David E. Steitz Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

1993 (Phone: 202/358-1730) Jerry Berg Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. (Phone: 205/544-0034) RELEASE: 93-218

December 6,

NASA-INDUSTRY EFFORT BOOSTS AUTOMATED PARTS ID SYSTEM NASA and its industry partners are working together to develop a new technology for parts tracking -- a small binary symbol similar to a checkerboard known as "Vericode" (trademark), which can contain much more information and occupy less space than a bar code and be easily marked directly on a part's surface for permanent identification. Vericode is a matrix arrangement of black and white squares which offers great versatility for different applications. It has a proven high degree of accuracy, providing for little degree of error during encoding and decoding processes. Vericode and its accompanying marking technologies are being developed by a team from NASA, the Space Shuttle's prime contractor Rockwell International and Veritec, a small California firm. These technologies, working as a system promise to revolutionize parts identification systems with possible spinoff applications into the fields of medicine, manufacturing, distribution and consumer product identification. "We had been looking for an improved method of identifying parts in certain systems of the Space Shuttle," said Fred Schramm of the Technology Utilization Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. "When this system came to our attention,

it looked like it had the potential to provide some real advantages -- if it could be developed to meet the special requirements for space hardware." "During the early development, the system relied primarily on the use of printed labels, so there was the same limitation on how it could be applied as that of bar codes. However, Veritec was already experimenting with applying the marking directly and permanently on parts. This attracted our attention," said Schramm - more -2A team was formed to help meet NASA's needs, and the progress the team has made offers a much wider potential benefit to American industry. As part of the team effort, a specialized laboratory was created in Huntsville under the direction of Rockwell's Don Roxby. It was outfitted for working with an extensive range of materials, types of parts and different markings technologies. "Right from the start, we saw the need to expand the capabilities of the Vericode system to cope with as wide a range of parts and materials as possible," Roxby explained, "especially those that are exposed to the extremely harsh environment of space flight." Since the labs inception 2 years ago, progress has been made in several areas. For the Space Shuttle program, that translates into being able to place ID codes on parts ranging from the hundreds of turbine blades in the Shuttle's main engine turbopumps to the thousands of heatshield tiles that act as the orbiters protective shell. "With direct parts ID, you can bypass steps where a human would manually transfer numbers, such as serial numbers -- steps that leave chances for mistakes to sneak in," said Roxby. Human error, therefore, is greatly reduced using Vericode. "Vericode allows for machine reading of parts ID codes to update computer databases in realtime, as changes to a part or system occur. This permits opening a direct link to a computerized parts tracking system, and you end up with a much more current and reliable database," Roxby explained.

During development of the partnership in this research, it has become apparent that many fields exist where the use of direct parts identification can overcome existing problems and promote greater efficiencies in industry. "Through the technology utilization process," said Schramm, "an incredible variety of industries have been submitting their marking problems to the lab. Some of them are pretty easy to solve -- marking pharmaceutical vials posed very similar requirements as marking aerospace parts." "Marking live hogs was considerably more of a challenge," commented Roxby. "The meat industry has a need to better identify and track individual items -- in this case, a cut of meat -- from the supermarket back to the farm," Roxby explained. "Instang ces of food poisoning are the strongest argument here. You want to be able to quickly find the source of contaminated meat and issue an immediate recall, one that can be limited to just the affected source." Markings on surgical supplies, medical machinery and high-technology equipment all face potential benefit from the Vericode system. With so broad a spectrum of applications being explored, the outlook appears bright for new methods of automated parts identification. - end EDITORS NOTE: Photographs are available to news media by calling NASA Headquarters Broadcast and Imaging Branch at 358-1900. Color photo numbers are: 93-HC-460, 93-HC-461, 93-HC-462, 93-HC-463, 93-HC-464; black and white photo numbers are 93-H-508, 93-H-509, 93-H-510, 93-H-511, 93-H-512.