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By Scott R. Gourley

On 11 January 2005, WhereNet Corporation (Santa Clara, California), announced the deployment of their standards-based WhereNet(r) real time locating system (RTLS) technology at Tobyhanna Army Depot. The Pennsylvania depot, which represents the first U.S. Army facility to test RTLS technology, will use the radio frequency identification (RFID) system to track and streamline the full-service repair and overhaul of the AN/TRC-170 microwave radio and AN/TPS-75 radar antenna system.

About every five years, radar antenna systems need to be refurbished. The systems are shipped to the Tobyhanna depot, where each system is disassembled, repaired, and tested before being shipped out to the field again – a labor-intensive process that can take 12-15 months. With assemblies, sub-assemblies, components, and spare parts spread across the more than 2-million-square-foot refurbishment areas, the RTLS technology will provide each work center with visibility of the antenna system’s work in process.

The application of the RFID system by Tobyhanna Army Depot reflects the Department of Defense mandate to develop and use automatic identification technology (AIT).

“We are constantly researching and testing advanced technologies to ensure the readiness of our Armed Forces,” said Ronald Rains, AIT coordinator, Research and Analysis Division, Tobyhanna Army Depot “Wireless location-based technology is particularly intriguing given its success associated with productivity gains in commercial environments. We look forward to evaluating automatic identification technology in particular and providing a cost-benefit analysis to determine future use of the technology in support of our Armed Forces.”

While RFID technologies have been around for more than two decades, the WhereNet system claims uniqueness is providing a “locatable, active, RFID system.” Also known by the industry-coined term of real time location system (RTLS), the system can pinpoint the “X” and “Y” location of a specific item to within 10 feet over extremely large areas. By comparison, more traditional RFID systems are “portal based,” in that items are identified as they pass selected sensor portals. In the Tobyhanna scenario, a portal-based RFID system could identify that a particular item had entered a certain building, expanse, or yard at the depot. An RTLS locatable, active, RFID system provides real time information on an asset location to an accuracy of 10 feet.

Elements of the WhereNet RTLS include: WhereTag(tm) transmitter; WhereLAN(tm) locating sensors; and WherePort(tm) devices.

Tobyhanna personnel will now assign an active RFID WhereTag(tm) transmitter to items ranging from components to complete systems. The wireless WhereLAN(tm) locating sensors and WherePort(tm) devices will trigger each WhereTag to emit a signal when entering or leaving a specific work center. The system automatically records information such as arrival, dwell, and departure time.

Industry sources note that the real time radar component location accuracy of RTLS will improve efficiencies, cut costs, and increase quality of the depot overhaul process.

They describe the locatable RTLS as “the last frontier of the enterprise,” where information systems connect both the people who are tasked with managing assets and the actual mobile assets in real time.

“The Tobyhanna evaluation deployment is just one of several DOD and homeland security initiatives that we are currently engaged in with the federal government,” said Matt Armanino, senior vice president of corporate development for WhereNet. “The daily logistics challenges facing Tobyhanna are not unlike those encountered by our dozens of private enterprise customers. As we have proven with those customers, WhereNet is ideal for providing location-based solutions that automate and optimize time-critical, labor-intensive processes in high-volume, high-velocity industrial env

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