Smart printers keep inventory data fresh
LoBue Citrus is a family-run grower and distributor of oranges, moving between four and five million boxes each year. The company, based in Lindsay, Calif., automated its produce traceability program in October 2010 and by employing a series of industrial and mobile printers, it improved accuracy and visibility.
The process had been manual, but the new system enables the company to accurately process up to 1,200 packages an hour. Workers move a cart-based printer directly to the boxes that require tags. After using a handheld device to scan the bar code (Intermec, http://www.intermec.com), a worker selects the quantity on the printer’s display and the system determines which label to print.
“The key benefit for us is having a real-time, automated inventory control system versus the manual system we’ve had in place, and being able to make decisions both in sales and production on what we have available to us in real time,” says operations manager Tom Clark.
Once the boxes are wrapped, the workers use a mobile printer to generate a pallet tag. All labels include a bar code that identifies the kind of orange, ship date, destination, farm source and even the farm lot. This is a powerful tool should the company need to trace a shipment back to its origin.
The stand-alone nature of the new smart printers didn’t require an additional computer to print labels and minimized the cost of the solution. The system was also easy to use, speeding up worker adoption.
“We always look at simple as being the best solution,” Clark said. “With the new printers, all you need is a small area on a desk or a rolling cart to make this system functional. It seems to be a very cost-effective, simple solution to satisfy the requirements that are being requested of us today.”
At any given moment, a worker can instantaneously pull up all information associated with a certain lot, says Clark, who notes that the process used to take as much as two hours. Inventory accuracy has also improved from the high-80% to low-90% range with the older system to between 98% and 99%. Because the system is automated, physical inventories have become a thing of the past, saving eight to 16 labor hours each day. Given the early improvements, Clark believes the system will pay for itself within two years.