For Corporate Express Canada (CEC) accuracy and speed are of the essence.
As a supplier of office and computer products to Canadian companies, CEC's business depends on its getting the right order to the right customer at the right time.
That goal was getting increasingly difficult to achieve with the company's earlier procedure for loading its delivery trucks. The system of manually checking to see if the right packages were loaded on the right truck was just too tedious and inefficient.
So CEC decided to automate the process. The company's operations and IT groups teamed to develop a "rolling warehouse." They installed a wireless LAN at eight Canadian distribution centers that connected back to the in-house enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and was integrated with Intermec Technologies' CK30 mobile handheld computers.
The loading and delivery process was re-engineered using the Intermec CK30 to positively locate every package on the vehicle. The system alerts the loader if a wrong box is being loaded onto a truck, ensuring an accurate manifest for every driver.
Before the rollout, warehouse loaders were forced to stack cartons on individual five-ton trucks in sequence so a driver would know where to find the items for a specific delivery. If items came down the warehouse conveyor belt out of sequence loaders would have to rearrange cartons on the loading dock to get them back in sequence before loading them on to a delivery truck. Each carton would have a truck number printed on its side but this still left room for human error.
According to CEC, the Intermec deployment has changed all this.
The rollout itself was accomplished in record time. It took a few months of planning and less than a month to actually install the wireless access points and integrate them back into the corporate ERP system, according to Steve Edmonds, the vice-president of operations for Corporate Express Canada.
With the new system a loader still looks for the truck number on the side of the carton but now he or she scans the carton with the CK 30. On the truck each shelf has a unique barcode. When a carton is placed on the shelf the barcode is scanned. If the carton is put on the wrong truck -- the backend ERP system knows what goes where, Edmonds said -- a double beep sounds and the loader knows he has made a mistake.
Because the system can track where an individual carton is (via the scanned barcode on the truck's shelf), loaders can stack packages as they come down the conveyor belt, placing them anywhere on a truck.
Drivers are then given a printed manifest telling them where each item is on the truck. The shelves themselves are labeled so a driver knows, for example, that one carton is on shelf A103 and another is on B206, Edmonds explained.
But the biggest savings have come not from a reduction in placement errors (though, according to Edmonds, they have gone down by about a quarter per cent). Rather the most significant cost savings come from the ability to run a "no load scan report" prior to drivers leaving, Edmonds said. With the manual system, about three to five cartons would fail to make it from the warehouse to the truck each night. With a guaranteed next day delivery, this meant having to priority ship a few cartons each day, at a substantial cost, Edmonds said.
On average, around 10,000 cartons are loaded nightly at the eight distribution centers. With all the trucks loaded and all the boxes scanned, the ERP system can tell if any are missing from the morning shipment.
Since loading is done by about 1 a.m. -- a good four or five hours before the drivers leave in the morning -- there is ample time to find stray cartons and get them loaded, Edmonds said. From three to five a night, the "no load" is now zero, Edmonds said.