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by Scott R. Gourley

The United States Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Supply Chain Integration is calling for an industry summit focused on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies.

“The new [U.S. Department of Defense] policy will require suppliers to put passive RFID tags on the lowest possible piece part/case/pallet packaging by January 2005.”

The one day summit, now planned for 2 December 2003 at the Hyatt Fair Lakes (Fairfax, Virginia), is being held to provide Department of Defense representatives with the opportunity to “explain their RFID Policy and solicit
feedback from defense suppliers. Specific topics to be discussed will include the RFID Policy, standards, piece part/case/pallet level marking, and timeline for implementation and compliance. The summit will provide industry an opportunity to participate in the creation of DoD’s RFID policy.”

RFID-equipped systems carry data in transponders, which are known as “tags.” The data is then retrieved, by machine-readable means, at a suitable time and place to satisfy particular application needs. In addition to the “tag” component, a complete RFID system requires a means for reading (also known as “interrogating”) the tags to obtain the stored data as well as some means of communicating the tag data to a DoD logistics information system.

Although the pending summit itself is being closed to media, several recent documents and release announcements provide an overview of pending program activities.

On 23 October 2003, DoD representatives formally announced the establishment of a new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) policy. According to that announcement, “RFID technology greatly improves the management of inventory by providing hands-off processing. The equipment quickly accounts for and identifies massive inventories, enhancing the processing of materiel transactions to allow DoD to realign resources and streamline business processes. Implementation of RFID minimizes time spent through the normal means of inventory processing. This technology allows the improvement of data quality, items management, asset visibility, and maintenance of materiel. Further, RFID will enable DoD to improve business functions and facilitate all aspects of the DoD supply chain.”

The new policy will require DoD suppliers to put passive RFID tags on the lowest possible piece part/case/pallet packaging by January 2005. The policy, together with the corresponding RFID tagging/labeling of DoD materiel, will be applicable to all items except bulk commodities such as sand, gravel or liquids.

In acknowledging the impact of the new policy on DoD suppliers, Department of Defense representatives originally announced “plans to host an RFID Summit for Industry in February 2004. The RFID policy and implementation strategy will be finalized by June 2004.”

It now appears that the program is moving too quickly for that original summit date.

Although the policy was not formally announced until 23 October, the DoD memorandum establishing the policy is actually dated three weeks earlier, on 2 October 2003.

Signed by Michael W. Wynne, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, the memorandum establishes initial policy guidance “and initiates a strategy to take maximum advantage of the inherent life-cycle asset management efficiencies that can be realized with integration of RFID throughout DoD.”

“Within the collective suite of Automatic Identification Technology (AIT) applications, RFID is a family of technologies that enables hands-off processing of materiel transactions,” the memo explains. “Employment of RFID allows us to re-apportion critical manpower resources to warfighting functions and to streamline our business processes, in partnership with industry,that will benefit both of our enterprises.”

The complete memorandum includes an attachment providing add

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