If you want to supply products to the DoD, printing accurate RFID labels for shipments is the easy part of meeting their DFARS (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement) compliance requirements. The challenge is matching each shipment to the contract number and order, generating the correct documentation, and submitting it electronically to the DoD's computer systems. ReadyOne Industries, Inc. realized this obstacle when, a month before its first lot inspection, it discovered its existing RFID system couldn't verify the tags or easily upload the information.
ReadyOne, a nonprofit garment and corrugated products manufacturer in El Paso, TX, has supplied the DoD with products since 1995. Its main business is producing different types of military uniforms. The organization is a participant in the U.S. government's AbilityOne program. This program's mission is to provide employment opportunities for the blind and severely disabled to deliver products and services to the federal government.
ReadyOne had purchased and installed an RFID system about a year before it was required to implement the DoD's RFID requirements. The manufacturer has three product lines that require RFID labels on the case and pallet level and another product line that requires RFID labels on the unit, case, and pallet level. Unfortunately, the system sat idle after it was installed, and those involved with the system had moved on by the time ReadyOne needed to use it. "With the old system, we couldn't easily upload the RFID information into the DoD's VIM-ASAP [Virtual Item Manager — ARN Supply-chain Automated Processing] or WAWF [wide area workflow] programs," explains Terry Givens, logistics and RFID manager for ReadyOne.
VIM-ASAP is a system specific to the DLA's (Defense Logistics Agency) Apparel Research Network and DSCP (Defense Supply Center Philadelphia). All manufacturers use this system to accept and handle electronic contracts, prepare and print all shipping documents (i.e. packing slips, shipment labels, and container labels), transmit invoices, and monitor payments.
Work With Vendor Partners For Custom RFID Solutions
ReadyOne contacted the system provider for help when it realized the old RFID system wouldn't pass the upcoming inspection. The provider told Givens is would take six weeks to provide a quote to fix the system, and it could not be fixed remotely. "I had only four weeks until our first lot inspection and five shipments in process; we needed a new system very quickly," details Givens.
Givens worked with the IT manager to find a new system and provider. They found Odyssey RFID, which specializes in RFID systems for the DoD. ReadyOne conducted a phone interview with Odyssey and walked through a demo of the new system. "The key for us was Odyssey's ability to implement the system and have us up and running within our timeline," says Givens. ReadyOne's first lot inspection was April 5, 2007, and Odyssey had the new RFID system in place two weeks prior to that.
For the first two weeks, ReadyOne ran Odyssey's RFID 4DoD service. This Web-based application enabled the manufacturer to manage all its data and interface with the DoD systems. All the RFID tags were printed at Odyssey's office and overnighted to ReadyOne.
After the initial shipments were inspected and approved, ReadyOne installed its own RFID hardware. A Zebra R110Xi printer/encoder was installed along with an Alien Technology ALR9780 reader and antenna. At this point, ReadyOne had 10 shipments in production. Each shipment consists of 35 pallets that require 19 RFID tags per pallet. "I took about 7 hours one Saturday producing between six and seven thousand tags to catch up with our production," states Givens.
The initial product lines ReadyOne shipped required 4-by-2-inch tags at the case and pallet level. Three months later, the organization began shipping another product line that required 4-by-6-inch tags at the unit level. At this point, the manufacturer installed a second Zebra printer and another antenna.
The biggest challenge of the entire project was training the employees on the new system. "We were going so fast to get the system up and running, we had to step back and slow down to train our people," continues Givens. A key part of the training was the location of the tags. Givens physically showed the employees where on each case and pallet the tags had to be located.
Training was also required to upload the data to the DoD's VIM and WAWF. What would have been a manual FTP (file transfer protocol) of data to the system is now point and click. "In our new system, a person can log on, check the box for each pallet in the shipment, and click a button. The system sends the advance shipping notice to the contracting officer and the RFID data to the VIM or WAWF," explains Givens.
ReadyOne's main concern with the new RFID system was the tags not reading properly at the depots when the shipments were received. To date, the organization has not had one shipment rejected because of an RFID tag not reading. "Our new system takes care of all the requirements that the RFID DFARS clause incorporates into any contract," says Givens.