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Putting RTLS technology to work to handle returns

The real-time locating system (RTLS) is an integral part of receiving, putaway and picking operations.
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The optical recognition system at Genco ATC’s Mcdonough returns processing facility has led to a 47% gain in pallets moved per hour since the system went live.

May 11, 2011

Genco ATC, McDonough, Ga.
Size: 223,000 square feet
Products: Retail return center handling clothing, small appliances, tools and exercise equipment
Units: 23 million units handled in 2010
Shifts: 1 shift/4 days/10 hours
Employees: 120 employees in operations

The real-time locating system (RTLS)  is an integral part of receiving, putaway and picking operations.

Receiving: Everything arrives on pallets from the retailer’s stores through common carriers. Those pallets include a mix of any of the products sold by the retailer.

Newly arrived pallets are received into the warehouse management system (WMS) and staged temporarily on the dock. The contents in the cartons won’t be identified until the cartons are depalletized and conveyed to a workstation, where the cartons are opened and the individual item contents are scanned into the WMS system.

Based on the item scan, the WMS identifies the product that will be processed, determines a disposition for that product and prints a license plate bar code to identify the item. Genco ATC personnel can override the system based on a visual inspection. For instance, an item that is broken or may raise a safety concern can be disposed of or delivered to another zone for additional handling.

Once the items have been identified and processed, they are put on the takeaway conveyor and sorted into various categories based on final ship to points. Full pallets are stretch wrapped, labeled with the 2D bar code used by Sky-Trax, and scanned into the WMS system for putaway.

Putaway: Based on the location of the stretch wrapping station, the WMS determines a putaway location for that pallet based on the best available storage location and notifies a lift truck operator that a pallet is ready for putaway. The WMS system calculates the best available location based on horizontal and vertical travel of the forklift; horizontal travel is quicker than the vertical travel of the mast. The system visually confirms to the operator if they are at the proper put-away location or not.  The operator has the flexibility to override the WMS’s recommendation based on certain criteria, such as if the location is blocked by another larger pallet. Once the operator places the pallet into the location, the optical real-time location system updates the exact putaway location in the WMS. That pallet is now available for shipment.

Picking: When Genco ATC receives authorization to release returns that have been processed, the system directs an operator to a storage location to retrieve a pallet. Once the camera-imaging system validates that the 2D bar code on the pallet belongs to the shipment being picked, it is taken to the dock for staging and shipping. This validation prevents incorrect pallets from being picked.

Shipping: During the shipping process, the forward-looking camera verifies that the right pallet is being loaded while the upward facing camera reads the overhead location markers to confirm that the pallet is being loaded into the right trailer. Once the trailer is full, the load is ready for shipment.

System suppliers
Optical real-time location system: Sky-Trax
Engineering: Versona Systems
Lift trucks: Crown Equipment
Mobile computing: Intermec

The sky’s the limit for Genco ATC with new optical RTLS
A unique optical RTLS system has led to dramatic productivity improvements at Genco ATC’s returns center in McDonough, Ga.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.