Dale and Thomas Popcorn makes and distributes gourmet popcorn products in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, peanut butter, butter toffee and walnut crunch, to name only a few of its two dozen-or-so taste alternatives.
In the past few years, the Englewood, NJ company has been experiencing tremendous growth as the demand for its products has moved to retail stores, in addition to its existing catalog and online sales.
The company needed a way to manage this growth, as well as its complex inventory needs. It needed to find a way to enhance its business processes, while at the same time maintain the highest quality popcorn and also ensure quick delivery.
The first part of the solution involved Dale and Thomas moving to a larger facility that incorporated 105,000 square feet of warehouse space, which would allow it to accommodate greater product volume. Next, to handle the flow of that product, the company decided to implement a more efficient inventory management system.
The backbone of this is a wireless, scalable, communications infrastructure installed in the facility by Siemens Communications, a Munich, Germany-based technology services company. This wireless infrastructure enables Dale and Thomas to effectively manage the arrival, storage and departure of items throughout its warehouse via a barcode tracking system.
Stories like this illustrate how wireless technology, which encompasses RFID, voice, barcode scanning and mobile computing, makes warehouses more efficient, more productive and cheaper to operate.
"It all starts with the infrastructure," says Mike Maris, director of industry solutions for Motorola, Schaumburg, IL, "meaning the antennas that are incorporated into a facility's ceilings, which our equipment can communicate with."
These antennas are access points that connect to a central switch, which allows data collected by units such as Motorola's MC9000 handheld mobile computer, to be wirelessly connected to a host server via a facility's WMS system.
"801.11b is the standard radio frequency system used in the industry now. If you have that, you have the ability to run any RF devices on your wireless network," notes Bob Morgenroth, director of supply chain management for Retalix, the Plano, TX-based provider of software solutions for the food distribution industry. Its Power Warehouse WMS is designed to work in tandem with wireless network systems.
The access points in the ceiling take radio frequencies generated by wireless devices and relay them back to the WMS system in the main office.
Every facet of the warehouse's functioning--receiving, put away, replenishment and picking--can be carried out and reported back to the company's WMS this way. In addition, today's wireless warehouses are or will be using a variety of tools in conjunction with the wireless network, including RFID, voice, barcodes and mobile computing to get the job done.
Scanning Speeds Up The Process
"We run an application on some Intermec handheld devices, which runs through the wireless network and goes to our WMS product, which is RadioBeacon by Accellos," says Norm Steiner, manager of IT infrastructure for Dale and Thomas. "The work process begins when workers uncrate the product we've received--raw materials--and use the handhelds to scan it into inventory."
After this, they create a work order specifying the type and amount of raw materials to make the finished product. They will scan these materials and take them out of inventory, to reflect that the materials were used to create finished product. After the manufacturing process, workers scan the finished product in, this time as a pallet of popcorn of whatever flavor they're made.
They also scan the rack location it's being stored in. All of this information flows through the air and goes back into Dale and Thomas' WMS system, which updates the inventory--the subtraction of raw material goods and the addition of the new popcorn product.