Micro-electro-mechanical systems may be a key
to achieving anticipatory logistics support.
The Army must explore and leverage technological innovations
to maximize warfighting effectiveness as it transforms from
the Current Force to the Future Force and achieves joint and
expeditionary capabilities. The Focused Logistics Joint Functional
Concept, approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council,
serves as a framework for achieving these capabilities. A
key component of Focused Logistics is the ability to provide
rapid response, asset visibility, and improved agility tailored
to the sustainment of forces at the strategic, operational,
and tactical levels.
Transforming to this new environment will require the fusion
of operations, intelligence, and logistics enterprise domains
to support rapid and dynamic operations. New technology solutions,
integrated systems, and support processes will be needed if
logisticians are to effectively transform materiel management,
distribution, transportation, and warehousing operations to
meet future demands. Future capabilities will require anticipatory
logistics support, which can be provided by embedded diagnostic
sensors that anticipate failures and initiate resupply or replacement
activities to sustain mission readiness.
One promising new technology, micro-electro-mechanical systems
(MEMS), has the potential to allow logisticians to begin proactively
planning and providing focused logistics support to Soldiers
today. Through MEMS, it is possible to envision a day in the
not-so-distant future when assets can talk—sensing problems
and automatically providing alerts in advance of impending
failure, or providing status information on demand on the
situation and condition (or “health”) of assets.
From a logistician’s perspective, it would be a considerable
leap forward not only to see assets at rest or in motion but
also to know the condition of those assets and to have corresponding
life-cycle histories that show the factors contributing to
the assets’ failure in operational settings. MEMS-based
sensors, coupled with automatic tracking devices, can help
logisticians in “getting smart with logistics.”
What are MEMS?
MEMS combine modern electronics technologies with mechanical
systems on a very small scale to sense, control, and act on
events of interest. In simple terms, MEMS technology is a way
of combining computer smarts with sensors to analyze and react
to changing situations. As illustrated at left, MEMS technology
provides integrated systems capabilities on a truly “micro” scale.
From monitoring the health of assets on and off transportation
platforms to improving life-cycle management, securing cargo,
or displaying recent enemy movements on a vehicle mapping system,
MEMS technology promises to be pervasive in Army Transformation.
uses modern fabrication techniques to provide integrated
systems capabilities on a “micro” scale.
MEMS technology is already in use for military and
commercial applications. In the event of airbag deployment
in a car, MEMS-based sensors and actuators probably
can be thanked for reliably sensing and deploying
this life-saving technology.
MEMS Pilot Test
The Army Logistics Transformation Agency (LTA) is conducting
proof-of-concept testing to validate the application of MEMS
near-real-time sensor data and controls to logistics business
processes. Before initiating proof-of-concept testing, LTA
conducted an analysis to identify and test MEMS product capabilities,
analyze applicable business processes, and document potential
The overall goals of MEMS technology exploration include—
• Capitalizing on advances in MEMS technology to achieve proactive logistics
support, improve decisionmaking, and support Army Transformation.
• Providing timely and accurate information to Soldiers and logisticians
on the viability of assets by using MEMS integrated sensor data collection,
reporting, and asset health monitoring.
• Developing an integrated framework and standard approach for collecting,
reporting, controlling, and monitoring asset health within the framework of
a common logistics operating environment.
• Improving life-cycle management and asset visibility by combining “sense” capabilities
with radio frequency identification (RFID) and other communication technologies.
Individual protective equipment (IPE) was selected as the first pilot test application.
The IPE includes Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST)
suits, gloves, boots, and other gear designed to protect against chemical and
biological hazards. Applying MEMS technology to IPE will help quantify the benefits
of using integrated MEMS-based sensors within a representative Army logistics
IPE was chosen as the initial pilot test in order to build on previous work completed
by LTA to standardize asset marking and improve asset visibility and control
of this critical commodity. Also, since IPE is a shelf-life item and contains
both rubberized materials and adhesives, the environment in which a given contract
lot is kept can affect selection of valid test samples for surveillance, shelf-life
testing and extension decisions, and overall product life-cycle management.
The MEMS pilot recommendation was approved by the Department of the Army Automatic
Identification Technology Senior Steering Committee in March 2004. While IPE
can be used in desert, arctic, and jungle environments, LTA decided to focus
the MEMS IPE pilot test on capturing and determining environmental extremes
and alert thresholds for a desert environment. Testing in a desert environment
would help maximize effectiveness of IPE management in current Army operations
in Iraq. The MEMS IPE pilot test includes the monitoring of assets in storage
at Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky, monitoring of assets in transit, monitoring
of environmental conditions in a desert environment, and recovery operations
at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas.
Using Radio Frequency Identification
Management of IPE to support rapid deployment of forces presents many challenges.
Individual sizes of chemical gear must be stored, inventoried, sorted, tracked,
and issued against established shelf-life criteria and relevant messages that
affect the serviceability of a given manufacturing lot. For early-deploying
units, two sets of serviceable, basic-load IPE ensembles are stored and managed
the installation level. For later deployers, IPE is managed at the depot level
through the Army Chemical Defense Equipment Go-to-War Program. Gaining necessary
visibility of IPE assets across the board and synchronizing current and future
requirements against the quantity of stock
on hand and relevant serviceability data are continuing readiness challenges.
