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Keep your mind open

I’ve often found that some of the most innovative ideas present themselves when you’re not actually looking for them.
By Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
May 11, 2011

I’ve often found that some of the most innovative ideas present themselves when you’re not actually looking for them. That certainly was the case for reverse logistics giant Genco ATC when its strategic solutions team was walking the show floor at ProMat back in 2007.

At the time, the team had just piloted a real-time locating system in its McDonough, Ga., returns center that used a combination of active and passive RFID tags to track pallet and lift truck locations inside the facility.  The goal was to capture putaway locations and finally eliminate their paper-based check system on the way to improving the number of pallets moved per hour and streamlining overall inventory operations.

They found that the RFID system did a pretty good job of scanning tags on pallets, but could not accurately read the active tags due to the metal in the lift trucks and pallet racks—and they could only track the lift truck within 8 feet of the appropriate aisle, thus falling short of the accuracy they needed.

While strolling the floor at ProMat that year, the team bumped into a company called Sky-Trax. The technology provider was showcasing a solution that could track lift trucks inside facilities, and do so by employing specialized cameras mounted on lift trucks that read 2D position markers mounted in the ceiling—an interface that could track the trucks within inches.

“They weren’t marketing it as an inventory system,” Cary Cameron, Genco ATC’s senior vice president of strategic solutions, tells Bob Trebilcock in this month’s System Report. “But while we were watching the demonstration, a light bulb went off. We realized that with a little tweaking, their solution could do exactly what we were trying to do.”
Fast-forward three years and Genco ATC’s inspiring innovation story unfolds on page 18. In fact, it’s the kind of System Report I wish we could tell more often. First, Cameron and her team had taken the time to descend on ProMat en masse, charged with keeping their eyes and minds wide open for new ideas.

Second, they were able to understand a technology and quickly configure it so it would apply to their own specific needs—a move that the vendor loved. But most importantly, Cameron and her team found ways to continue to innovate and draw value out of the real-time tracking implementation, even after they met—and exceeded—their original goals.

For example, the team then used the tracking data to redesign their operational practices to reduce driver operator travel time and improve overall productivity by some pretty significant numbers. It’s worked so well that similar systems are being rolled out in several of the companies’ other locations.

“I loved this story,” says Trebilcock, “because it illustrates the innovation that’s at work in the supply chain today. With this implementation, Genco found a way to create value with a fairly new technology. And if you keep your eyes and mind open, you’ll find a number of innovative solutions in the market that have reached a price point that delivers an ROI.”

About the Author

Michael Levans
Group Editorial Director

Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 27-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 20 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past 11 years. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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