What You Need to Know Before Buying IUID Labels

Last Updated: February 8, 2022

The Item Unique Identification (IUID) program, also called Unique identification (UID), was launched by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to streamline the management of sensitive equipment between government sites, suppliers, and contractors. This program is defined by important guidelines that dictate which equipment must be labeled with a unique identifier and how each company should manage the specific requirements.

This post will explain exactly what you should know before purchasing IUID labels for marking your equipment and other assets. We’ll review the basic requirements for the IUID program, including the Unique Identifying Information (UII) that must be included on each asset label. Additional information explaining how to select a proper IUID label is also included to help you evaluate the right components for your operation.

Understand Which Assets Require an IUID

Helmet and oxygen mask of a military pilot

The U.S. DoD defines the details of the IUID program in the document MIL-STD-130N, titled Department of Defense Standard Practice Identification Marking of U.S. Military Property. These instructions include over 50 pages of information including the scope of the program. An IUID marking is required for any item that meets the following criteria:

  • An item with an acquisition cost greater than $5,000
  • An item that is considered mission essential or controlled
  • An item that will be serially managed by the DoD
  • An item that requires permanent identification for other reasons

The use of IUID tags adds additional costs for suppliers and other entities involved in the supply chain for these assets. For this reason, it’s important to clarify if the markings are required or if other traditional tracking formats are acceptable. Overmarking assets can hurt profits, while failing to mark required assets can lead to regulatory fines and other penalties.

Understand Your Application Requirements

Deck of a military ship

The selection of proper IUID labels should be determined based on the specific requirements for each application. Several factors such as the equipment surface and environmental conditions could impact the selection of label material type and design format. We’ve broken down the IUID label buying process into three stages: material selection, design formatting, and tagging. According to the requirements, each tag must remain readable for the lifetime of the asset to which it’s attached.

Material Selection

The material for the IUID label should be chosen based on the expected environmental conditions. Some common examples include exposure to sunlight, dust, rain, saltwater, and corrosive materials. Creating a full list of potential contaminants will help determine which label material is most compatible. Some of the most common IUID label materials are:

  • Polyester is often chosen for assets such as computer systems that spend most of their time indoors. This plastic material is generally lower cost, yet it is not as durable as many of the other selections.
  • Polycarbonate labels are an excellent choice for chemical dispense applications and the tagging of heavy equipment. The plastic substrate holds up very well to chemical exposure and can be exposed to a wide range of temperature levels.
  • Metalphoto® anodized aluminum has a strong anodized aluminum substrate that is extremely durable. It’s one of the best materials to use for aggressive environments that require a high level of compatibility with various contaminants. In fact, Metalphoto is identified by the National Association of Graphic and Product Identification Manufacturers (GPI) Industry Standards and Practices Manual as the most durable printed aluminum substrate available due to its applicability for extreme environmental conditions and outdoor exposure. Metalphoto also received the highest score among IUID (Item Unique Identification) label materials in a study conducted by the U.S. Navy.

Design Formatting

The IUID guidelines do not specify a size requirement, so the proper size and shape for the label should be chosen based on the expected scanning parameters. Consider the scanning distances that will be used and the expected placement on the item surface. It’s also important to choose a suitable fabrication style.

  • Direct Part Marking (DPM) involves creating an imprint or etching directly on the surface of the item. This is desirable in situations where a label or plate cannot be properly attached to the asset. Drawbacks of DPM include potential readability issues and shadowing due to the shape of the surface marks.
  • A label or plate can be fabricated for placement on the item. The tag must be a Grade-A item with excellent contrast and an acceptable dot pitch. Black and white labels are often preferred for their high contrast versus colored labels. It’s always recommended to verify the expected uniformity and readability of the labels before making a purchase.

The design must also include a properly formatted 2D data matrix barcode that remains readable throughout the asset’s lifetime. Three constructs are defined in the IUID guidelines that define the formatting for the label contents including serialized number formats. Consult the regulations for details about Construct 0, Construct 1, and Construct 2.

Tagging

Labels can be purchased from a qualified vendor or fabricated in-house with your own equipment. Before finalizing an order, it’s also important to select an attachment method for a label or plate. This may include the use of a compatible adhesive or holes intended for mechanical attachment. The placement of these IUID labels onto the items is another key step. Think carefully about the orientation and location to ensure a good scanning range and proper attachment to the item surface.

The IUID labels you select must be readable for as long as they are used. It’s also important to create inspection procedures to periodically verify that labels are in proper condition. There may also be a need to define cleaning protocols that are especially helpful in dirty environments such as the desert or ocean. With a carefully planned IUID tagging program, you can create a serialized tracking system that meets the DoD’s strict requirements.

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