Shelf-Life Management

by Kenneth W. Pillar

Proper management of shelf-life items helps ensure readiness, saves money, and protects the health of Army personnel.

It’s a typical day in the life of a supply systems analyst at the Army Materiel Command’s Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) Packaging, Storage, and Containerization Center (PSCC) in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. A military customer calls from halfway around the world in Kuwait: Are his batteries still good? Are his tires okay to use, or should he dispose of them before they cause a fatal accident? Another customer, an Army sergeant, calls from Fargo, North Dakota: His unit is being disbanded and he can’t order new supplies, but he has some brake fluid he’d like to use up. Is the fluid a shelf-life item? Should he dispose of it?

Shelf-life management of items of supply is something that has been around ever since there have been shelves; it certainly is not unique to the military. In the civilian world, almost every consumer has experienced problems with products that were too old. For example, a consumer may check three or four packs of batteries before selecting one to buy in order to ensure that he gets the newest items.

Within the military, because of shrinking budgets, resource shortfalls, and greater environmental concern, shelf-life item management has become increasingly important for reducing inventory levels, disposal costs, and hazardous wastes. In the Army alone, the current dollar value of the inventory of shelf-life items is over $2 billion.

A concerted effort from logistics personnel can result in a comprehensive and effective shelf-life management program. In our business of providing logistics support for national defense, shelf-life management plays an important role. According to Kris Keydel of Headquarters, Department of the Army (DA), "The shelf-life management program not only influences the readiness of equipment, but it also affects the health, safety, and wellbeing of our human resources. It should be considered one of the most important and consequential concerns of all logisticians." And as Mike Pipan, Director of the Department of Defense (DOD) Shelf-Life Program, recently observed, "The DOD shelf-life program impacts the entire logistics life cycle from weapons system development to the shop floor. Accordingly, all DOD personnel need to be aware that their concern for shelf-life can improve readiness, save DOD and taxpayer dollars, and preserve our environment."

What Is a Shelf-Life Item?

A shelf-life item is defined as an item of supply that will deteriorate or become unstable over time; it therefore must be assigned a maximum storage period to ensure that it will perform satisfactorily when used. Shelf-life items include standard and hazardous items, both consumable and nonconsumable.

The first step in shelf-life item management is determining the shelf-life period. This period begins with the date of an item’s manufacture, cure, assembly, or pack (for subsistence only) and ends in one of two ways. For type I shelf-life items, the ending date is the date by which the item must be used. This date is called the expiration date, and it cannot be extended except in limited cases. For type II shelf-life items, the ending date is the date by which the item must be tested or inspected according to established criteria. This date is called the inspect/test date. Based on the results of the test or inspection and restorative action, the inspect/test date—and thus use of the item—may be extended beyond the original date to a new inspect/test date.

Shelf-life periods for both type I and II items are expressed through assigned shelf-life codes (see chart on next page). Type I codes are alpha characters and represent times ranging from 1 to 240 months. Type II codes are numeric characters and represent times ranging from 3 to 60 months. A code of zero is assigned to nonshelf-life items.

Obtaining Shelf-Life Information

Shelf-life codes are assigned to national stock numbered items and are contained in Army and DOD item management data bases. This information can be accessed through remote terminal inquiry to the data bases or by reading the compact disk products ARMYLOG or FEDLOG.

Another system, designed by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and maintained on the mainframe computer at Defense Megacenter Columbus, Ohio, contains more detailed information on type II shelf-life items. This system, called the M204 Program, consists of the materiel quality control storage standards (MQCSS) and the quality status list (QSL) data bases. The M204 was created to provide an online, realtime source of the information contained in the publication Materiel Quality Control Storage Standards (DLA Regulation 4155.37/Army Regulation 70218/Navy Supply Instruction 4410.56/Air Force Joint Manual 23223/Marine Corps Order 4450.13), as well as QSL data.

The MQCSS contains appendices for each inventory control point (ICP) that are used in performing storage surveillance and receipt inspection and developing test criteria. The QSL contains the results of tests conducted by various DODapproved laboratories on samples of type II extendible materiel. ICP’s, which are responsible for updating and maintaining the data, have access to all M204 system capabilities, including adding, deleting, and updating data, while storage activities can view the data they need to accomplish their surveillance duties.

Shelf-life management information allows a user to determine an item’s serviceability by assessing the degree of degradation it may have experienced. Another way of putting this is that the user can better determine if shelf-life items have retained their original characteristics to a degree that warrants extending their shelf-life periods. Shelf-life information also prescribes maintenance for both the item and its packaging so that restoration can be accomplished.

An important point to remember is that shelf-life periods are assigned to materiel based on prescribed storage environments; storing materiel in environments other than those prescribed may significantly lessen the shelf-life period and therefore require more frequent tests and inspections.

The Players in Shelf-Life Management

The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology has delegated authority for the shelf-life management program in DOD to the Director of DLA. DLA directs the shelf-life management program in accordance with the responsibilities assigned to it in DOD Directive 5105.22, Defense Logistics Agency. Policy and procedures for the program are contained in DOD 4140.27M, Shelf-Life Management Manual. In addition to DLA and the armed services, the General Services Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Defense Special Weapons Agency (formerly the Defense Nuclear Agency), and the United States Coast Guard also participate in the DOD shelf-life management program in a spirit of partnering to achieve common management goals and objectives.

