Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How IUID Simplifies Inventory Management

How would you keep track of your possessions if they were spread across the Earth? The US Department of Defense (DoD) deals with this problem every day, and thus developed a set of standards for tracking their massive inventory. MIL-STD-130N, released on December 17, 2007, takes advantage of recent advances in barcode technology to ensure that their entire inventory uses Item Unique Identification (IUID).

IUID allows for better inventory control because each individual product is accounted for. Even individual parts used to assemble a finished product are accounted for during manufacturing, greatly minimizing the risk of loss. Though many products need tagging to fulfill IUID requirements, several industries already utilize IUID concepts. For example, every automobile has a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and thus a unique identifier, already. Products ranging from cellphones to firearms come with the idea of IUID built right into their serial numbers.

However, several products lack such careful cataloging. These require tagging with a method that will remain durable throughout the life-cycle of the item. Metal or stiff plastic plates take precedence over flimsier label materials. Stamping or etching the tag directly onto the item offers an even more durable solution. Some items, such as ball bearings, elude any of these methods. In these cases, it's acceptable to tag the item's packaging with the IUID instead. In the past, humans would need to read this tag, but these days computers have taken over much of the information processing responsibility.

Machine Readable Information (MRI) used to be encoded in linear barcodes, like the kind found on everyday consumer goods. Though still acceptable under MIL-STD-130N, linear barcodes have fallen into disuse in favor of two-dimensional barcodes. 1s and 0s are represented by black and white squares, which are then arranged into a larger square. This method offers numerous advantages, chiefly that large amounts of data can be packed into an incredibly small space. Currently, up to 50 characters will fit in the space of 3 square millimeters. This comes in handy since an item's tag grows with its history.

In addition to its IUID, each item's tag tells its story, identifying who has designed, manufactured, and repaired the item throughout its lifetime. Even items not requiring an IUID require this tracking information. In a way, these life stories become an IUID in and of themselves as items journey down their own unique paths. Still, giving each item an IUID right as it rolls off the line, like giving each baby born in the US a social security number, allows for easy cataloging before such life stories develop.

IUID concerns are far more complicated than the brief summary given here. For more information visit ID-Integration at http://www.id-integration.com

No comments: