Doing business with the U.S. military is unlike working with any other customer. The military operates on a tight schedule and with a rigid set of standards and expectations. There are Numerous suppliers and vendors who would love to work with the military, so if you don’t meet expectations, you could find yourself replaced.
One of the most difficult standards for many vendors is the RFID (radio frequency identification) requirement. Implemented in 2005, the military implemented RFID as a method to streamline their supply chain and bring greater efficiency to their operations. It’s a technology solution that allows the military to track incoming shipments.
While RFID brings valuable benefits to both the military and the supplier, it can also present packaging challenges. It adds a step of complexity to the packaging process. If you aren’t experienced with RFID requirements, it could be easy to overlook this contractual requirement.
Below are a few common questions and answers about the RFID regulation. If you’re a new contractor to the military and are worried about RFID regulations, you may want to consult with an experienced RFID packager. They can help you stay in compliance and maximize your military opportunity.
What is RFID?
RFID stands for radio frequency identification. Essentially, the military requires certain contracts to affix a radio frequency tag(s) to transmit information about a shipping unit(s) /cases contents. Advanced shipment notice is then uploaded or manually entered into iRAPT formerly WAWF. Personnel at military bases can then scan the tags to quickly determine what’s in a package and where the package should be routed. That information can be stored in a database so that the contractor and the military can monitor the supply chain in real time.
There are two types of RFID tags: passive and active. An active tag is one that generates its own radio signal. Active tags typically have a battery as a form of independent power generation.
A passive tag is one that is not battery powered; instead, the power is supplied by the reader. When radio waves from the reader are encountered by a passive RFID tag, the coiled antenna within the tag forms a magnetic field. The tag draws power from it, energizing the circuits in the tag. The tag then sends the information encoded in the tag's memory. You will find typically your contract will require the RFID tags are passive when required.
Who has to use RFID tags?
Your contract with the military should state whether or not you are contractually required to affix RFID tag(s) on your cases, crates, or pallets. However, the Department of Defense Suppliers’ Passive RFID Info Guide also explains requirements for RFID tags.
The requirement largely depends on the types of goods you’re shipping and the base or fulfillment center to which you’re shipping your products. The Info Guide has seven classes of materials that require RFID tags. Those classes cover everything from rations to clothing to construction goods to repair parts and more. If your goods fall into one of those categories, you’ll need to use an RFID tag.
The Info Guide also lists 17 Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) distribution depots and three USTRANSCOM terminals. If you’re shipping goods to any of those centers, your packages will need an RFID tag.
Where should you place the tag?
The location of the tag varies depending on the type of good and the type of container. The general guideline is that you should place the tag on the container where it’s least likely to suffer damage and most likely to be seen and scanned upon the shipment’s arrival.
The DoD does offer some guidelines, however. The RFID shouldn’t be placed over a seam. It also shouldn’t be placed to close to the bottom of a container or pallet. It shouldn’t cover up the shipping label, but it can be adjacent to the label.
If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The guidelines surrounding RFID placement can be complex. That’s why many vendors find it more efficient to work with a packaging partner who understands the guidelines inside and out.
What number do I use on the tag?
Perhaps the most complex part of using RFID tags is determining the number that should be placed on each tag. As you might guess, each tag needs a unique number. And as you also might assume, there are a large number of contractors’ shipping crates and packages to military distribution centers. That means there are a large volume of numbers in use at any one time.
EPC Global Tag Data Standards document will need to be followed by the contractor at the time of the award. The RFID unique identifier number has to be placed on the RFID tag and is then required to be uploaded to a government supply chain database. You can manually upload the number, but many contractors use software to transmit that data automatically.
As all of this may seem overwhelming, or even confusing partnering with a RFID packaging company will help simplify your contracting requirements.
What is the best way to stay compliant with RFID?
Obviously, staying compliant with the RFID requirement is critical to your success as a military contractor. Failure to comply could lead to the termination of your contract. One way to comply is to become familiar with every detail of the RFID requirement and then implement a program and system to apply RFID tags to your shipments.
However, a better approach may be to partner with a packager who is well-versed in the RFID requirement. They can lean on their years of experience and their unique knowledge to make sure your packages are compliant with the military’s rules.