US air base saves $15m a year with wireless system

The US Air Force Materiel Command's logistics centre at Hill Air Force Base in Utah has deployed a wireless parts-tracking system...

The US Air Force Materiel Command's logistics centre at Hill Air Force Base in Utah has deployed a wireless parts-tracking system that will save time and money.

Mike Neri, the base's IT director, said Hill Air Force Base needs to track a massive amount of parts. The base moves 86,000 items in and out of 33 warehouses each month, including everything from electronic "black boxes" to landing gear assemblies used on a wide range of fighter aircraft. 

Although parts are tracked on a wired inventory system, until this year the base had no way to track the vehicles and drivers who transport hardware from one warehouse to another. Some warehouses and repair facilities are located miles apart. 

Hill AFB has now deployed a wireless Automated Manifest Tracking System (AMTS) that automatically transmits pickup and delivery information to drivers equipped with either mobile phones from Nextel Communications or mobile computers from Toshiba, operating over a cellular network from Sprint PCS Group. 

Both the Nextel phone and the Toshiba computer have built-in GPS receivers that automatically transmit the location of the 30 trucks used to move parts to a dispatch centre, Neri. The mobile units are also equipped with barcode scanners, which allow the drivers to transmit information about parts they pick up to the back-end system. 

AMTS uses triple Digital Encryption Standard encryption. While coverage is a concern for some users of wireless WANs, Neri said that is not an issue at Hill, since both Nextel and Sprint operate from cellular towers located on the base. 

This increased visibility into the location of repair items - as well as the ability to track and dispatch drivers - has allowed Hill to reduce the time parts remain in the repair pipeline from 24 hours to two. The cost savings have been estimated at $15m a year.

Hill AFB took two years to develop AMTS using the IBM WebSphere Everyplace Access software. Neri anticipated it would be deployed at Air Force Materiel Command centres in Georgia and Oklahoma.

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