Plant "Blooms" Using Bar Code Labels And Radio Frequency
Printing its own labels in-house helps a flower pot manufacturer grow into its radio frequency data tracking system.
Flower pot manufacturer Duraco was faced with a tough decision - adopt bar-coding technology or lose a large customer. When one of its retail customers asked Duraco to put Universal Product Code (UPC) codes on all the products it shipped to them, Duraco had no choice but to use bar codes. "Every flower pot and every other product we manufacture had to have a UPC label," said Bob Braun, engineering manager at Duraco. With more than 2,100 different products, that equates to producing approximately 28 million UPC labels a year. Headquartered northwest of Chicago, Duraco has distribution centers in Canada, Belgium and Mexico.
The company overcame several challenges to meet its customer's demand. "Duraco's original bar-code printing application —UPC labels for retail products—posed a problem for us," explained Braun. "When you buy a retail product," he says, "you want the label to come off. However, the retailer doesn't want that label to come off beforehand because that label represents the price. So, we had to work with label adhesives that satisfied both requirements."
To further meet its customers' needs for accuracy and timely delivery, Duraco integrated bar- coding and radio frequency (RF) technologies throughout its manufacturing, warehousing and distribution operations.
Putting The System Together
At the heart of Duraco's data tracking system is an AS/400 running Business Planning and Control System (BPICS) along with proprietary Duraco software. Duraco worked with both Cornerstone Technologies and VAR William Miles Associates on the installation. Cornerstone supplied Telxon RF hardware and customized software. William Miles Associates installed the printers. Zebra printers— 220XiII™, 140XiII™, and Stripe®—are used for printing bar-code labels. Laser Check II verifiers are used to check the first and last label on every UPC roll printed. The system also includes Accusort scanners which read labels on cartons traveling on the conveyor belt.
Tracking Items By The Carton
Once the system to bar code individual products was in place, Duraco implemented a data tracking system to track the products by carton or pallet. Integral to the system is the production of millions of bar-coded shipping labels per year. The labels are used to track the movement of Duraco products from its facilities to delivery at a customer site.
In addition to the standard shipping and product identification data, each label has an individual serial number that identifies each box. For example, Duraco may send three boxes of one product to a customer. Each box will have its own serial number that ties it back to the purchase order.
Simplifying Order Fulfillment
"We use our shipping labels to direct our order pickers through the order picking system," says Braun. Labels are attached to the cartons, which are then read by scanners as they travel over a conveyor. Information from the shipping label directs the carton to its appropriate shipping door and also provides information to determine inventory replenishment requirements.
"For example," explains Braun, "say there were 40 cartons at a pick location and the scanner saw 40 cartons pass through. The inventory at that pick location is then be zero. At that point, a signal would be sent to the computer. The computer then generates an RF signal to the warehouse that a product needs to be replenished on the pick line."
The last component of Duraco's data tracking system is an in-house data tracking/bar code application. "Duraco uses what it calls a ‘warehouse move tag' to track products throughout its operations," explains Braun. "We print a bar-coded label that tracks the product from its point of manufacture through inventory until it gets to the pick line," says Braun. The labels are generated in-house and use a serial number as an identifier.
The warehouse move tag serial numbers are tied to Duraco's computer system and "put away" program. The system allows anyone throughout Duraco at any time to check what products are in inventory and where to locate them. Duraco operates a Novell Wide Area Network (WAN) to connect its leased warehouse and its salespeople to the system.
More Applications For RF and Bar Coding
Duraco's RF data tracking system is constantly evolving. "Bar coding and RF technologies are tools that enable us to quickly respond to our customers' needs." explains Braun, "We couldn't do it without them. So, we are always looking at new ways of applying these technologies. Our latest application involves refining our order picking system."
Duraco's pickers will soon be using handheld scanners in the warehouse. They simply scan a carton label, then manually enter information that notifies the system that more cartons of a particular product are needed at a certain location. Currently, pickers rely on handheld radios to call out part numbers for an order. Because of warehouse noise, the information is not always communicated correctly.
Braun says there are many benefits of the RF tracking system, including accuracy and more effective resource use. "We've reduced order pickers' downtime. Now they don't have to wait for product—all they have to do is scan a label and they'll get the products needed to finish an order."