TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, PA. - Data collection just got a lot easier for employees who process thousands of assets annually.

Tobyhanna Army Depot became the first to implement Automatic Identification Technology (AIT) March 31, as part of an Army Materiel Command (AMC) initiative to improve business processes, according to Cathy Fulk, chief of the Architecture, System and Application Design Division.

In 2008, personnel modernized the installation's network infrastructure by adding Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) capabilities to set the stage for applications such as AIT. Program development began in 2003.

"We [Tobyhanna] are the prototype," said Frank Babarsky, information technology specialist in the Information Management Directorate's (DOIM) Architecture, System and Application Design Division. "Other AMC organizations will use what we've created here to launch AIT to improve their business processes."

AIT provides employees on the shop floor with automated data capturing devices [handheld scanners] that improve business processes by enabling errorless data transactions into the Logistics Modernization Program (LMP).

Currently, the AIT application encompasses two LMP transactions - goods receipt and operation confirmations. Goods receipt are accomplished in central receiving as items arrive at the depot and operation confirmations are completed by shop personnel whenever work on an asset is finished.

Wireless networking removes the encumbrance of wire connections on portable devices and enables employees to travel beyond traditional network boundaries without losing connectivity.

"AIT gives employees the capability to move about their work area scanning barcode data information rather than manually entering it at a computer terminal," Fulk said. "By scanning the information directly into LMP, employees are improving turnaround time and reducing human errors."

The AIT deployment is a giant leap forward in Tobyhanna's efforts to streamline operations. It will enable shop employees to focus on their primary Command, Control, Computers and Communication, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) mission rather than spending a lot of time recording transactions, according to Brad Jones, director of the Productivity, Improvement and Innovation Directorate.

"From a Lean Six Sigma perspective, we're eliminating waste and increasing value-added work," Jones said. "In other words, the depot is spending less time doing data entry and more time improving weapons systems for warfighters."

AIT users concur the system lets them enter data in less time while improving accuracy.

"It's so much easier to scan the data versus manually typing it into the computer," said Warren Ferrese, Systems Integration and Support Directorate's Industrial Services Division. The machinist leader said he performs operation confirmations on 20-30 items every day. "The ability to scan items anywhere in the work area is definitely better that having to move pallets closer to a terminal; it cuts out several steps in the process and improves efficiency."

Productivity, Improvement and Innovation Directorate officials estimate using AIT will save the depot $3.5 million annually. Business processes expected to fall under AIT in the future include labor reporting, materiel management, inventory, shop floor execution, and sales and distribution.

According to Ron Rains, launching AIT is the first step in the process. "Further applications will provide similar capability to other shops on the floor, making their jobs easier. We wanted to enhance the business process with very simple technology. By improving data entry, the depot saves millions just by making sure information is entered in the system correctly," he said. Rains is a management analyst in the Productivity, Improvement and Innovation Directorate.

The implementation of a wireless network expanded the depot's connectivity footprint throughout the installation.

More than 30 subject matter experts worked to identify numerous sites throughout the depot for wireless technology and bring AIT on line. Over 100 employees in 68 cost centers are participating in the AIT program using 171 handheld scanners.

"The AIT implementation was a great effort on the part of everyone at Tobyhanna including those on the AIT team as well as the users of the system," said Amber Davidson, LMP/SAP specialist, Production Management Directorate. We learned a lot about the process and we plan to pass our lessons learned on to other depots as they begin their AIT implementations. We want to help make the process as smooth of a transition as possible."

According to Fulk, this was a complex project and everyone assisted AMC and the contractors with getting the system set up. Employees here were instrumental in the program's design, networking and IT coordination efforts. She noted that Tobyhanna's Matt Parmeter was the IT specialist who configured AIT for use at the depot.

Work included installing two wireless controllers, about 200 access points and numerous wireless intrusion detection devices. The team overcame many challenges to make the project possible, said DOIM's Bill Moody, information technology specialist.

Employees were able to familiarize themselves with AIT by attending training classes.

Donna Kimmel, supply systems analyst, commended everyone for "coming together as a team" to accomplish this complex task. "I'm excited about the possibilities. There are so many potential uses for AIT." Kimmel works in the Production Management Directorate's Material Management Division.

Tobyhanna employees have been very patient while the AIT team worked their way through the challenges of the deployment, Jones noted.

"The Defense Department and our customers are counting on us to make improvements. This one is definitely going to pay off in the long run."

Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.

About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.