As the supply chain targets the efficient movement of both data and materials, myriad solutions must work in concert to capture and collate information at each step. The digital chains of custody are only as strong as their weakest links, which had long undermined operations for these companies.
Here, we take a look inside four facilities: Wesco Aircraft, Slingshot Sports, Allied Glass and Grove Medical. After identifying pain points, each facility strengthened the quality of data transmission while dramatically increasing productivity.
1) Inventory management helps manufacturer bring operations stateside
Slingshot Sports is a Hood River, Ore.-based manufacturer of kiteboards, wakeboards, standup paddleboards and longboard skateboards. The company produces more than 15,000 water boards a year at a plant in North Bonneville, Wash. Using an integrated suite of inventory, manufacturing and customer relationship software, the company was able to bring manufacturing from China to the states, launch a subsidiary and minimize inventory costs.
When it abandoned contract manufacturing overseas, the company also stopped using standard foam cores in favor of locally sourced wood in Washington. Faced with a need to closely tailor inventory to demand, managers sought to coordinate the sourcing of components from 30 suppliers in Asia and Washington state. New work order and assemblies modules enable streamlined production with bills of material, work orders, bin management and other functionality to support lean operations.
The company has more than doubled its revenue since implementing the new cloud-based software (NetSuite, netsuite.com) in 2007, while expanding its network of retail partners in the United States to more than 450. In early 2014, the company enabled online ordering and self-service account management for B2B customers. An alternative to e-mail and phone orders, B2B e-commerce has grown to handle 25% of all orders in just four months, with a 50% to 75% rate expected by 2015.
Slingshot executives say the new integrated platform has given them flexibility and efficiency in managing the supply chain and the business at large. “It gives us one system as a single source of the truth, and it can be easily customized to our needs,” says Greg Kish, Slingshot sales and marketing director. “We have real-time inventory, better reporting, better information on sales orders and shipping, and that’s a huge advantage over competitors that are still using antiquated systems. The biggest benefit is scalability and how we can grow so quickly with it.”
2) Forklift-mounted printer stands up to strenuous application
Since its founding in 1953, Wesco Aircraft of Valencia, Calif., has grown into a leading distributor and provider of supply chain management solutions for more than 8,500 businesses in the commercial aerospace, defense aerospace and ground vehicle, industrial, and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) markets. After mounting rugged portable printers to lift trucks, the company improved picking accuracy, efficiency and reliability.
“The main challenge is finding printers that will take the beating of being on a forklift all day without having to send them out for service constantly,” says Sid Schreiber, warehouse operations manager for Wesco Aircraft. “We also have to find a printer that will print labels that meet all of our customers’ requirements. We have had many issues with the printers we have used.”
The company has a global inventory of more than 575,000 stock-keeping units (SKUs) requiring a variety of labels to be printed on-demand. After partnering with an integrator (ADC Technologies, adctech.com), the company selected new printers (Datamax-O’Neil, datamax-oneil.com) that were rugged and compact, taking up less than half the space of a traditional desktop label printer. An anti-vibration quick-lock mounting plate preserves label integrity while printing from a forklift mount.
Schreiber says the printers can be operated with one hand while wearing a leather or latex glove, and because the paper path is accessible through the side of the printer, change outs are quick and easy.
“I have found these printers to be easy to work with,” Schreiber says. “All we’ve heard is good things about the reliability, ease of use and capacity of the labels they feed through it. They have really been successful in a lot of ways.”
3) On-board terminals ensure swift and accurate data transmission
Allied Glass, a supplier of luxury glass packaging, stores most of its stock in a warehouse where products are moved by lift truck. After replacing tablet-based terminals with new mounted computers, the company improved efficiency and productivity.
The company’s previous on-board tablet computers had very poor Wi-Fi performance, resulting in frequent network dropouts as the lift trucks moved around the warehouse. This caused delays in goods reaching their intended destination and negatively impacted the site’s productivity.
The new PC-based computers (In-CarPC, in-carpc.co.uk) run an internally developed program that processes the data and transmits it to the company’s back-office servers, in real time, over Wi-Fi. Dual high-gain Wi-Fi antennas mounted on the forklift’s roof ensure a consistent connection. As each product is loaded onto a lift truck, the move is recorded by the driver, who scans the product’s bar code using a wireless bar code scanner connected to a 10.4-inch, touch-sensitive display mounted in the cab.
“We are very pleased with the solution, which has significantly improved our Wi-Fi connectivity,” says Russell Bavester, information technologist at Allied Glass. “The computers outperform our previous solution even when the same antennas are used, and our existing bar code scanners work seamlessly.”
Bavester says they have also been able to free up a bit of room in the cab, as the previous tablet was very bulky. Further, lead times for new units are a fraction of what they were in the past.
4) Integrated data capture tools support same-day shipping goals
Founded in 1988, Grove Medical distributes a complete line of medical services, supplies, equipment and technology solutions for nursing homes, home care services, durable medical equipment dealers and other long-term care operators. E-commerce has played a big role in building the company’s B2B business. Recognizing that more than 70% of its orders come in the company’s e-commerce sites, the company deployed new hands-free picking technologies to increase processing speed by 1,200%.
Michael Laico, Grove’s vice president of operations, was charged with implementing a next-generation technology platform. He began with a fully integrated wholesale distribution software solution for distributors (Epicor, epicor.com). His next step was to identify a shipping system that would provide sophisticated freight cost management tools for small parcel and LTL shipments, increase warehouse shipment processing productivity, and directly interface with the new software.
Laico also wanted to accelerate shipment processing by going hands free. His team chose new multi-carrier shipping technology (ADSI adsionline.com), integrated with finger scanners (Motorola Solutions, recently acquired by Zebra Technologies, motorolasolutions.com) and printers (Zebra, zebra.com).
“Our goal was to increase shipment processing speed by a ratio of 10:1 compared to our legacy system,” he says, noting that the company strives to ensure that all orders received by 6 p.m. each day are shipped the same day. They have successfully met that deadline for 320 days.
The new solution exceeded goals by improving processing speed by 12:1 and helped reduce labor by 1.5 full-time employees. For each packed order, the system applies a bar coded license plate with embedded order and shipping data. It then auto-generates invoices, e-mails and reports.
“Our customers absolutely love the customized packing list that we’re able to create for them,” Laico says. “It’s a huge feature in closing new business.” The system also produces customized dock labels, which have further streamlined processing.