To meet this challenge, MEMS technology has been combined
with active RFID devices. Use of MEMS with RFID can help
track IPE assets and monitor the shelf-life and
environmental factors that affect the execution of surveillance, receipt,
recovery, inspection, and life-cycle management processes.
MEMS with RFID provide standoff
asset visibility, self-reporting communications, and data storage functions
capable of measuring, recording, alerting, and providing
immediate feedback to Soldiers
and logisticians on the viability of assets. While other communication methods
or platforms could be used, RFID has the advantage of a sizeable, existing
Department of Defense (DOD) infrastructure that allows
for the rapid injection of MEMS sensor
capabilities with minimal cost.
MEMS, RFID, and the Desert Environment
To quickly populate MEMS RFID tags for shipment to Iraq, standard two-dimensional
barcodes located on IPE boxes were read with a Windows-based handheld computer.
The same handheld device then was used to write requisite data onto the MEMS
tags. This approach is similar to how DOD handles current RFID tags. However,
it includes a means of setting up alert-triggering thresholds through the
current fixed and mobile readers based on measurements that fall outside
of an acceptable parameter. Unlike current tags, alerts also can be triggered
if a shelf-life date is exceeded or is close to being exceeded, depending
on the amount of warning desired. As part of the pilot test, over 100 pallets
of IPE were tagged with MEMS devices and shipped to Iraq.
Actual MEMS data gathered from those shipments are represented in the chart
above. These data provide a histogram of temperatures measured on an hourly
basis from June through September 2005 and currently are being used to help
determine the effects of a harsh temperature environment on IPE assets. IPE
assets were shipped from the continental United States (CONUS) to Iraq, where
they were kept in outside open storage and then in outside covered storage
before being moved into a climate-controlled warehouse. At the end of September,
the associated MEMS devices were returned to CONUS
for further analysis. MEMS can provide a powerful tool for management of
IPE assets in an adaptive environment.
Based on the results of the pilot testing, LTA is working with Army Soldier
Systems Center at Natick, Massachusetts, to validate the required trigger
threshold for temperature alerts for MEMS devices used specifically for
IPE assets. A test plan was developed to mimic environmental conditions observed
in Iraq within a controlled laboratory setting. Accelerated aging on IPE
test articles, followed by live agent testing, will help determine the effect
of a desert environment on the serviceability
of IPE. Previously, JSLIST assets were tested to temperatures below what
were recorded by MEMS devices in Iraq. As illustrated below, IPE temperature
peaks were experienced while the items were in open, uncovered storage. Testing
conducted as part of this pilot will provide valuable information on the
negative effects of temperature on IPE shelf life, but additional testing
will be required by IPE program managers to fully quantify effects within
desert, arctic, and jungle climates.
pilot test is using MEMS to determine the condition
of IPE in desert environments. This chart shows the
temperatures recorded in Iraq in different types
of IPE storage from June to
October (including return to CONUS).
MEMS and In-Transit Visibility
The MEMS IPE proof-of-concept evaluation includes an in-transit visibility
(ITV) alert feature to assist logisticians in anticipating failures and
initiating resupply or replacement activities before failures occur. Specifically,
if a temperature parameter or shelf-life date is exceeded when the MEMS
device is read using a handheld reader, an alert will be provided automatically
through the DOD ITV server to the Soldier on the ground. The built-in alert
feature will allow logisticians to manage assets more proactively by anticipating
requirements and engaging necessary support actions when and where they
needed. In addition, MEMS will enable Soldiers to more effectively determine
asset viability and suitability for onward shipment and use.
An interface to the Mobility Inventory Control Accountability System (MICAS),
currently in development, will improve end-to-end life-cycle management
and monitoring of IPE. MICAS is an automatic identification
technology-enabled tool used by the Army and Air Force to provide improved
IPE asset visibility and inventory control and to automate business processes
associated with issue, receipt, storage, inventory, tracking, and shelf-life
management. By integrating MEMS with the Army’s MICAS IPE shelf-life
management tool, the location, quantities, status, and environmental history
of IPE can be tracked to improve asset visibility, surveillance, receipt,
recovery, inspection, and selection of valid cross samples for shelf-life
testing. The MICAS MEMS integration is scheduled for completion in late
allow managers and Soldiers on the ground to see
the location and movement of assets and monitor
As depicted in the chart above, by applying MEMS technology to IPE, managers
and Soldiers on the ground can see the location and condition of assets
on hand, the length of time those assets have been at a particular location,
and the corresponding environmental data (temperature and humidity) for
that location over time. The preliminary results from the MEMS IPE pilot
test have been positive.
Once MEMS RFID technology is fully validated, it can be expanded to other
assets and integrated with future sense-and-respond logistics capabilities.
The initial analysis for applying MEMS to medical supplies is underway;
more information on this MEMS application will be available in the near
future. Other logistics application areas include perishable subsistence,
diagnostics and prognostics, ammunition, hazardous materials, containerized
engine tracking, and component and subcomponent environment “health
Moving forward with exploration and experimentation with MEMS technology
will provide logisticians a unique opportunity to transform logistics to
achieve more timely and proactive Soldier support. As the technology becomes
more widespread and is integrated with command and control applications,
it will help combatant commanders in gaining near-real-time situational awareness
strategic responsiveness with more timely, condition-based information.
John Yates is a senior Army Staff logistician at the Army Logistics Transformation
Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He has a B.S. degree in electrical and
computer engineering from the University of South Carolina and completed
the Navy Acquisition Logistics Career Intern Program.