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Data flow: IT and architecture: passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

As the Department of Defense (DoD) continues its phased implementation of passive RFID technology, a series of business rules are being developed to handle the RFID data flow from the shipping system to the receiving system using the existing DoD infrastructure. The establishment of business rules is critical to successful passive RFID implementation as the consistent data flow will provide for worldwide automated material visibility--with a level of detail never before capable. Active RFID has successfully been used in the DoD for many years and is at a different phase of implementation. The purpose of the RFID Architecture plan is to intentionally design the common methodology for implementing passive RFID during this initial implementation phase.




Years ago, the DoD developed a comprehensive listing of transactions that were used to send and receive information about all aspects of the supply chain. These "Military Standard" (MILS) transactions have been extremely effective over the years. The development of these transactions was based on the 80-card column punch cards used in the very early years of computing; therefore, the transactions were inherently limited to 80 characters in length. A RFID tag identity is not a data field included in the MILS transaction sets. (In the early years of computing, a RFID tag identify wasn't exactly a topic of consideration for supply chain operations.) In the more recent past, recognizing the limitations of the MILS transactions, the DoD created the Defense Logistics Management System (DLMS) transaction sets, using "variable length" standards (XML, EDI, etc.). The DLMS transaction sets have been developed in collaboration with the Military Departments, Defense Agencies, and participating Federal Agencies and will accommodate the old DoD-unique logistics data exchange standards and processes, plus new information exchange requirements, supporting RFID as an example.

However, today's reality is that many systems do not have the capability to transmit and receive DLMS transactions, so the DoD has developed methods to accommodate non-DLMS compliant systems for the transmission of RFID data. These methods will facilitate implementation of RFID-enabled receiving processes by legacy systems that are not DLMS compliant while minimizing the changes necessary for system integration.

The DoD passive RFID data flow will provide flexibility to store RFID data locally or centrally, as well as provide the opportunity for value-added RFID-enabled business processes to be conducted at the middleware layer and outside the legacy constraints. By promoting a coordinated strategy for implementing RFID, the DoD intends to develop a common understanding of RFID data flow. The purpose of this article is to describe this RFID data flow and the accompanying architectural system design. This design has been under development by the DoD for some time, with input received and considered from the Military Departments and Defense Agencies.


The passive RFID infrastructure is composed of three basic building blocks: the Defense Automatic Addressing System (DAAS), Logistics On-line Tracking System (LOTS), and the Shipping/Receiving Facility's Passive RFID Infrastructure. DAAS and LOTS have been used by the DoD for many years. In fact, the established use of these systems and the ability to build upon them was a significant benefit to the DoD RFID architecture plan. The Shipping/Receiving Facility's Passive RFID Infrastructure is the hardware and software used for the automated data capture and is a new component within the DoD. Together these building blocks from the basic logistics structure necessary to transmit RFID data. These systems are described below:

1. Defense Automatic Addressing System

Defense Automatic Addressing System (DAAS) functions as an automated system for routing the DoD distribution data traffic and provides document processing and data information services. The DAAS mission is to receive, edit, and route the DoD distribution transactions. DAAS acts as a central router for transactions with RFID data from the shipping points to the receiving points throughout the DoD supply chain. The Defense Automatic Addressing System Center (DAASC) has management authority of DAAS.

2. Logistics On-line Tracking System

Logistics On-line Tracking System (LOTS) is a relational database, which portrays the life cycle of a distribution action. The life cycle of material movement through the supply chain is portrayed by capturing and storing event history as transactions flow through DAAS. The RFID information will be included as part of the life cycle data captured and stored in LOTS. The relationship of RFID tag identities and their related business information (i.e., requisition document number or Transportation Control Number [TCN]) will be maintained in the LOTS relational database. Management authority of the LOTS database is the responsibility of DAASC.

3. Shipping/Receiving Facility's Passive RFID Infrastructure

The Shipping/Receiving Facility's Passive RFID infrastructure is the passive RFID hardware and software installed at the local facility and is defined as all components from the tagged object to the business integration of the local business application. Figure 1 is a component model that is split into architecturally significant groups of functionality. The adjacent component boundaries indicate interface points. However, it is not the intention of the diagram to indicate that the components need to be isolated on separate pieces of hardware. For example, it is reasonable to assume that the edge services could reside on the same hardware as the reader. The diagram is only dividing the components to illustrate the need to understand the importance of a particular component's functionality in isolation from the other components' functionality. The shipping and receiving facilities will have management authority of their RFID infrastructure.



The flow of RFID data is important for providing distribution data about the tagged material. The key is to match the RFID tag identity with the related business data (i.e., requisition document number or TCN) in the receiving system so when a RFID tag identity is read, it can be processed as an automated business event. This connection of data is the beginning of major advancements on the DoD's Supply Chain improvements. Proving automated visibility and acknowledgment of material receipt, DoD system wide, will provide the desired improvements and confidence in the logistics systems that support the warfighter.

To describe this data process further, one needs to understand that this data flow process is actually composed of two subsets. The first subset is the transmission of RFID data from the shipping facility to DAAS. The second subset is the transmission of RFID data from DAAS to the receiving facility. This process is described step-by-step below.




