TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
A simple idea to add a QR code to a Department of Defense form could bring major improvements in tracking aircraft parts and other ordered assets across the globe.
It’s an idea Jason Davis, 429th Supply Chain Management Squadron, has been working on since 2013. As a former parts supply technician and then an item manager, Davis saw both sides of the process of ordering and stocking assets. He also saw the problems that came along with it.
“As a parts supply technician, you’re scanning so fast,” Davis said. “We’re supposed to scan this third barcode but the scan gun is just trying to find a barcode, not the third barcode of four, so often it will scan where it is not supposed to,” which means the supply system does not record that the asset is there.
As an item manager, Davis felt the impact an incorrect scan can have. “A lot of the time I would be buying the same thing and think ‘what is going on?’ but you can’t just go check the shelf when you are buying Air Force-wide,” he said. “I started thinking, ‘what is a better way to do this?’”
A light bulb went off after he purchased an F-16 flap and went through an entire buy cycle without knowing its location. He had also recently purchased a bag of candy online. “I started realizing I just bought a $27,000 aircraft flap and have no idea where it is, but if this 10-pound bag of candy moves from one place on a shelf to another place on a shelf, Amazon is letting me know that,” Davis said. “It is letting me know exactly where things are and when it is delivered, I am getting a picture of it on my porch.”
The solution is a free, readily available QR code that holds much more information than barcodes and eliminates the risk of an incorrect scan. A standard barcode can hold nine to 25 alphanumeric characters, Davis said, while the QR code can hold two-and-a-half pages of data. That equates to 177 columns and 177 rows on an Excel spreadsheet.
“We can program this QR code so that every time it is scanned, it will send an e-mail to a workflow box, the sender and the receiver,” Davis said. “We can also track the last person who scanned it to create a breadcrumb trail,” if the asset is misplaced on a shelf nearby.
The QR code can still be scanned even if up to 30 percent of it is damaged. The cost to implement the solution would be minimal since the current scanners also work with QR codes.
Davis said based on the number of assets currently in “waiting” or “return” status, this modification could mean almost $800 million in cost avoidance for the Air Force and could have positive impacts DOD-wide.
“Because this is a DOD form, I have to believe the Army, Marine Corps and Navy are experiencing the same issues,” Davis said.
Seeing his idea receive recognition from Air Force Materiel Command feels like a major win, he said. “I’ve had this form on my computer for the better part of five years,” he said. “I’ve barked it up every tree I could find, and I haven’t had a supervisor yet say it isn’t a good idea. They just didn’t know what to do with it [because it was a DOD-level form].”
When Davis first received an e-mail about the Spark Tank program, “I was like, you know what? I’m just going to give it a shot and see what happens, and immediately I started receiving [feedback and questions].
“I was super excited for him because I know how passionate Jason is about this idea,” said Nancy Limon, Davis’ supervisor. “He worked very hard and he went out to dig up the facts and follow something that bothered him at his job every day. He found a way to solve a problem, not just complain about it.”
Davis' idea was chosen as one of five AFMC Spark Tank semi-finalists from more than 100 entries. He will present his idea to a panel Oct. 8 who will choose two top ideas to represent command at Air Force level in 2022.