A Practical Look at the RFID Mandate

RFID Inlay for DoD

RFID Chip and Antenna

We are often asked questions pertaining to the Mil-Std-129 RFID requirements and how they are put into practice on the shipping dock.  This article will discuss the  different types of RFID hardware and labels that are required as well as what types of shipping containers require RFID tagging. For more information on label formats, refer to the Guide to Mil-Std-129 Labeling.

RFID Hardware and Supplies

Let’s take a look at the different pieces of equipment that is used for the RFID Mandate.

Pre-Encoded/ Pre-Printed RFID labels. The minimum hardware requirement for a DoD supplier to meet the RFID mandate is to purchase and apply pre-encoded RFID labels for their shipments.  It is also the lowest startup cost approach to meeting the mandate.  You simply purchase the labels that are custom encoded with your CAGE code, apply them to your shipments and then tell Wide Area Workflow (WAWF) what tags are included within the shipment. Using Pre-encoded RFID tags requires no additional RFID hardware and works very well for a low volume shipments.

RFID Label Printer.  If you have a higher label volume, then it may be more cost effective to purchase a RFID printer and generate your own RFID labels as needed for your DoD shipments.  The RFID labels you generate can be integrated into your existing Mil-Std 129 barcode labels or they can be a stand-alone type of RFID tag.  An advantage of printing RFID labels is the automation of RFID data collection for submission to WAWF.

RFID Reader.  Many DoD suppliers choose to acquire a RFID Reader to verify their RFID tags.  The DoD requires that all RFID tags be verified prior to shipment.  A RFID reader may not be necessary for your shipments.  In most cases, pre-encoded tags or the RFID tags you generated were verified at the time of encoding.  Each RFID printer follows a multi-step process to verify the integrity of the RFID tag.  If the RFID label passes the verification, then the barcode and other label data is printed on the tag.  If the RFID label does not pass, the printer will VOID the label and identify it as a bad tag.  However, even though this test occurs
for each tag printed, there are different factors that can adversely affect the performance of the tag once it is applied to the shipping container.  The two largest factors are metal and water.  If your products are largely water or metal based and/or your shipping containers metal based, you may need to consider purchasing a RFID reader to test the RFID tag performance once it has been applied to your shipment.

RFID Tagging Requirements

Mil-Std-129 RFID Label

Mil-Std-129R Exterior Container RFID Label

Compliance with the RFID mandate is in addition to your existing Mil-Std 129 barcode labeling requirements you are already providing.  The RFID requirements do not replace the Mil-Std barcode marking requirements.

For each shipment, you are required to place a Case RFID tag on all of the exterior containers.  If exterior containers are placed onto a Palletized Unit Load, you are required to also place a Pallet RFID tag on each pallet and then associate each of the exterior containers to the appropriate pallet.  Finally, all of the RFID tag numbers should be submitted to Wide Area Workflow (WAWF) with the Receiving Report, or as a Pack Update (aka Advance Shipment Notice) to follow.