Hill AFB saves $15 million a year with wireless system

The Air Force Materiel Command’s logistics center at Hill Air Force Base has deployed a wireless parts-tracking system that will save US$15 million a year by cutting the time a part remains in the repair pipeline from 24 hours to two, according to Mike Neri, the base’s IT director.

Neri, speaking in Palm Desert, California, at Computerworld’s Mobile & Wireless conference, said Hill Air Force Base needs to track a massive amount of parts. The base in Ogden, Utah, 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. And 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 cellular phones from Nextel Communications Inc. or mobile computers from Toshiba Corp. 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 center, Neri said. The mobile units are also equipped with bar code scanners, which allow the drivers to transmit information about parts they pick up to the back-end system.

Since security is a prime concern for the Air Force, Neri said 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 dramatically reduce the time parts remain in the repair pipeline, Neri said.

Hill AFB took two years to develop AMTS using the IBM Corp. WebSphere Everyplace Access software. Now that it is in production mode, Neri anticipates it will be deployed at Air Force Materiel Command centers in Georgia and Oklahoma.