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UID standards delve into all the details

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Imagine dozens of defense departments trying to determine what military equipment is available to share and where it is located. This is a challenge faced by NATO and its 28 member countries.

To address this challenge, NATO has turned to the Unique Identification of Items, or UID, system for labeling and tracking mission-critical equipment. Items are labeled with a 2D Data Matrix symbol that contains a Unique Item Identifier (UII). An automated scanner is used to read the Data Matrix and retrieve an item’s identifier. The UII is entered into a registry, which can contain other critical details about the item such as its repair and maintenance history and warranty information. The idea behind UID is that the information for any piece of equipment can be quickly retrieved and easily shared. With UID, any individual item can be readily distinguished from all others, throughout its entire lifetime.

To bring consistency to the process, NATO has developed standards regarding UID systems. In particular, there is the Allied Unique Identification of Items Publication, or AIDP-1. A related document is NATO’s standardization agreement, STANAG 2290, which is intended to serve as the basis for implementation plans. Individual defense departments may have their own UID standards, such as the British Defence Ministry’s DEF STD 05-132, which incorporate the STANAG 2290 requirements.

Although individual DoD standards may be quite similar to STANAG 2290, they’re not necessarily identical. For example, the NATO standard allows the Issuing Agency Code to be included in the UID Data Matrix symbol, but DEF STD 05-132 discourages that practice because the information can be derived from another data field, the Enterprise Identifier.

Down-to-the-dot explanation

Suppliers and others working in the defense industry can find detailed specifications for UID systems in the various government documents. The standards specify minimum cell sizes for different methods of Data Matrix marking, including dot peen, laser and electro-chemical etching.

If text (also referred to as “human readable information) is to accompany the Data Matrix symbol, DEF STD 05-132 says it should be to the left of the symbol and list the item descriptor, NATO stock number and serial number. The NATO document states that a UII should contain only uppercase letters A through Z, numbers 0 through 9, the hyphen and the slash. The use of the letters I, L, O and Q is discouraged.

Information included on labels should contrast strongly with the background. The labeling method should not damage the equipment. The labels should be designed to last the life of the equipment.

For more information on UID standards, visit

Lance Edwards resides in Renton, Washington and works as an engineer in the aerospace industry.  He is very involved in the trending technologies throughout this industry and prefers to share his findings through online articles and blog postings.  He often visits locate current and detailed information about this complex business.

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