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CAISI and WPS handheld barcode scanners provide WiFi in-transit visibility at the port of Beaumont.

Army officials here say they are one huge step closer to their goals of in-transit visibility and total asset visibility for the thousands of tons of cargo that pass through the port of Beaumont each month, thanks to the recent implementation of a new generation of RFDC (radio frequency data communications) handheld barcode scanners along with secure, wireless CAISI, the Combat Service Support Automated Information Systems Interface.

The handheld scanners capture cargo's linear and 2D barcode information, such as the dimensions of cargo, or what work contractors/stevedores have performed, to allow them to be paid. The CAISI system then wirelessly transmits the data back to the Worldwide Port System (WPS) database at the port's terminal management directorate (TMD) office.

Both the handheld scanners and the CAISI system are products of the Program Executive Office, Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS). The handheld scanners are Intermec CK31G units, provided by the AIT-III (Automatic Identification Technology) contract managed by the Product Manager, Joint-Automatic Identification Technology (PM J-AIT), while CAISI is a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solution provided by the Product Manager, Defense Wide Transmission Systems.

As port operations were returning to normal after Hurricane Rita, which hit the Texas-Louisiana coastline on Sept. 24 and passed directly over the port of Beaumont, the handheld scanners and CAISI tandem were successfully tested together during full-scale loading operations the week of Nov. 14. During that week, stevedores loaded more than 1,200 pieces of cargo, including tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, wheeled vehicles and containers to an LMSR (large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ship).

Key port for OIF cargo

Lt. Col. Timothy Whalen, commander of the 842nd Transportation Battalion at the port of Beaumont, said he was glad the port was chosen for the test.

"This port is kind of a center of gravity for troop movements. I'm a big advocate of CAISI. Testing CAISI here sends the right message," said Whalen, adding that the gulf ports--the ports of Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas--transport 63 percent of the cargo going to Iraq.

Port officials said that in fiscal year 2005, 1, 260,857 measurement tons--equal to 40 cubic feet of cargo volume) of cargo passed through the port of Beaumont, which includes two primary rail spurs and more than 50 acres of usable staging area, with the capacity to simultaneously load or unload two LMSRs or stage three LMSR loads. To put this in perspective, each LMSR can carry an entire U.S. Army Brigade Task Force, including 58 tanks, 48 other tracked vehicles, as well as more than 900 trucks and other wheeled vehicles. All told, more than 80,000 pieces--some 14 million square feet of cargo--have moved through the port of Beaumont in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom I, II and III.

"CAISI streamlines things," said Whalen. "Previously, as we've scanned, that equipment data was vulnerable until we brought back the scanner and downloaded. CAISI makes it much more efficient, more accurate and less vulnerable."

Chris Easton of the Headquarters, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) at Alexandria, Va., whose mission is to improve the cargo documentation process, agrees.

"CAISI gives us the ability to talk live to the Worldwide Port System (WPS) database from the cargo, instead of having to wait four-to-five hours until we get the scanner back to download at the TMD (terminal management directorate) office," said Easton. "The real key is to allow the scanner to solve problems at the cargo, rather than going back to TMD, and CAISI gives us the wireless 'bubble' that allows us to do that. Our command's goal here is to increase the efficiency of data capture and data QA (quality assurance) processes, with an eye toward reducing manual effort."

The CAISI WiFi network at Beaumont

The implementation at the port of Beaumont includes one CAISI Bridge Module (CBM), which is at the TMD office, and 16 CAISI Repeater Modules, which are mounted on poles scattered throughout the port in small weather-tight boxes called NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) enclosures.

According to Brad Amon, lead systems engineer for the CAISI program with the U.S. Army information Systems Engineering Command (ISEC), the CAISI Bridge Module provides root radio service for the radios in the CAISI local wireless network. Each CBM includes a Fortress gateway AF 1100 encryption device, a synchronous digital subscriber line (DSL) device, a Cisco BR350 multi-function 802.11b (the standard for wireless fidelity, or WiFi) radio and a couple of Ethernet hubs. The Fortress encryption gateway device unencrypts the wireless network traffic coming from the handheld scanners before it is forwarded into the local installation network.

The CAISI Repeater Modules, Amon said--which contain a BR350 radio with a lightning arrestor and surge suppressor in the NEMA enclosure--provide access point service for wireless scanner devices, bridge the network to the root radio and act as repeaters for other CRMs.

"CAISI offers a flexible meshed network configuration which has multiple paths available for redundancy," said Amon. "What happens when one radio link is blocked or interfered with? CAISI radios create a self-healing meshed network. When one path to the root is down, the other radios automatically repeat for each other to form an alternate path to the root."

Amon added that the CRM allows the radio to be powered by its Ethernet cable up to 300 feet away from the power source. That enables the radios to be mounted high on an existing tower or building, providing exceptional line of sight coverage with minimal resources, and minimizes the RF line loss, because the radio is only three feet away from the antenna, effectively doubling the radio transmit and receive strength of the CBM.

