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July 25 2006 09:42 AM

Managing the inventory and distribution of ice cold drinks might not seem to have a lot in common with managing the inventory and distribution of shiny new trucks, but wireless LAN technology is helping both businesses reduce costs and improve productivity.
 
These two case studies show exactly how that�s being done:
 
Ocean Spray Implements Wireless LAN and Boosts Productivity
Ocean Spray�s Kenosha, WI, warehouse is one of six regional manufacturing/warehousing distribution facilities for Ocean Spray. While each facility produces juice from locally-grown fruit, all facilities distribute the full Ocean Spray product line in their region. That requires considerable inter-warehouse shipments.
 
Prior to adopting a wireless LAN technology at the Kenosha warehouse, two people were dedicated to walking around the 300,000-square-foot warehouse just to find open storage locations for incoming pallet loads. When it was time to pick cases of the company�s juice products, workers had trouble reading the pallet case markings. Tracking of shipments by customers required many hours to review paperwork and determine who received which products from which lots.
 
Bringing Wireless to the Warehouse
When the managers of the Ocean Spray Kenosha warehouse faced an increase of 15% in case volume and a 10% increase in SKU count, it was time to make a change in their inventory information management system. They decided on a wireless system, and today, every lift truck in the Kenosha warehouse is outfitted with a radio frequency data communication (RFDC) terminal. All storage locations are barcoded, as are all pallet loads. A warehouse management system (WMS) coordinates activities, from receiving through shipping of finished goods. To maximize efficiencies, the server that the WMS systems runs on at Kenosha is fully integrated with the mainframe at Ocean Spray�s corporate headquarters in Middleboro, MA.
 
�This interactive transaction interface makes the data in our corporate system as current as the last barcode scanned on the floor,� Manager of Application Development Pete Stirling says.
 
With the new system, pallet loads arriving from another warehouse have a barcode pallet label, including the product identification number, product code date or expiration date, the plant of manufacture, line of manufacture and a sequentially assigned serial number. A lift truck operator scans the label in receiving. The RF terminal sends that data to the warehouse software, which immediately designates a storage location and relays it back to the RF terminal on the lift truck. Every storage location is identified by a barcode label, either suspended from the ceiling for floor locations, or attached to a rack face. The operator scans that barcode to confirm putaway in the correct location.
 
At headquarters, the mainframe receives orders by Ocean Spray�s electronic data interchange (EDI) network. It then releases orders to locations. At Kenosha, the WMS manages order picking, balances workloads and selects pick sequences for lift truck operators. The dock control module then releases orders for picking.
 
Each line item and quantity required appear on the designated lift truck�s RFDC terminal. To confirm accuracy, the operator scans the barcode label on the full pallet or at the rack location for less than full pallet picks. The RF terminal directs the operator to the designated dock door for immediate loading on an over-the-road trailer, all under the control of the warehouse software. Using the inventory data captured by the RF terminals, the WMS automatically generates the pack list and bill of lading for each over-the-road trailer. Confirmations of line items picked and shipped are then sent to the mainframe for invoicing.
 
Increased Productivity
The results of the wireless technology have been substantial. Beyond eliminating the original inefficiencies, the automatic data collection (ADC) system allowed Kenosha to ship an additional 1.8 million cases of the product in 2,200 fewer worker hours during the first year. Hourly productivity increased from 451 to 550 cases handled per worker. In addition, inventory accuracy now exceeds 98% and inventory turns increased as inventory levels fell by 121,000 cases. Lead analyst Ed Mahoney said the new system provides a standard 100% lot traceability by customer, within minutes.
 
Installation Size
The wireless system was initially installed in the Kenosha, WI warehouse and is now in the process of being installed at Ocean Spray�s other manufacturing/warehousing locations around the country.
 
Ford: Wireless LANs Improve Quality and Efficiency at Truck Plant
Henry Ford�s Model T � state of the art in its day � changed the way products were manufactured around the world. Ford�s new advanced wireless tracking system builds on the company�s reputation for innovative automation technology.
 
Quality Control Monitoring, Materials Tracking and Inventory Management
Ford�s Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville is over four million-square-feet in size and produces over 200,000 trucks annually, each a composite of thousands of parts. The plant operates on the world�s largest wireless quality control monitoring, product tracking and inventory management system. Quality control inspectors, forklift operators, clerks and shipping staff use wireless, pen-based portable teletransaction computers, or PTCs, throughout the manufacturing process.
 
Before the wireless system was installed, quality inspectors noted defects on forms and repair people initialed the forms when the repairs were finished. However, errors took hours or sometimes even days to identify and correct, so inspectors often didn�t find out about problems with a truck until well after the problems had originated.
 
Quality Control Monitoring
Ford wanted to keep quality control as simple as possible, so the new system had to involve minimal data entry. In fact, it ended up making the process even simpler. Now, after entering a personal access code into a PTC at the start of a shift, each inspector makes choices from a series of lists displayed on the screen, without writing down anything at all. And all information entered on the PTCs, which can be used anywhere in the manufac-turing complex, is transmitted instantly to a central main-frame computer.
 
