Rugged mobile computers help weather the economic storm

By Josh Bond, Associate Editor
February 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial

Canadian owned and operated Chalifour, a co-op group of independent hardware and building materials retailers, distributes lumber, hardware, building materials, plumbing, power tools and more to customers throughout British Columbia and Western Canada. By deploying a new warehouse management system (WMS) and mobile computers, the company was able to move away from paper-based systems and increase productivity by more than 10%.

The company’s previous paper-based system had largely relied on the company’s lengthy employee tenure, which averaged almost 20 years. The “tribal knowledge” of these long-term employees was invaluable to the warehouse’s overall efficiency. However, as technologies advanced and as new employees began to transition in, Chalifour looked to implement a full WMS (PathGuide Technologies, pathguide.com) that would not only fully track all warehouse materials, but support the technology needed to increase efficiency. The company selected a WMS, coupled it with new mobile computers (Intermec, intermec.com) and printers, and saw productivity increase almost instantly.

“Our long-term goal was to grow the business and be one of the leading suppliers in the industry, and we saw our warehouse system as one of the top areas where we needed to operate at a higher level,” said Steve Cain, information technology manager for Chalifour. “We got as far as we could with the paper system—there’s only so much you can do in terms of accuracy—so we knew implementing a full WMS and a new handheld system was one of the building blocks that was required for us to get to the next level.”

Because of the seasonal nature of their industry, Chalifour looked to implement the new system during the slower winter season, with rollout complete by the spring busy season. The company also strategically chose to implement the new system during the 2008 recession.

“The whole world was already down 20% to 30% by the end of the year, so we decided while we are down anyway, let’s take advantage of the slow time to increase our efficiency,” said Susan Robinson, president and CEO of IRLY Distributors, which was acquired by Chalifour’s parent company. “Also, instead of being forced to lay off any of our workforce, we were able to use them in the roll-out process and re-allocate their time to this project.”

According to Cain, the choice of hardware was based on the touchscreen, scanning range, ruggedness and weight of the units. Once the system was rolled out, the time from purchase to implementation was six months, with initial staff adoption time taking a few hours. “We actively spent time training leaders from every department, so that we’d have experts in each area to help with the transition,” said Robinson. “Before, training on the manual system would take anywhere from a month or so for complete proficiency, but now it takes about one day for them to learn the basics before we can leave them on their own.”

Before the change, the company did about 2,000 to 2,500 transactions a day, with a busy day maxing at about 2,700, according to Robinson. “This summer we are able to handle nearly 3,200 transactions a day with a noticeable reduction in errors.”

The ruggedness of the mobile computers has also benefitted the company. “One of the units was accidentally placed in a bucket with 6 inches of water for more than 20 minutes and it held up just fine,” said Kevin Kearns, supply chain project manager. “And, outside of this extreme case, on a daily basis we can rely on them to do extremely well indoors or out.”

Robinson cited a few strategic decisions that played a huge role in contributing to the project’s success. “Instead of experiencing great loss during 2008 as most companies did during the low-point in the recession, we didn’t miss a beat and 2009 sales were exactly where they were the previous year,” said Robinson.



About the Author

image
Josh Bond
Associate Editor

Josh Bond is an associate editor to Modern. Josh was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and contributing editor, has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce.


Subscribe to Logistics Management magazine

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Get timely insider information that you can use to better manage your
entire logistics operation.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Recent Entries

Seasonally-adjusted (SA) for-hire truck tonnage in March was up 1.1 percent on the heels of a revised 2.8 percent (from 3.1 percent) February decline, with the SA index at 133.5 (2000=100). This is off 0.3 percent from the all-time high for the SA of 135.8 from January 2015 and is up 5 percent annually.

Intermodal volume was up 8.1 percent annually at 280,016 containers and trailers. This outpaced the week ending April 11 at 270,463 and the week ending April 4 at 271,127. AAR said this tally marks the second highest weekly output it has ever recorded as well as the first time container and trailer traffic was higher than carloads for a one-week period.

Ocean cargo carrier service reliability across the three core East-West trades hit a five-month peak in March with an aggregate on-time performance of 64 percent, according to Carrier Performance Insight, the online schedule reliability tool provided by Drewry Supply Chain Advisors.

The Airforwarders Association, which represents more than 360 companies that move air cargo through the supply chain, today applauded an agreement reached by Congressional leaders to advance legislation giving the President authority to conclude key global trade agreements.

Despite great opportunity for growth, the logistics market in Latin America is lagging behind other emerging markets thanks in part to its notoriety for corruption, violence, poor infrastructure and government bureaucracy.

Comments

Post a comment
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.