLs) to label its unit equipment being transported around the world since the mid-1980s. The label included a linear bar coded Transportation Control Number, which functioned as the number by which cargo is tracked. Labels were scanned when cargo arrived at or left one of MTMC’s water ports, or when it was lifted or discharged from a military-owned or leased ship. Although this was an improvement over a totally manual process, scanning linear bar coded labels still required significant human resources to track and manage cargo coming in and out of its ports around the world.

However, as two-dimensional (2-D) bar code technology evolved, the DoD wanted to find a way to take advantage of its capabilities without reconfiguring all of its existing hardware and software. The answer lay in the creation and application of a standard data rich PDF 417 2-D bar code to the MSL, in addition to the existing linear bar code.

Zebra Printers Offer Big Advantages

The use of Zebra printers is a key component in allowing MTMC to improve its business processes by better managing its cargo. New 2D barcode scanners have allowed detailed cargo data to be downloaded into the new scanners, so it is available to the user outdoors where the cargo is located. This capability, coupled with the ability to carry a small Zebra mobile printer, allows DoD personnel to correct documentation problems outside while receiving equipment and to reprint labels on the spot. When cargo arrives at one of their water ports, they should know what’s coming to the port through advanced information passed to them by the shipper. They need to be able to verify that each piece is properly documented and labeled. That information is critical to properly stowing the equipment aboard ship.

The old process required personnel to scan all the unit equipment outside, then take the scanner back to the cargo documentation office, load the information into the system, print paper reports, identify problems, correct them in the system, print labels, and go back outside to attach the labels to the cargo.

The new process, which allows the user to correct labeling problems as problems are identified, is a tremendous step forward in saving labor and increasing accuracy. In short, these new processes provide for one-stop shopping in correcting critical documentation problems, and the Zebra® printer is a key player.

Zebra’s mobile printers allow MTMC personnel to print corrected data-rich 2-D labels from the 2-D scanners. These scanners allow the cargo checker to solve the problem immediately by correcting the data in the scanner and printing new labels. In addition, labels can be created for equipment by querying the data in the scanner, then printing. Easton says that the Zebra mobile printer is easy to use, extremely rugged, and works with MTMC’s existing hardware and software, requiring no code modification.

MTMC is in the process of fielding the printers worldwide. A truly global agency, MTMC handles cargo at a cadre of 24 ocean ports in locations throughout Europe, Southwest Asia, the Pacific Rim, and the United States. WPS is also used by the Navy to support 10 additional water ports overseas.

In addition to these ports, MTMC and the Navy can establish operations at any port where ocean cargo documentation support is needed. In all, there are over 90 deployable units or sites using WPS. With such diverse needs and geographical boundaries, it’s no wonder that Zebra printers have been such a huge success for MTMC.

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