Bar codes help military keep gear in good order

By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
The bar code – that series of lines marking almost everything you buy – could lead to huge savings for American taxpayers in the near future and perhaps save lives in times of conflict. More

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Bar codes help military keep gear in good order

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
MAKING ITS MARK: A2B Tracking Solutions is a key component of a Defense Department effort to identify and track every piece of hardware it has using laser-etched bar code such as the one Glenn Hamblet is generating at the company’s Portsmouth facility.
By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
Posted 9/16/13

The bar code – that series of lines marking almost everything you buy – could lead to huge savings for American taxpayers in the near future and perhaps save lives in times of conflict.

A2B Tracking Solutions Inc., a Portsmouth high-tech company with about 50 employees, has been busy for several years with a Department of Defense project that calls for attaching a unique bar code to everything owned by the American military. The effort is expected to greatly reduce Pentagon waste and ensure fighting forces are better equipped for crises.

The project has made A2B Tracking one of the fastest-growing companies in Rhode Island as well as one of its most innovative. In recent years it has won contracts worth more than $100 million. “This is transformational technology,” said Peter M. Collins, company president and CEO.

Using laser etching and computer technology, the company is able give every military item a unique and durable label that stands up to combat conditions and extreme weather. Once marked, assets can be tracked using software developed by A2B Tracking.

Those marked items also can be equipped with sensors that keep track of the environmental conditions to which they have been exposed. And because the system’s software is in the cloud, it can be accessed anywhere with a mobile device. With a few quick keystrokes or the wave of a barcode, the entire history of any military item can be known, be it a combat helmet worn in Afghanistan or a nuclear submarine traveling beneath the North Sea.

“You can capture what we call the birth record of the item and follow it as it goes through life,” Collins said. “That lets the military know if an item is ready to be deployed. If you have an item with a code attached, you could put a sensor on that item and have real-time monitoring. You can see the temperature range to which it has been exposed, all the environmental conditions.”

You can expect to see the company’s technology moving well beyond the American military soon. Other countries are looking into the system for their military inventories, too.

“We’ve started early policy discussions with some NATO countries,” Collins said. “They’re starting to adopt some of the same technologies. Many of the overseas installations used by the American military are NATO installations. We’ve worked in Italy, Turkey, Spain and other countries.”

Collins is predicting hospitals could be the next users. “That means you’ll be able to track anything used in the operating room and any device implanted in the human body. It would facilitate any product recalls. If they have to recall, say, a certain brand of pacemakers, they’ll know exactly which patients have them,” he said. •

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