Meat Processing Industry Experience Secures VAR $300,000 Project
VAR DataCapture Technologies, Inc. used a combination of wireless networking and direct thermal printing to create a new production control system for a turkey processing company.
Sometimes geographic location influences a VAR's type of expertise. For example, Midwest VAR DataCapture Technologies, Inc. (DCT) (Kansas City, KS) is surrounded by agriculture-related companies, and thus, has become adept at meeting the data collection needs of these customers. Food processing plants are one of these types of customers. In fact, DCT has 25 meat processing industry customers that represent 150 different plants. One of those customers, a nationwide turkey processor, responded to one of DCTs direct mail advertisements.
Eliminate Corroding Serial Cable With Wireless
"The company needed a production control system for three turkey processing plants that, all together, process an average of 130,000 turkeys per day," explains Shane Langston, president of DataCapture Technologies. "The system needed to weigh and sort birds based on open sales order information. The company also needed to apply a tail tag and/or box tag per the specific labeling requirements of the customer," he says.
Previously, the plant was using an old PC-based system running a legacy version of FoxPro. Prodigy Plus thermal transfer printers and fixed station terminals were connected to digiboards via serial cables. This serial wiring was the primary problem. Meat processing plants, by their nature, are a very wet environment, which causes serial wiring to corrode. As these connections corroded, the plant's system would fail, stopping the production lines. "This company is bagging, weighing, and having a tail tag applied to a bird every 11 seconds," Langston explains. "So, if a line is down for an hour they have approximately 330 birds backed up."
In addition to the wiring problem, the thermal transfer printers added ribbon expenses, plus the labor and time needed to replace the ribbons. Furthermore, technical support was limited and expensive for the old version of FoxPro the company was using.
150 Different Compliance Labels
According to Langston, his company's competition for this project included the previous vendor and the customer's in-house resources. "The customer knew the system needed to be replaced and knew we had worked with every major meat processor in the country," says Langston. Ultimately, that experience won DCT the job.
Langston's team went to work building an entirely new system that was totally integrated and, most importantly, wireless (the fixed station terminals are connected to the printers, though). The following are the components of the system:
- 40 SATO 5900RV direct thermal printers
- BeatTech environmental enclosures
- 40 Intermec 2486 wireless fixed station terminals
- Symbol Spectrum 24 wireless backbone and nine access points
- Two Symbol PDT 8146 Pocket PC handheld computers
- Two Dell Power Edge servers
- Microsoft SQL Server 7.0
- Web-based development tools (e.g. PHP, Java, HTML)
The corporate office staff enters daily production order data into SQL Server. Specific customer rules are entered into the system, such as priority levels for processing and turkey weight ranges. "It's a very complicated process," admits Langston. "Not only are there multiple rules for every customer, but we had to design at least 150 different tail tags [e.g. different compliance labels for each customer that include such data as UPC codes and a product's weight]."
Direct Thermal Eliminates Consumable Cost
Langston says the most challenging aspect of this $300,000 installation was going live with the new system without interrupting the processing of 130,000 turkeys per day. DCT did conduct on-site training for some of the new hardware and software, but Langston says no special training was needed for the SATO printers.
The system's administration utilities are Web-based so managers equipped with the Symbol 8146 Pocket PC devices can observe in real time the status of each production line and the level of output. Phase two of the project involves enabling managers to actually make a change to a line from anywhere on the plant floor. Phase two will also include adding a WIP (work in progress) function to the system.
Once phase one of this project was completed, the customer had eliminated printer ribbon costs (because the SATO printers are direct thermal) and the risk of serial cable corrosion stopping production. DCT did sell the customer service/support contracts for the hardware and software, but as Langston says, "The project must be a success, we've received no support calls and they're still processing turkeys."