At the start of the manufacturing process, each manufactured unit is assigned a serial number. As a unit enters an area of the plant, the inspector�s PTC lists the options pertinent to that area and shows which options were ordered for that particular truck. The inspector enters the inspection results for each option � defect or no � on the PTC. Farther on down the assembly line, in the same area of the plant, a quality upgrader�s PTC displays the defects to be corrected. The system effectively prevents a unit from being sent on to the next area until the upgrader notes that all defects have been repaired.
 
Materials Tracking
Ford also applied the wireless LAN to materials tracking: The system tracks every component and box of material that enters the facility to its consumption point on the assembly line.
 
Inventory Management
The wireless LAN even extends outdoors to the ship-out yard � which often holds more than 1,000 trucks � where PTCs are used for tracking finished product inventory. The wireless system not only tracks every truck�s location in the yard, it tells the shipping staff why the truck is there: whether it�s scheduled for an engineering change, whether it�s due to a third party for aftermarket work or body work, or whether a finance issue must be resolved before a truck can be shipped out.
 
More Competitive Products, Less Paperwork, Better Tracking and Inventory Management
The wireless LAN makes possible a level of quality control that contributed to the successful launch of Ford�s F-series trucks. �The system lets us correct problems before components leave their specified area,� says Ishmael White, Plant Floor Systems manager. �We don�t wait to go back and correct them later, so we can make repairs more reliably. The system also lets us react very quickly to trends that start to develop � say, where the same error is occurring repeatedly � which saves on the time and cost of repairs. Even in the rare case where a defect isn�t discovered until later on, the system lets us trace it back to the area where it originated so that we can find out what went wrong and address the problem.�
 
Because all of the information transmitted over the wireless LAN is collected in real time in a central database, inspectors can get the information they need on the spot simply by querying the database � there�s no more need to generate reports or tally inspection forms. Most reporting is done online, too. The result has been a drastic reduction in paperwork.
 
Finally, the wireless system has dramatically improved both materials tracking and inventory management, reducing the amount of material tied up in manufacturing by two-thirds since 1990.
 
Installation Size
The wireless LAN installation started out serving about 300 plant inspectors and other workers at the Kentucky Truck Plant. Now the number of users at the plant has gone up to 450; two completely redundant wireless networks with a total of 160 access points and antennas guard against downtime. Ford is now implementing wireless LANs at other manufacturing plants and distribution centers worldwide.
 
An Industry Poised for Growth
There are at least four reasons why the wireless LAN market is expected to exceed $1 billion by the year 2001.
 
First, a long awaited wireless LAN standard was recently approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). The IEEE 802.11 committee, a subgroup with the IEEE, has been working on an industry-wide, vendor-independent standard for wireless LANs for seven years. In July 1997, IEEE 802.11 was adopted as a worldwide ISO standard. The standard assures users of stable technology and more competitive bidding.
 
Second, product prices have decreased dramatically over the past year. The reductions are a result of competition for standards based product, the maturity of the technology and increased product volume and have helped cost justify wireless LANs in more applications.
 
Third, new wireless LAN appli-cations are continually being adopted. Schools are evaluating this technology for use in classrooms. Auditors and consul-tants are beginning to carry wireless LAN equipped laptops to their assignments so they can quickly set up their own networks within a client�s facility. Offices are evaluating the use of wireless LANs for Internet and intranet access for employees requiring real-time access to information. These applications share the benefits of improved productivity or efficiency that comes from providing individuals with the flexibility to move freely within their work environment, while maintaining the ability to send or retrieve information.
 
Fourth, the mobile computer paradigm is changing with more corporate and individual reliance on mobile computing platforms. Individuals are using notebook computers as their primary computers and handheld platforms are gaining popularity in the workplace.
 
The convergence of these factors will spur additional uses and increased purchases of wireless LAN solutions. Cordless phones seemed like an extravagant purchase until users discovered the value of local mobility. Wireless LANs provide these mobility benefits for data. All indicators point toward an industry poised for tremendous growth.
 
Mack Sullivan is the managing director of the Wireless LAN Alliance (WLANA). He is the spokesperson for the alliance and coordinates members� efforts to provide education about wireless LAN solutions and the trends emerging within the wireless LAN industry. Sullivan holds a BA in business from San Francisco State University. He can be reached at info@wlana.com.
 
WLANA is a consortium of wireless LAN vendors formed to provide ongoing education about current applications of wireless local area networking and the future of the industry. WLANA is committed to establishing the wireless LAN as a key component of local area networking. To that end, members provide a clearinghouse of information on industry-related resources, current and emerging applications and future capabilities of wireless LANs. You can find all of this information, along with a list of the leading companies in the wireless LAN industry and links to their Web sites, on the Wireless LAN Alliance Web site:www.wlana.com.
 

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