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Aug. 8 2006 04:33 PM

When wire is braided together, it becomes much stronger and more effective. Montgomery Wire, a division of Global Wire, used the same type of closely wound partnership to transform its inventory control system from a tedious, manual operation into a highly accurate, real-time automated system guaranteeing customers get the products they ordered.
 
Headquartered in Littleton, New Hampshire, Montgomery Wire manufactures specialty wire for stranded conductors, tinsel conductors and flat-wire products. Its wires may subsequently be braided together for shielding in airplanes, extruded by another manufacturer for use in audio speakers or used in computer equipment and telephone cords.
 
�We manufacture many different wires to customers� specifications,� comments Laura Smith, IT Technician. Even to a trained eye, it�s difficult to distinguish the different wires by visually looking at them. As a result, Montgomery Wire�s manual tracking system was time consuming and subject to human error. To ensure proper product shipments, the 100-year-old firm recently replaced it with a highly accurate inventory tracking system. The critical tools in this new system are a partnership of wireless data collection and barcode tracking equipment. The successful project design and installation was a true partnership on a higher level between the user, a systems solutions provider and an expert in radio frequency (RF) installations.
 
Smith and Montgomery�s Brian Currier, system analyst programmer, worked closely with the system solutions integrator, Winco Identification Systems, and the RF expert, Compsee. Winco is a New Hampshire-based provider of automatic identification solutions and a manufacturer of quality labeling systems. Compsee is a North Carolina-based national data collection systems firm with certified radio frequency data collection (RFDC) engineers. Together, they installed the new system in an 80,000-square-foot main warehouse and manufacturing facility.
 
The project and teamwork paid off as expected for Montgomery Wire. �RFDC is very fast; it�s real-time. In addition, the barcode system eliminated a lot of handwriting. As a result, our inventory is accurate and we�re shipping accurate orders to our customers,� says Smith.
 
Specialized Knowledge Brings Best Solution
Each team member, from Montgomery Wire to Compsee to Winco Identification, brought special knowledge and skills to the project. Currier designed the programming for the finished goods, the inventory management database and interrelated production and the quality control database systems. Because the handheld RF scanners only run a telnet program, Currier also designed a program to integrate the scanners with the databases and installed the Winco-selected handheld terminal emulation software. Wiring was performed by on-site electricians.
 
Compsee, which can provide total system integration services, brought its radio frequency integration expertise to the project. It conducted the RF site survey with RF-certified engineers to determine the number of access points needed for transmitting the radio signals and their locations. It made sure that there was no interference and guaranteed that handheld RF scanners used anywhere in the building could transmit and receive signals accurately.
 
Winco, as a full-service solutions provider, scheduled and coordinated the entire installation. In its systems integrator roll, Winco brought in Compsee for its RFDC expertise and Symbol Technologies products to create a best-of-breed solution. Winco selected the specific RF scanners and terminal emulation software. They also supplied and installed the critical barcode labeling equipment such as its two-inch by four-inch thermal transfer label stock and SATO M-8400RVe printers, and they installed the RF antennas and transceivers.
 
�Working together, we extended Montgomery Wire�s network and requirements to a flexible RF system that lets employees roam anywhere to capture data, yet instantaneously transmits the movement of hundreds of wire reels to the finished goods inventory management system,� notes Steve Wright, Winco account executive.
 
How It Works
The new barcode tracking system starts in the quality control department. Once the manufactured wire is inspected and approved, quality control experts enter the product�s shop order number into the homegrown finished goods inventory management system. It then issues a reel identification number tied to the shop order to identify the manufacturing process the wire went through. This initiates the printing of two barcode labels in Code 39 symbology from a SATO M-8400RVe barcode printer. One tag goes inside the reel and one goes on the outside of the reel. The self-designed label is printed on standard two-inch by four-inch thermal transfer label stock supplied by Winco.
 
Once reels are labeled, shipping and warehouse personnel scan the barcode, weigh the reel and key enter the weight, location and date into the inventory record. The product type and customer automatically determine the stocking location where the wire reel remains until shipped.
 
When an order is received to ship the reel, a picking ticket tells a forklift driver where to get the reel. Its ID tag is scanned, which pulls up the weight on the screen on the Symbol Technologies� PDT 6840 handheld RF terminal/scanner. The worker visually verifies the weight to make sure it is the size shown on the terminal. The reel is then put on a pallet for shipping and the RF system immediately removes the product from inventory. The shipping supervisor inputs the number of labels needed per order as determined by the number of reels or packages being shipped, and the customer�s shipping label is printed. Label style, often determined by the customer, depends on who the shipper is. Regardless of the printer used, the label stock comes from Winco.
 
Besides helping to ship the right product, the RF system improves Montgomery Wire�s inventory control process. Instead of manually writing what is in each location, workers simply scan the reel�s barcoded ID tag and barcoded location. After an inventory has taken place, any reel can be compared against a printed version of the inventory or traced through the user interface to determine when the reel was put into the inventory. 
 
The Benefits
Order accuracy and its resulting improved customer service were among the first evident benefits. The real-time barcode system guarantees the right reel is chosen for each order. That also cuts down on return costs that include re-receiving, re-put-way, re-picking and re-shipping.
 
�Before, because we have so many different products, it was very easy to ship something incorrectly. There could be just a slight difference in the product so that it�s not visually possible to differentiate,� says Smith. Now the barcode application applied immediately upon quality control inspection prevents those errors.
 
Improvements were also seen with inventory accuracy. �On the third inventory scanning, every item we showed we had in our database, we did have. We could physically put our hands on everything we thought we had,� says Smith.
 
It took a variety of experts to make sure the wires got to a variety of end users. However, it was this partnership of equals, just like braided wires, that created a system of superior results.
 
For more information, please contact Winco Identification at www.wincoid.com, Compsee at www.compsee.com or SATO America Inc. at www.satoamerica.com.
 

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