Sunday, April 21, 2013

NATO standards bring consistency to UID systems

Government defense departments have found many benefits of implementing Unique Identification (UID) systems for their mission-critical inventory. With UID, each piece of equipment is marked with a Unique Item Identifier (UII) in the form of a 2D Data Matrix symbol. The UII, which is read with an automated device, is then used to track the item throughout its lifetime.

For the U.S. Department of Defense, for example, the UID system is intended to improve management of a massive inventory that is spread across the globe. Not losing track of assets prevents unnecessary reordering of equipment and saves taxpayer money. Better tracking also improves the department’s combat readiness.
The British Ministry of Defence operates a similar UID program. Standards for the U.S. DoD program are spelled out in a document called MIL-STD-130; the British Ministry of Defence has a similar document labeled DEF STAN 05-132.

The picture becomes even more complex when different defense organizations are working together and sharing assets. To address this issue, NATO has developed its own standards for unique identification of equipment. The Allied Unique Identification of Items Publication, or AUIDP-1, was developed by a NATO task force and details the recommended methods to identify and mark items through Unique Item Identifiers and enter the data into a registry system. Doing so will improve “asset visibility, data exchange, and multi-national logistics operations,” AUIDP-1 states. More specifics are contained in a NATO Standardization Agreement, STANAG 2290.

When individual defense departments align their own UID standards, such as DEF STAN 05-132, with those of NATO, a cohesive system is created. This improves the efficiency of operations, and most importantly, enhances safety. Equipment can be located more quickly and moved to where it is needed. An item’s unique identifier can be linked to the item’s repair history and whether recommended maintenance has been performed. The use of automated systems cuts down on the amount of manual data entry, which leads to fewer mistakes.

The ability to share information about an item among organizations is a major benefit of utilizing UID systems. AUIDP-1 discusses the need for compatible information systems in order to share data. UID documents such as DEF STAN 05-132 go into extensive detail on how to implement a UID system. Topics covered include what information to include in the UII, the proper syntax to use, how to mark the 2D Data Matrix symbol and equipment, and specifications for human readable information that may accompany the symbol.
More information on various UID standards can be found at

UID standards delve into all the details

Imagine dozens of defense departments trying to determine what military equipment is available to share and where it is located. This is a challenge faced by NATO and its 28 member countries.

To address this challenge, NATO has turned to the Unique Identification of Items, or UID, system for labeling and tracking mission-critical equipment. Items are labeled with a 2D Data Matrix symbol that contains a Unique Item Identifier (UII). An automated scanner is used to read the Data Matrix and retrieve an item’s identifier. The UII is entered into a registry, which can contain other critical details about the item such as its repair and maintenance history and warranty information. The idea behind UID is that the information for any piece of equipment can be quickly retrieved and easily shared. With UID, any individual item can be readily distinguished from all others, throughout its entire lifetime.

To bring consistency to the process, NATO has developed standards regarding UID systems. In particular, there is the Allied Unique Identification of Items Publication, or AIDP-1. A related document is NATO’s standardization agreement, STANAG 2290, which is intended to serve as the basis for implementation plans. Individual defense departments may have their own UID standards, such as the British Defence Ministry’s DEF STD 05-132, which incorporate the STANAG 2290 requirements.

Although individual DoD standards may be quite similar to STANAG 2290, they’re not necessarily identical. For example, the NATO standard allows the Issuing Agency Code to be included in the UID Data Matrix symbol, but DEF STD 05-132 discourages that practice because the information can be derived from another data field, the Enterprise Identifier.

Down-to-the-dot explanation

Suppliers and others working in the defense industry can find detailed specifications for UID systems in the various government documents. The standards specify minimum cell sizes for different methods of Data Matrix marking, including dot peen, laser and electro-chemical etching.

If text (also referred to as “human readable information) is to accompany the Data Matrix symbol, DEF STD 05-132 says it should be to the left of the symbol and list the item descriptor, NATO stock number and serial number. The NATO document states that a UII should contain only uppercase letters A through Z, numbers 0 through 9, the hyphen and the slash. The use of the letters I, L, O and Q is discouraged.
Information included on labels should contrast strongly with the background. The labeling method should not damage the equipment. The labels should be designed to last the life of the equipment.

For more information on UID standards, visit

Attention to detail needed when implementing UID systems

Marking defense assets with unique identifiers that can be used to track the items throughout their lifetime is a straightforward concept. But when it comes to implementing Unique Identification of Items according to NATO standards, one must pay attention to numerous details. Many of these specifics can be found in two documents: AUIDP-1 (Allied Unique Identification of Items Publication) and a Standardization Agreement, STANAG 2290.

Benefits of UID

Unique Identification of Items (UID) is a standardized method for giving items a unique identifier that stays with them throughout their life. It’s useful for tracking ownership and location of an asset, which may be in use, in storage or in transit. AUIDP-1 also notes that UID can provide details of an asset’s age, condition, configuration, maintenance and repair history, and warranty status.

UID utilizes the 2D Data Matrix symbol for labeling items. The label is read with an automated device and provides a common format for storing and retrieving information among many different users. Errors are reduced as compared to manual data entry and the process is streamlined.

When to use UID

Implementing UID makes the most sense for items that are newly purchased. In that case, the benefits of UID will be realized throughout the item’s entire life for a greater return on investment. Items that are already in inventory might also be good UID candidates if their remaining life is substantial. Other factors to weigh include whether the item has significant value; is repairable; requires calibration or confirmation of disposal; or is mission critical.

Preferred UID methods

The Unique Item Identifier, or UII, assigned to an item must not change over the item’s life, even if other identifiers such as the part number change. It must be globally unique and cannot be reused, even if the item it’s attached to is disposed of.

Data associated with the UII is entered into a registry. Annex 6 of AUIDP-1 lists the recommended data elements to include. Some of these are: Unique Item Identifier; type of item (either end item or embedded item); whether it’s marked using UID Construct 1 or Construct 2; part number; serial number; batch or lot; description; and issuing agency code.

Methods for marking items include direct marking using laser, electro-chemical etching or dot peen indenting. STANAG 2290 contains standards for minimum cell sizes and quality levels for the various methods. The label should last for the expected life of the item, STANAG 2290 notes.

For further information, see