Easton said the coverage of the CAISI Repeater Modules allows stevedores to transmit data from handheld scanners to the Worldwide Port System database from nearly everywhere throughout the 50-plus acres of the port, except from inside the holds of vessels, which is why the handheld scanners can do both batch and real-time downloading of cargo data.

Another challenge is offered by the industrial nature of the water port.

"Look around," said Easton, in a staging area filled with tanks, Bradleys and other vehicles during the testing at the port of Beaumont. "Our cargo is very large and forms 'canyons of steel,' whose walls, in turn, are made of multiple corner reflectors. Sometimes down these 'canyons,' we may lose coverage."

The challenge, Easton said, is to build processes that take full advantage of the secure wireless connection back to WPS, but that can drop back in to batch if signal strength drops too low. This allows the checker to continue working, and as signal strength is regained, the scanner sends any stored data back to WPS automatically and allows the checker to carry on in RF mode.

"If we can solve documentation problems while we are outside dealing with the equipment," said Easton, "then there are fewer pieces of cargo that have to go to a 'frustrate yard'--that's where you put your problem children for further research. Part of the job is to solve as many problems as you can here at the cargo, without having to put it in the frustrate yard, which, of course, costs dollars."

Back at the TMD office, Kyle Lee, a traffic management specialist with the 842nd Transportation Battalion, was optimistic about how the new system would work as he sat at his computer terminal and opened a hatch list--a list showing, for each hold section of a cargo ship, a description of the items stowed, their volume and weight, the consignee of each, and the total volume and weight of materiel in the hold.

"If we get real-time numbers out of this, this is good, but this is only the first full day using the system with a vessel--check with me after lunch," Lee said. He scrolled down the screen and nodded, liking what he was seeing. "The scanners have not been brought in for upload, but this list has already been updated--this is good."

After the test was completed, Lee gave the CAISI/handheld scanners tandem a thumbs-up, noting that it was the first test, and that SDDC personnel would have a better feel for what the system could do with additional missions under their belts.

"So far, I am satisfied they will provide a real-time numbers update to WPS," said Lee. "I see an added advantage for our Vessels Section (stow planners) in that they can pull updates from WPS into ICODES (the Integrated Computerized Deployment System) more quickly. This allows them to stow the vessel as the mission progresses. This is good. The real-time updates at least provide an opportunity for us to stay even with the operation, if not actually work ahead. I think we have a good thing going here."

Gloria Barnes, the WPS system administrator with the 842nd Transportation Battalion, had no reservations about the system.

"CAISI?" said Barnes. "I love it. We don't have to upload scanners, so we have more real-time data. Before, we would see near-real-time data because we would upload the scanners a couple times a day, at lunch and dinner when the stevedores took a break. CAISI is better for stow planners, better for staging. It makes manifesting easier, reconciling easier, it makes everything easier. It gives better in-transit visibility, even down to stow locations on a ship or staging locations on the port."

Whalen said the SDDC selected CAISI in large part because it enables a WiFi capability in a port setting. This is a critical first step toward building a BCS3-based (Battle Command Sustainment Support System-3) 'digital dashboard,' which Whalen said is the vision of Maj. Gen. Charles W. Fletcher, Jr., commander of the SDDC.

"From my dealings with Maj. Gen. Fletcher," said Whalen, "he envisions that the logistician should see things as the warfighter does. He calls it his BCS3-based dashboard."

This dashboard, explained Whalen, would allow logisticians every step along the way to 'drill down' at their laptop computer and see where pieces of cargo are in the supply chain. This would be possible with the near-real-time wireless exchange of data with WPS that CAISI allows, and provide port commanders with more timely information about the progress of an exercise.

"I shouldn't need to wait until it gets to Beaumont to see a piece of equipment in the supply chain," said Whalen. "I should see it in Ft. Hood, and see it all the way through the system. I don't want the warfighter in Ft. Hood to have to worry about it he has other things to worry about, like fighting the battles. Right now, we have liaisons from Ft. Hood here watching over things. We could avoid them feeling they have to be here if we could give them the vision that gives them the confidence where their materiel is."

CAISI is a standard, accredited Army system

Army officials said they saw several advantages to the CAISI solution versus other COTS solutions, starting with cost they said the cost of the current implementation at the port of Beaumont was $55,000, less than a third of what other commercial alternatives could have cost.

"CAISI is very cost-effective compared to other means to get this done at Beaumont," said Whalen. "We get a lot of bang for our buck."

Story and photos by Stephen Larsen, Public Affairs Officer Project Manager Defense Communications & Army Transmission Systems
COPYRIGHT 2006 U.S. Military Traffic Management Command
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Author:Larsen, Stephen
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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