Magazine Article | September 1, 2004

2-D Bar Code Labels Improve Military Cargo Tracking

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, September 2004

The Virginia-based Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC) provides seaport management services for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) at 24 ocean ports throughout the world. Through its Worldwide Port System (WPS), MTMC uses Military Shipping Labels (MSLs) to track military cargo being shipped through the port and has been using the MSLs since the mid-1980s. As 2-D bar code technology has evolved, the DoD found a way to take advantage of the technology's capabilities without reconfiguring all of its existing hardware and software.

In the past, the MSLs included one-dimensional bar-coded Transportation Control Numbers, which 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. This process required personnel to scan the cargo outside, take the scanner back to the cargo documentation office, and load the information into the system. Personnel would then print paper reports, identify problems, correct them in the system, print labels, and go back outside to attach the labels to the cargo.

"Although that was an improvement over a totally manual process," says Chris Easton, WPS team leader for Automatic Identification Technologies (AIT), "scanning linear bar-coded labels still required significant resources to track and manage cargo coming in and out."

To make the process more efficient, MTMC added a standard PDF 417 2-D bar code to the MSL, in addition to the linear bar code. The 2-D bar code can be expanded horizontally and vertically, which allows more data to be encoded, but the bar code keeps a width that is easily scanned. MTMC uses 2-D scanners to download detailed cargo information and print the corrected data-rich 2-D labels with the PT403 mobile printer from Zebra Technologies International (Vernon Hills, IL). Now MTMC's cargo checking operation can be performed in one step at the cargo site. "The new process, which allows users to correct labeling as problems are identified, is a step forward in saving labor and increasing accuracy," says Easton.