by Ellen Davis
In the world of business, many companies base their operations on something known as “just-in-time delivery.” This means that parts arrive just when they are needed on the assembly line, thereby avoiding costly warehousing and inventories. Some companies have gotten “just-in-time delivery” down to an art form, with supplies arriving literally minutes before they are needed.
“Terror alerts and long back-ups at border crossings can throw off the whole just-in-time delivery system,” says Bob Silver, director of the Emerging Technologies Laboratory at NMSU’s Physical Sciences Laboratory (PSL).
PSL has been working with officials on both sides of the border to deploy new technologies that could make the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in New Mexico a model for other border crossings in the United States.
“We want to become the evaluation center of choice for the federal government,” Silver says. “We can offer sound, unbiased evaluations and make recommendations.”
PSL’s Border Technology Deployment Center, for example, is evaluating technologies that could be used for a comprehensive cargo monitoring system. This system would track products from the place of manufacture to arrival at the border. Components of this system include cameras on factory loading docks, technology to seal trucks once they are loaded and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology on trucks to monitor their movement from factory to the border. Companies that agree to participate in this system would be able to cross the border without a lengthy inspection.
“The U.S. Army implemented a similar system in Iraq to track and identify its cargo containers to make sure they weren’t tampered with,” says Mike Noonchester, director of the Border Technology Deployment Center.
The Border Technology Deployment Center is beginning a pilot program this year with several of the maquilas located in Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico. Two NMSU students from Mexico – Gustavo Carrillo and Ismael Hernandez – helped PSL research Mexican companies that might be interested in participating in the project.
The Border Technology Deployment Center also has been working with officials at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry to deploy an advanced “weigh-in-motion” technology that can check truck weights without the trucks having to stop, as well as infrared cameras that can be used to check brakes and find illegal goods hidden in modified vehicles.
PSL also has a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test new technologies for detecting food pathogens. Currently, Silver says, samples of suspicious food products coming across the border are sent to FDA labs across the country for testing – a process that can take anywhere from three to seven days.
“We’re examining technologies that would give faster results and comparing their accuracy to that of the standard methods,” Silver says. “We’re also evaluating some technologies that could be used right at the port so that samples would not have to be sent away to labs.”
PSL also is using its computer expertise to help FDA officials develop an automated risk-based import examination system that would “profile” products crossing the border. Information such as a product’s place of origin, who sent it, what it is, how long it has been in transport and the route it takes to get to the border is fed into computers that use algorithms to weigh the value of these risks.
“Eventually the computers become smart enough that they start picking up trends that a human would have trouble spotting,” Silver says.
Lupe Ramirez, director of the Santa Teresa Port, says he appreciates the outside expertise that PSL provides.
“This type of assistance helps you think outside the box,” Ramirez says. “Our goal is to have good security and move people and goods across the border faster. With technology and good systems, we can do this.”
For more information: Bob Silver – firstname.lastname@example.org