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SDDC capitalizes on small hardware to make big improvements

CHARLESTON, S.C. (USTCNS) --- The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command field-tested hand-held computers Jan. 27 at the Port of Charleston, S.C. further streamlining the command’s transportation process of planning and loading cargo aboard vessels for massive military deployments and redeployments.

Using personal digital assistant (PDA) technology provided greater promise to personnel performing the test to more effectively capture data, record and track all vehicles and containers on ships and will do away with redundant data recording and cargo placement traditionally done by two people.

The results from this test provided higher efficiency, lower error rates, and added value to in-transit visibility for combatant commanders and SDDC port operators. Military port managers could possibly see this equipment in the hands of their folks as early as this spring.

The new version of the Integrated Computerized Deployment System (ICODES) 5.4.x series makes this possible.

The field test of this system was done in conjunction with a massive cargo deployment using the USNS Capella. The cargo was earmarked for Southwest Asia supporting Soldiers serving in Iraq.

Traditionally, when longshoremen move equipment onto a vessel and position it in a hold compartment, a stevedore or stowplanner will scan the barcode label for associated numbers of each piece. Another person will follow behind and hand-draw the shape, size, and location of the equipment and how it sits in the hold of the vessel. PDA technology will scan and record equipment position saving a lot of time and raising the accuracy bar of the process.

“Part of what we do is ensure that each piece of cargo is documented in the exact spot it is placed and secured on a ship,” said Maj. Steve Rutner, pre-stow chief for the 1189th Transportation Terminal Brigade, Charleston, S.C. “The traditional way of doing this is using a simple bar code scanner and draw on a piece of paper the footprint where you put each vehicle or container in each compartment in a vessel. Then you take and manually put the information into the computer using the ICODES program. The accuracy rate can be very high or very low, particularly if you’re short-handed or any other reason.”

Rutner said this new tool would create a one-to-one ratio of a vehicle or container dimension in relationship to the ship’s hold compartment, which will be displayed on the PDA’s screen. You don’t have as many opportunities to have data errors. With this PDA, you point it at each cargo’s barcode label, press a button, the item will show up on the screen as a square, drag and drop and you have it.

“This scanner supports and allows us to obtain a better final stow report.” said Larry Lawrence, marine cargo specialist for SDDC Operations Center, Ft. Eustis, Va. “Once it is up and fully operational we will also be able to go into a port’s yard and set up yard plans.”

“I think where this will better help as well is with the containers,” said Lawrence. “Before you had to write in all the associated numbers of each container. With the scanner, you make one scan, put it in, and your done.”

“Initial tests have been under development for two months,” said Boone Pendergrast, ICODES customer support representative for CDM Technologies, Inc. “The functionality will assist end-users in terms of documenting cargo. This replaces the process of a drawer, drawing sketches of boxes in each ship’s stowing areas and still not sure if that item is in the database.”

“With this new tool for tracking cargo movement and it placement on the ship we can achieve a near 100 percent rate of accuracy,” said Steve Goodman, ICODES program
manager for SDDC.

“Using the PDA will record an exact location and even the direction the equipment is facing on the ship,” said Lt. Col. Paul Ernst, commander of the 841st Transportation Battalion, Charleston, S.C. “This goes beyond the generalized location information the WPS scanner provides us.”

According to Pendergrast, this is only the tip of the iceberg. CDM Technologies, Inc. plans to build agents into the software the scanners will use to scan cargo and hazardous material containers differentiating between the two. This will let users know which is which for proper placement and segregation of each item.

“As an example,” said Pendergrast, “liquid fuel and flammable gas has to be a certain distance apart when stowed. With this type of agent built into the scanner, it will tell you can’t have these two items close to each and you have to move them. This avoids reshuffling later upon discovery and moving other cargo as well to accomplish.”

I was pretty impressed with this system throughout the test,” said Lawrence. “I think this has the potential to build a lot of yard management functions into it. With this new version of ICODES we have the ability to draw the yard into it as well. As we do that, we can track cargo in the yards streamlining the load of two ships at one time without mixing up cargo.

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