During the packaging and shipping process, a DLA shipping facility will apply an RFID tag to the packaged material. The shipping facility will transmit the RFID tag identity and the related business information via a DLMS transaction to DAAS. (DLA's distribution centers can send and receive DLMS transactions.) The DLMS transactions, which currently include a family of 856 EDI transactions, maintain the relationship of the RFID tag identity and the business related information. As the DLMS transactions are received into DAAS, the RFID data and the related business information will be stored in the LOTS database.


DAASC will use three options to transmit the passive RFID data. The first option is to simply transmit the DLMS transaction to the receiving facility. This option assumes the receiving facility has capabilities to receive and process DLMS transactions. This option is depicted in Figure 3.


Other options will be used when a facility receiving the RFID tagged materiel is not capable of receiving DLMS transactions. DAASC will accommodate an interface to provide the appropriate information through an alternate transmission method.

DAASC will push the RFID tag identity and the related business information through an automated trigger or at a regular interval. In this second option, DAASC will send the RFID tag identity and related business information to the receiving facility's RFID middleware. This option should not be confused with the first option. This second option will not send an entire DMLS transaction, but only the RFID tag identity and enough business-related information (for example, requisition document number or Transportation Control Number) for a local AIS to adequately identify the materiel. The RFID data and the related business data will be stored within the RFID middleware awaiting the arrival of the RFID tagged shipment. This option is depicted in Figure 4.


The third option involves a request for business-related information upon receipt of RFID-tagged material. In this option, the RFID data is not stored locally within the RFID middleware.

The related business information is pulled from DAASC after the RFID tag has been read. This option is depicted in Figure 5. DAASC will provide a method for retrieving RFID data from the LOTS database. The idea is not to build a direct connection into the LOTS database, but decouple the request from the information source. This type of information exchange is part of the overall Integrated Data Environment (IDE) plans currently being implemented within the DoD.


The options described need to be considered according to the capabilities and constraints of each receiving facility. For example, a receiving facility that has only limited network connectivity will require a different method of data transmission than a facility with constant high-speed connectivity.


When the receiving facility has received RFID data as a result of an advanced data push from DAASC, the RFID data will be stored within the RFID middleware awaiting the arrival of the RFID tagged shipment. The data will be stored maintaining the relationship between the RFID tag identity and the business-related information, similar to how the data is stored within the LOTS database. When the shipment is received and the RFID tag has been read, the related business data is retrieved from within the RFID middleware.

The third option involves a request by the RFID middleware to pull business-related information upon receipt of RFID tagged materiel. The unique RFID tag identities are sent to the LOTS database and LOTS responds with the related business information. This option is similar to the others except the related business information is retrieved remotely from the DoD's central database instead of locally from the RFID middleware.

The business data will be passed to the receiving facility's local AIS and used to automate a business process. The only modifications recommended to the receiving facility's local AIS will be to create a system interface to the RFID middleware. This interface can resemble a current data feed (i.e., input from a barcode scan or a manual input) or a new data feed can be created to facilitate a new RFID-enabled business process.


It is important to note that by sending this information to DAAS and storing it in a central EPC information source (i.e., LOTS), the Department of Defense has tapped into a significant element of business value. All material with a DoD EPC tag identity could be recognized anywhere in the world across all Military Departments, Defense Agencies, and participating Federal Agencies by providing the tag identity to the LOTS database, the central DoD EPC information source. This capability, utilizing the EPCglobal network concept, has received serious attention for creating a more efficient commercial supply chain. This architecture is another step toward the DoD's overall strategy to achieve similar supply chain efficiencies.

As with any new technology implementation, there are clear challenges ahead. However, this passive RFID architecture currently being employed and implemented by the DoD will allow the swift movement of data across the supply chain. The improvements through automated data capture and an increased level of granularity of material visibility will further enhance the DoD's important and world-class supply chain.


Figure 1. -- Passive RFID Architecture Component Model

Tagged Object Component

Cases, pallets, and UID item packaging that are tagged with a passive RFID tag.

Antenna & Reader Component

The reader implements a set of commands to read and write tag data using the antenna to communicate with the tags via radio frequency (RF).

Edge Services

The edge services are responsible for raw data collection, data filtering and Antenna/Reader Component management.

Event Services

The event services are responsible for creating an event and the association of data related to the event.

Business Process Integration Component

The integration of the tag event and its context into local and/or global supply chain Automated Information Systems (AIS).

Enterprise & Business Application Component

The business processes conducted as a result of the integrated event, typically the business process is facilitated through the AIS.

As evident in Figure 1, The Edge Services, Event Services, and Business Process Integration Components define the RFID middleware layer of the RFID infrastructure.


A passive RFID system utilizes energy produced by the RF readers to energize passive tags, which emit an RF air signal that is read by the RF reader and decoded. Because little power is absorbed from the RF signal, the transmission range of the air signal is less than 10 feet. Since there is no power source, passive tags have a basic circuitry that allows the technology to be miniaturized, and thus can be reproduced at a low cost of several cents each.

An active RFID system utilizes battery power to energize active tags. These tags can transmit a RF signal up to 300 feet indoors and 1000 feet outdoors Active RF tags require more complicated circuitry than passive tags. This circuitry combined with the powered battery cell make the active RF tags larger and more costly than passive RF tags. Active RF tags usually cost $10-$50 each and have an expected life of up to seven years.

By Brad Cougher, IBM Business Consulting Services
COPYRIGHT 2006 National Defense Transportation Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cougher, Brad
Publication:Defense Transportation Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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