Optimising goods-in efficiencies

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By David Stain, senior vertical marketing manager EMEA manufacturing, field mobility & healthcare, Zebra Technologies.

For manufacturers, an effective goods-in regime – i.e. taking delivery of components and raw materials for production/sub-assembly and booking them in quickly and accurately – is key to production and storage good practice. However, for many companies this ideal remains a goal rather than a reality.

The booking-in of goods can take too much time, resulting in manufacturing line down-time and yard congestion; part count reconciliation with the delivery manifest can contain costly discrepancies; and material marking and booking in of goods within the store or warehouse can be too time-consuming. All these constraints can seriously affect the manufacturer's just in time methodology and potentially jeopardise supplier SLAs.

This is why manufacturers and their suppliers should embrace smart fulfilment through the use of state-of-the-art scanning, printing and labelling technology. This type of technology deployment can help to take companies to a whole new level in terms of time and cost savings together with greater accuracy and improved overall process visibility.

Fulfilment constraints

Since better routing and scheduling applications have been introduced, many logistics companies are already benefitting from improved pre-delivery planning visibility and more accurate time slot allocations. This has meant lorries no longer find themselves having to queue offsite from manufacturer's docking area (or even sub-locate into temporary warehousing) due to imprecise delivery slot allocations, often resulting in major dockside and local traffic congestion issues.

However, in many instances there still remain inefficiencies in terms of goods-in fulfilment once the lorries have parked in the yard where consignments need to be recorded and offloaded. If this is not undertaken in a timely and accurate manner that ensures all required parts, components/sub-assemblies can be delivered line-side on the manufacturing shop floor, then there exists a serious risk of costly production downtime through a breakdown in the supply of goods.

Although most consignments today are delivered in an array of containers from totes, stillages, roll cages to pallets most having a barcode attached to the outside, it can prove highly time-inefficient if the forklift truck driver tasked with decanting each consignment has to dismount his/her vehicle to scan the barcodes every time a wagon arrives with a new consignment.

Scanning

The good news is that scanning technology has improved substantially over the past few years. For instance, one development that has had a major impact at goods-in is the improvement in 2d imagers. Whereas with some laser scanning technology operators need to be in close proximity to the barcode on a package in order to scan it, the 2d image scanning technology means reliable readings of all label types like 1d and 2d barcode, often even damaged labels, can be read over greater distances up to 21metres, but that same scanner can also scan at just 5cm. With these range improvements, forklift truck drivers do not have to dismount their vehicle to scan a barcode on a package within the lorry before offloading the roll cage or pallet.

Similarly, active RFID technology is a highly efficient (and now more affordable) way of scanning goods as they enter the gate at goods-in and manufacturing storage locations via a Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Battery life

Also, the battery life of modern scanners has improved considerably. A few years ago, it the battery life of a scanner might only last the length of a six-hour shift; today this can be 14 hours or more – well over the length of a full shift.

Printer and label quality

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that a barcode is only as good as its ability to be read by the scanner. If a label is badly printed or has sustained damage this can be a major setback in terms of accurately and speedily recording goods as they arrive at goods-in. Many of us experience this type of inconvenience when undertaking self-scanning in the supermarket or taking items to the till.

This problem can be just as much of a hindrance, if not more so, in the yard. This is why it is critical that you and your suppliers use only high-definition, high-quality label printers that are designed to print on high-quality, durable label materials that can stand up to the types of environmental conditions they are likely to be subjected to; for example, water or other potentially harmful outside elements.

The right grade of adhesive should also be used in order to ensure the label remains in place and in good condition regardless of the conditions it may face at the point of dispatch or in transit. Zebra Technologies is one of the only manufacturers of hardware and labels and hence can optimise both for the environments deployed.

Improved scanning capability: 5cm to 21m from one device

It should be pointed out, however, that along with improved print resolution, better label materials and more reliable adhesives, there has also been developments in scanning that have made it easier to scan damaged labels and even scan through shrink wrap. With a scanner sourced from the right provider, even if your suppliers continue to supply packages with labels that have either been damaged in transit or badly printed in the first instance, this shouldn't prove an overly burdensome issue.

Knowledge base

Additionally, technology is available that can make devices such as scanners and printers easier to use together. For example, with devices that include Zebra's touch to pair functionality using Near Field Communication (NFC), you can benefit from quickly pairing devices at the start of a shift and can save your company upwards of three to four minutes every man day.

From a device management point of view demand is growing for devices that are mobile, intelligent and connected to the cloud. This emerging need calls for new technologies and solutions. In response, Zebra has created Mobility DNA the industry's most comprehensive suite of off-the-shelf, end user apps, robust administration utilities and effortless app development tools and, the Link-OS environment: an open platform that pairs an operating system for smart Zebra devices with powerful software apps, making the devices easy to integrate, manage and maintain from any location

All these benefits can become the foundation of a truly lean and efficient goods-in operation.

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