Marked for life

Marking technologies ensure BAE compliance with DoD UID requirements

Todd Hockenberry 

In December 2005, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) issued MIL-STD-130M superseding MIL-STD-130L as the standard practice for identification marking on U.S. military property.


FIGURE 1. BAE Systems uses a Mecco fiber laser marking system to comply with the DoD’s UID mandates.
Click here to enlarge image

Unlike other industry specification revisions, this update was part of a major change in how the DoD and its suppliers do business. Why did this major change in policy occur? During the 1990s, Congress, federal managers, and other policy makers realized that they needed better data regarding inventory, operational readiness, and supply chain logistics to make informed decisions about future spending. A series of legislative initiatives followed that forced federal agencies, including the DoD, to adopt modern financial management systems and practices.

Unique Identification (UID) is the DoD response to this legislation with the goal being accurate and reliable data for all tangible items that meet the requirements set forth in the specification.

UID is the set of data for tangible assets that is globally unique and unambiguous, ensures data integrity and data quality throughout life, and supports all of the required business applications and users throughout the DoD and the supply chain.

The UID mandate requires existing assets and items under contract owned by the DoD (which includes assets in the possession of contractors) to be marked with a unique serialized identification number in accordance with MIL-STD-130M. UID applies equally to legacy and newly requisitioned government property in possession of contractors (PIPC), with the goal being to place all of the parts, designated by the mandate, under contract to be delivered to the DoD in the new UID Registry for lifecycle management.

The UID registry enables easy access to information about items that make acquisition, repair, and deployment of items faster and more efficient. UID will help the DoD achieve higher states of operational readiness as well as facilitate the ability to see the status of assets in theater as well as in storage-necessary improvements in a rapidly changing world.

Direct part marking of items, data plates, and labels with a 2D Data Matrix code is the specified method of item identification required by MIL-STD-130M. UID data is encoded into Data Matrix symbols that are applied to parts using Direct Part Marking (DPM) processes. Dot-peen marking, printed adhesive-backed labels, chemical etch, and laser marking are the most frequently used technologies.

Laser marking is proving to be the most versatile, high contrast, permanent, and reliable marking technology for UID applications. Laser marks have higher resolution than other methods, which allows for more data to be embedded in the UID marks.


FIGURE 2. DoD UID compliance requirements are met with a linear bar and 2D laser mark on a metal tag.
Click here to enlarge image

Mecco Marking & Traceability is working with BAE Systems, manufacturer of the U.S. Army’s Bradley armored infantry vehicle, to deploy the latest direct part marking technology in order to comply with the DoD UID mandate. BAE Systems now utilizes MeccoMark 20W Nd:YAG pulsed fiber lasers and automated dot peen marking systems to comply with UID requirements.

These DPM methods are used in concert with data management software integration from A2B Tracking along with vision systems for 2D data matrix marking and reading DPM codes.

These technologies synchronized together meet updated UID marking standards for harsh environments on cast, forged, or fabricated metals, and also provide BAE Systems with reliable and accurate data for supply chain visibility, financial accountability, and asset management.

BAE has purchased a complete UID system for one of its suppliers, Red River Army Depot (RRAD), to allow them to permanently identify refurbished components at their facility prior to entering BAE’s plant.  The turnkey UID system includes a fiber laser marking system with a programmable Z-axis used as the primary marker for the tags that are attached to items, giving them a unique identification. In addition, a dot-peen marking system is included as a backup to the primary marker and for any capacity overflow. To verify the quality and validate the data encoded in the UID 2D data matrix mark, a vision system verifier is used as well. 

Scott Ashway, the BAE manufacturing project engineer responsible for UID compliance, says that, “We’ve found laser marking to be the most consistent and versatile direct marking method available for our applications. The Mecco system is very user friendly and reliable.”

A2B’s UID data management software is a critical component BAE needed in addition to the laser system for meeting MIL-STD-130 requirements. A2B’s UID Comply! software starts by enabling the user to generate globally unique IDs within the enterprise by using the correct combination of part numbers and serial numbers to meet the data format requirements that encode the 2D Data Matrix symbology. After the UID data is created, the software feeds the machine-readable format to the laser for production of the mark. Throughout this process, the UID and associated item pedigree data such as the marking authority CAGE code (supplier code), part number, serial number, and issuing agency code is also captured and managed in the exact DoD format for direct submission to the UID Registry or WAWF (Wide Area Workflow). The UID software often provides the conversion of enterprise legacy data from ERP or MRP systems to the marking device as well as manages the exact DoD data reporting requirements. It also acts as a standalone system.

BAE is using the MeccoMark fiber laser (see Figure 1) to directly mark data plates and flexible adhesive-backed labels to ensure that each item requiring UID compliance meets the DoD requirements.

Stainless steel data plates up to six inches square are being anneal-marked with hundreds of alphanumeric characters along with 2D Data Matrix and linear barcodes. These plates are then mounted to finished products such as the Bradley fighting vehicle. This DPM method is used because a laser annealed mark on stainless steel has proven to withstand the harsh environments the vehicle sees and still provide a readable UID mark after years in the field.

Aluminum data plates and flexible foil are used for components used in the assembly of the finished vehicle. The fiber laser station marks UID-compliant information on the adhesive-backed flexible aluminum foil labels, which are then applied to uneven or round surfaces.

Polyester and other roll stock labels are also directly marked with the fiber laser. These labels are used to deliver a UID mark to flexible or moving items such as wire harnesses or cables.

For higher volume tag and data plate needs, an automated tag marking station enables operators to load large numbers of blank tags into an automated feeder, mark each tag with a UID-compliant mark (see Figure 2), and return the tag to a stack. This system seamlessly integrates with compliance software to reduce material costs associated with using screen-printed data plates. BAE and Mecco are developing a solution to laser mark blank tag stock with both static field identifiers and dynamic populated data.

BAE, in York, Pennsylvania, continues to meet the expanding scope of parts requiring UID compliance and is proactively working with its suppliers to equip its partners with UID technologies as well. Mecco is working with BAE to seamlessly incorporate the latest methods required to remain compliant with the dynamic UID requirements.

Todd Hockenberry is vice president of sales & marketing, Mecco Partners LLC (Pittsburgh, PA; www.mecco.com).

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