DoD Supplier Takes Integrated Approach to Satisfy UID and RFID Labeling Needs
Gyrocam Systems, which had no barcode or RFID experience, found itself having to simultaneously comply with the U.S. Department of Defense's Unique Identification (UID) 2D product marking and RFID shipment labeling requirements. The company found a common printing and software platform that minimized implementation cost, simplified integration, and reliably met both labeling needs.
Gyrocam Systems, LLC is the industry leader in ground and airborne surveillance solutions for law enforcement and homeland security, and the only FAA-certified provider of fully integrated and installed systems. The U.S. military makes extensive use of Gyrocam's systems, which can read a license plate number from thousands of feet away, or detect an improvised explosive device (IED) from a surveillance vehicle at a safe distance. As a result, Gyrocam's solutions provide commanders and their forces with the flexibility to complete missions safely and successfully. Because Gyrocam's high-performance, leading-edge products are essential to many military operations, the U.S. Department of Defense included Gyrocam Systems in both its Unique Identification (UID) and radio frequency identification (RFID) programs.
Gyrocam Systems had no previous experience with bar coding or RFID, causing the company to investigate, specify and install two completely different labeling systems to comply with MIL-STD-129 and -130, while it was also working to fulfill major new DoD contracts.
Gyrocam teamed with Zebra Technologies, A2B Tracking Solutions and epcSolutions to help the U.S. military see even more clearly—with UID and RFID labeling systems that create visibility for shipments, products and components.
Gyrocam first had to meet the UID requirement, which calls for suppliers to apply a permanent Data Matrix two-dimensional barcode on parts and components. The barcode is encoded according to UID marking standards and provides unique, lifetime identification for maintenance management, asset tracking and other applications. Producing symbols that will remain readable through the item's life cycle is often a challenge.
Six separate UID marks are needed for each product Gyrocam supplies the DoD—five components are individually identified, plus the finished product. Fortunately for Gyrocam, all the items can be identified with a durable synthetic label, so the company does not have to use more expensive and time consuming direct part marking (DPM) methods.
To comply quickly, Gyrocam outsourced its UID label production to A2B Tracking Solutions, a leading specialist in the UID field. A2B Tracking Solutions can manage all aspects of UID labeling, including designing the barcode, choosing the marking method, and providing software to gather information needed from enterprise systems to produce the label and meet the UID program data reporting requirements.
"After the third order it was clear there was an ongoing UID need.We explained to Gyrocam that it would be more cost-effective for them to put their own system in place," says Brad Smith of A2B Tracking Solutions. "Gyrocam Systems was a perfect candidate for in-house UID printing because they could use a durable polyester thermal transfer label material on their items."
After carefully evaluating the materials that require a UID mark and their usage conditions, A2B Tracking Solutions recommended Zebra® Z-Ultimate® label material and 105SL™ thermal transfer printer. Z-Ultimate is polyester media that includes a permanent adhesive and protec¬tive facestock that makes it suitable for lifetime identification in indoor and outdoor environ¬ments. Labels as small as 1.25-by-0.25- inches are available, but Gyrocam uses 1-by-3-inch labels because there is plenty of room on its components and products to carry the UID symbol.
The all-metal 105SL printer is rugged enough for use in the factory and precise enough to print compact, high-quality Data Matrix 2-D barcodes that UID marking requires. The 105SL is fully compatible with wired or wireless networks and has many features to provide maximum performance, reliability and uptime.
A2B's UID Comply!™ software drives the label generation process and also manages electronic data submission to the DoD. Using a PC next to the barcode label printer, Gyrocam workers follow simple on-screen prompts to enter basic information about the order. The UID Comply! software then automatically performs database lookups, creates records that associate components with the finished product, calculates the UID symbol data and directs printing of a properly formatted UID barcode. The software also extracts and formats the information needed to report to the DoD and can automatically make the submission.
On the other side of the PC sits a Zebra R110Xi™ printer/encoder, which Gyrocam uses to produce the RFID smart labels required on its shipping containers. The PC runs RFIDTagManager™ for DoD software that epcSolutions developed to automate RFID labeling operations. To meet DoD reporting requirements, A2B and epcSolutions collaborated on a solution that integrates UID Comply! with RFIDTagManager to allow UID and RFID data to be included in a single submission to the DoD.
"The R110Xi could have been used to produce UID and RFID labels, but ultimately that wouldn't have been efficient," explains Smith. "Workers would have had to swap and load media every time they changed over from printing UID to RFID smart labels. That's not best for productivity. If they'd forget to change media, there would be waste from having to reproduce the labels printed on the wrong media. Overall it was most cost effective to have separate printers that were optimized for each type of labeling."
Gyrocam applies the "child" format of UID labels to components during production. Sometimes the company has to wait for a component to arrive from a supplier before it can complete assembly of a finished product. In these situations it may apply UID labels to the other components ahead of time so it can complete final assembly as soon as the final component arrives. The "parent" UID label is then applied to the finished product, which are packed six per container, for shipment to the DoD.
At this point, the integrated software collects UID data to produce a MIL-STD-129-compliant RFID shipping label. The software applications submit UID data to the DoD's IUID Registry, and RFID information to the DoD's Wide Area Workflow (WAWF) tracking system.
"The thing that stands out most about this implementation is how quickly Gyrocam's users picked up on it," says Smith. "They were up, running and producing UID and RFID labels within an hour of the training session, and haven't had problems since."
Working with A2B and epcSolutions, and the reliability from the Zebra printers, we were able to meet our DoD compliance requirements ahead of schedule and have a system in place very quickly.
Fast Track Convenience stores have expanded options and access significantly for those at customer locations. Sterling estimates that Fast Track stores sell more than double what vending machines yielded at the same locations—and offer larger, more varied items. At once, some facilities eliminated a money-losing staffed location as they added convenience for customers.
Second and third shift employees at a hospital can purchase fresh foods, instead of just vending machine items, after the coffee shop closes at 7 p.m. With around-the-clock access, monthly sales increased from about $3,000 to $8,000 at the Fast Track store.
Ford Motor Company also swapped vending machines with a store in one building, giving Ford a very low-cost way to offer lunch and snack items to employees who would otherwise have to leave by car.
Fast Track Convenience also made an impression with students at a local high school. In fact, the store became so popular, with hundreds of purchases per day, that the school added a second kiosk to keep lines short.
While Fast Track was already profitable for Sterling, the move to Zebra printers decreases the company's costs while increasing efficiency. Over a year, Sterling saves thousands of dollars in tag costs. Rapid batch printing also reduces the time to prepare labels each day by one to two hours, which improves labor costs.
Next, Sterling will add another Zebra printer at its food production facility so that items go directly from there to locations, increasing freshness. Already, the company has seen the payoff of the new printer.
"At our volume, the printer delivered a return on investment in less than six months," McGlathery said. "We're very, very happy with the new addition to our processes and it's having a major impact on the way we do business."