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Hellenic Army Finds Reduction in Time and Cost With RFID in Supply Chain

By Claire Swedberg
The Greek military has been testing the technology for the past year across four ports, with active RFID tags on containers, pallets, boxes and some equipment, in order to gain better visibility into the shipping process.

A research team of the land forces of the Hellenic (Greek) Army, under the supervision of its Logistics Department, has completed RFID technology testing to monitor the flow of materials and spare parts in its supply chain. The team found multiple benefits, ranging from full visibility of assets through the supply chain to a reduction in inventory time, the need for safety stock and accounting errors. The Hellenic Army now intends to further expand the technology's use throughout its entire supply chain. Testing found that the Army was able to reduce inventory collection time by 90 percent, decrease shipping times, cut errors in half and lower the amount of all its accounting procedures.

The team consists of Col. Theodoros Zikos, program and project manager, and Lts. Nikolaos Karamperas and Dimitrios Zaires, both project researchers. Karamperas described the project at this year's RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, held in Orlando, Fla. The Hellenic Army is one of three divisions of Greece's military, along with the Hellenic Navy and Hellenic Air Force, and is the largest of the three. The Army is the lead nation of the Balkans Battle Group, with a mission of defending Greece's independence and integrity. Its supplies include heavy equipment and weaponry, mostly from foreign manufacturers in Germany, France, the United States and other countries.

Theodoros Zikos
Last year, the agency began researching and testing active RFID to provide oversight of its global defense supply chain, and to gain efficiency both in military operations and at its supply depot. The long-term goal is for RFID technology to be implemented throughout the Hellenic Military Logistics System.

With the testing, Zikos says, the department wanted to first study how well the technology could ensure the availability of materials that war fighters needed, and thereby improve overall operational readiness. "That means [having supplies] in the right place at the right time, with the best conditions," he states. The trial, which took place between June 2017 and January 2018, initially covered shipments between the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki.

Without RFID, the Army still has a clear understanding of the initial orders placed for goods and the billing required once those goods are delivered. However, the intermediate activities involved in transporting the materials were difficult to view, especially in real time.

There were reasons why RFID seemed like a good solution for the Hellenic Army, Zikos says. As a NATO member with bilateral agreements with the U.S. Army, it receives goods from the U.S. Department of Defense's Foreign Military Sales program and the U.S. Army Security Assistant Command. In the latter case, he notes, RFID tags are already being applied to containers, so incorporating an RFID reader infrastructure into its own processes could help the Hellenic Army take advantage of technology already in place.

The Army wanted a system that would provide visibility, not only into the transportation and status of goods, but also into efficiency at trade-off points, where goods are received and sent. It also sought to understand whether supply and demand were properly balanced, and to share that data with both suppliers and military units. Finally, the Army needed to provide the necessary data to authorized parties within the organization.

The study began as a process focusing on containers and where demand was low. First, the Army used existing RFID tags on containers and also applied tags on untagged containers at the time of shipping. It employed Savi Technology ST-656-030 433 MHz active RFID tags. "The tagging process is gradual," Zikos explains, "in order to be able to be integrated more smoothly into the existing monitoring system and be assimilated from the procedures used."

Personnel then utilized Intermec 751G mobile computers connected to Savi Mobile SMR-650 readers to capture tag ID numbers provided by the research team and only as a research procedure for quality assurance. At first, tags coming into Athens were interrogated. That data was captured, interpreted and then forwarded to warehouse managers so that they had updated information about which goods had arrived or had been shipped from its site.

If a tagged truck container was empty and being prepared for reuse, the tags were reprogrammed with data regarding new shipments, with tag IDs linked with information about the goods loaded into the container. In the meantime, some goods received at Athens were forwarded to Thessaloniki, and the tags were read at that receiving location.

All data captured by the reader was forwarded to the Army's appropriate unit. There, the status of the goods connected to each tag ID was updated with its own management software. The containers or pallets could then be shipped back to Athens for reuse, where the tag would be reprogrammed.

"The trial results were successful," Zikos says, "and the next move was to test the RFID system on a larger scale." At that point, the agency applied more tags to goods, including pallets, and then boxes, and expanded the system infrastructure to a larger supply stream: beyond Thessaloniki to the cities of Xanthi and Alexandroupolis.

"The [technology test] results were positive," Zikos reports, "giving us the possibility to expand the network in more units in the near future." In addition to cutting inventory counting time by 90 percent, he says, lead time (the amount of time required for dispatch and delivery) was reduced by 50 percent, since the data could be captured and stored automatically. The team assumes safety stock could be cut by 10 percent since the Army had a more reliable inventory county, though that rate still remains to be verified. Finally, the incidence of errors causing supplies to be omitted from a shipment, or to be sent to the wrong location, was decreased by 60 percent.

In the long run, Zikos says, the use of RFID "can lead to the saving of financial resources," as well as increased efficiency and operational readiness. These factors, he notes, "are particularly critical in today's global geopolitical and strategic environment." Zikos predicts that the technology will give the Army "the opportunity to think leaner and with more agility, according to the contemporary military logistics theater of operations."

According to Zikos, the Army has designed the next phase of the testing to incorporate GPS data with the RFID technology, enabling it to better understand where tags are read (using GPS built into moving trucks). It plans to continue managing the movement of goods through the Athens, Thessaloniki, Xanthi and Alexandroupolis ports.

The Army has begun evaluating all available alternative options, Zikos says, including the current trends in RFID technology, so it can select a solution that can be tailored to its own requirements. "In general terms," he states, "we want to optimize our operational capability according to the international standards of military logistics."