Real Time, Real Rugged, And Real Profits
Micro Solutions Plus, Inc.'s first rugged mobile computing project racks up $60,000 for the VAR and yields four years of additional business from its manufacturing client.
How many times have you been looking for new business only to find it right under your nose with one of your existing customers? Integrator Micro Solutions Plus, Inc. (MSP) (Colmar, PA) had that experience. In fact, MSP not only uncovered new business, it discovered a new technology to sell.
The customer was an automotive parts manufacturer MSP had worked with for six years selling and installing network and computer equipment. According to Shaun Galloway, manager of technical sales at MSP: "A bar-coded part would be scanned at the receiving dock but there was no verification it was delivered to the warehouse, much less to the right location in the warehouse. That's because the warehouse shelves were not bar-coded." This scenario created delays in the company's inventory tracking process. A similar problem was encountered when products were picked from the warehouse for shipping. Parts usually were not scanned for shipping until a large pallet or group of products was assembled. Thus, the company's inventory may have listed products already sold as still being in inventory.
Here's The Software, Now Give Us The Hardware
The manufacturer designed a software application to provide real-time inventory visibility and increased inventory tracking accuracy. MSP was enlisted to design a hardware solution to work with that custom application.
The plan was to bar code the warehouse shelves and mount wireless mobile computers on the warehouse's forklifts. Handheld laser bar code scanners would be connected via a serial cable to the mobile computers. Once a part was received, a warehouse employee would scan its bar code to enter the part into the inventory system. Upon delivery to the warehouse shelf, the bar codes of both the shelf and part would be scanned. This procedure would be repeated for when parts were removed from shelves for shipping. "We knew consumer-grade notebook PCs would never last in the warehouse environment," Galloway said. "That's why we contacted Kontron Mobile Computing [previously known as FieldWorks, Inc.] [Eden Prairie, MN]."
Mobile Computing For Forklift Operators
Onto the forklifts MSP installed 12 Kontron FW2000 ruggedized mobile data systems with touch screens. These units are certified with Mil-Std 810F/E standards for shock and vibration resistance and can operate in temperatures from 5 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The touch screen configuration was chosen instead of a handheld mobile computer because it is easier for a forklift operator to read and press the larger touch screen of the Kontron FW2000 than the smaller screen of a handheld. MSP equipped the FW2000s with wireless NICs (network interface cards) from Enterasys Networks (Rochester, NH) and Cisco (San Jose, CA) and handheld laser scanners from Symbol Technologies (Holtsville, NY) and Intermec Technologies (Everett, WA). (Another VAR installed the customer's 802.11b wireless LAN because MSP doesn't offer this service.)
The Additional Sales Keep On Coming
The project cost approximately $60,000 (minus the cost of the WLAN) and took MSP two months to complete. Galloway said instead of a service contract, the manufacturer opted to purchase an additional FW2000 for each warehouse location. Currently the customer has 40 Kontron systems in use. "The company now runs three shifts, 24 hours a day and hasn't needed to replace any computers during the past four years," Galloway stated. "This year they are consolidating some warehouses into one new one. At that site they are considering using Kontron's new ReVolution convertible laptop/tablet PC."