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RFID deadline hits defense industry

Starting Monday, military suppliers must agree to RFID clause in new contracts.

The U.S. military is taking a step forward in its adoption of radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology to track supplies, and new regulations kick in for suppliers on Monday.

Starting on that day, certain suppliers to the U.S. Defense Department must include in new contracts an agreement to attach RFID tags to shipments of goods to two major military distribution centers. The order, which the agency announced in September, applies specifically to packaged rations, clothing, personal-care items and weapon system repair parts shipped to supply depots in Susquehanna, Pa., and San Joaquin, Calif.

The deadline is the Defense Department's latest move in its push to use RFID to streamline the delivery of supplies to military forces abroad. A previous deadline called for certain suppliers to attach RFID tags to shipping cases and palettes starting last January. This latest rule calls for case-level tagging as well as electronic advance shipment notices that correspond with data on tags.

RFID equipment suppliers say the deadline should be good for business. "Obviously this is a growth opportunity for us," said Phil Lazo, vice president and general manager of RFID infrastructure at Symbol Technologies, a supplier of RFID tags and readers.

The company sells an RFID starter-pack that includes tags, handheld readers and middleware from a partner. Suppliers can write the cost of complying with the Defense Department order into their contracts, Lazo said.

RFID technology involves the wireless monitoring of objects via radio signals. Recent advances in the design of RFID systems and in data standards have sparked a new wave of interest and investment in the technology. In addition to the military, such retail giants as Wal-Mart Stores and Target are incorporating RFID into their distribution centers to streamline the flow of merchandise.

The military's goal is to more closely monitor the distribution and consumption of supplies, such as ammunition and fuel, to reduce loss and waste.