This is where LOGSA PSCC fits into the picture. As the Army Materiel Command’s (AMC's) executive agent, with authority delegated from Headquarters, DA, PSCC provides the Army member of the DOD Shelf-Life Committee, Susan Joy, who serves as the Army shelf-life administrator. PSCC’s responsibilities include—

· Analyzing trends in the assignment of shelf-life codes to new items of supply.

· Reviewing disposal rates of shelf-life items.

· Performing surveillance visits to activities with high disposal rates of shelf-life items.

· Recommending policy changes to enhance management of the shelf-life program.

· Providing statistics on Army shelf-life items to DOD and Army item managers.

One recent PSCC accomplishment was the Army’s advocacy of a test program to provide materiel with longer remaining shelf-life to foreign military sales (FMS) customers. While the test ultimately was not required, the multiservice and multiagency debate led to a consensus that FMS customers’ needs were not being met by current policy and an agreement on a new policy for both FMS and other customers outside the continental United States. That new policy now requires direct vendor delivery to overseas customers, when feasible, so that materiel moves from manufacturers to customers as quickly as possible. Additionally, items with shelf-life periods of 2 years or more now must have at least 1 year, instead of 6 months, of remaining shelf-life upon issue from the wholesale supply system.

Determining shelf-life periods in the Army is the responsibility of the various commoditybased item management activities, usually the national inventory control points (NICP’s). Each of the other services and DLA also have given shelf-life management responsibilities to their wholesale ICP’s.

The Army NICP’s, which report to the commanding general of AMC, are the Tankautomotive and Armaments Command, located in Warren, Michigan (this command includes the Armament and Chemical Acquisition and Logistics Activity at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois); the Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama; the CommunicationsElectronics Command at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey (this command includes the Communication Security Logistics Activity at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and the Intelligence Materiel Management Center at Warrenton, Virginia); and the Aviation and Troop Command at St. Louis, Missouri. Along with these commands, the Army Petroleum Center at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania; the Army Medical Materiel Agency at Fort Detrick, Maryland; and the Army Support Activity at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also have item management responsibilities for specific items.

LOGSA PSCC staffs all changes in shelf-life policy with these frontline Army managers and chairs an annual Army shelf-life summit meeting to promote discussion and resolution of common shelf-life problems and issues. All Army item managers, plus any Army activity with a significant interest in or problem with shelf-life management, are welcome to attend. Historically, the chair and members of the DOD Shelf-Life Committee also have attended the Army meetings.

Shelf-Life Management and the Logistician

Proper shelf-life management requires efforts that go beyond those needed for nonshelf-life items. These demands can strain limited logistics resources that also are being used for specialized management of other categories of inventory, including critical, sensitive, and other hazardous items. But the lack of effective shelf-life management procedures can result in added costs for stock replenishment and unnecessary and costly disposal of unserviceable materiel.

To avoid these costs, shelf-life management practices should include surveying stock for approaching inspect/test dates of type II materiel and taking required restorative measures; issuing the oldest stocks of both type I and type II materiel first (the firstin, firstout principle), except for FMS customers, who are always issued the newest stocks (lastin, firstout); and stowing materiel in prescribed storage environments when possible.

In addition, all logistics managers need to do their parts. Provisioning personnel must substitute nonshelf-life or longer shelf-life items whenever possible. Packaging improvements can prolong or eliminate the shelf-life of items. Requisitioning personnel can minimize stockage of shelf-life items at higher levels by avoiding excessive order quantities and accurately forecasting demands. Acquisition personnel can use direct vendor delivery to obtain the newest materiel possible and reduce warehouse inventory costs. Storage activities can evaluate the effectiveness of their shelf-life programs by using the management control evaluation checklist developed by the Army, which can be found in Appendix C of AR 7401, Storage and Supply Activity Operations.

Also, with increasing emphasis on the Army’s War Reserve (AWR) Program, Bradford Foley, LOGSA PSCC Chair of the AWR3 and TM 38450 Committees that have responsibility for developing AWR site caretaker policies and procedures for equipment and supplies, summarized the benefits of the shelf-life management program in the following way: "The shelf-life management program implemented by the AMC Industrial Operations Command has made maintenance cycles more efficient and has given the war fighter a better feeling about the equipment in the field."

The incentives of cost reduction and human health and safety in managing an effective shelf-life program are clear. The Army’s leader in the DOD program, LOGSA PSCC, will continue to improve the program and ensure that the soldier in the field has shelf-life materiel, like tires, batteries, and brake fluid, that is ready for use when needed! ALOG

Kenneth W. Pillar is a packaging specialist with the Army Materiel Command’s Logistics Support Activity Packaging, Storage, and Containerization Center at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. The author wishes to thank Susan M. Joy, Ronald J. Kozak, and Beverly B. Joyce—members of the shelflife management team—for their help in developing this article.