Mission Foods’ wireless supply chain evolution

Over the past six years, the tortilla manufacturer has rolled out a combination of wireless technologies—from handhelds, to wireless networks, to RFID—to automate transactions, track assets, and manage labor and inventory in its distribution and warehouse operations. Here’s how they made it happen.

An independent distributor uses a handheld computer with attached portable printer to wirelessly transmit delivery information to Mission Foods in real time and generate invoices at a grocery retailer’s store.

By Maida Napolitano, Contributing Editor
April 01, 2011 - LM Editorial

It’s official: You’re not the only one addicted to your Blackberry. Most everyone in your supply chain is.

According to a 2010 survey conducted by the ARC Advisory Group, respondents picked the smartphone (Blackberry and iPhone) as the most used mobile or wireless technology being applied in supply chain management (SCM) today, at 69 percent. It even surpassed the veritable workhorse of the logistics industry—the handheld computer, at 54 percent. 

“A person uses a smartphone to stay connected to his business and to link in to his office,” says Steve Banker, ARC’s service director of SCM. “But on the warehouse floor I don’t see it replacing the standard handheld scanner anytime soon. The handhelds are more robust, don’t break easily, and scan much more efficiently.” 

Pete Doyle, strategic account manager for Intermec Technologies and provider of rugged handheld computers, agrees with Banker’s assessment. “Having WIFI, GPS, cellular, and Bluetooth connectivity—and still being able to drop the device from eight feet to concrete, that’s been a big game changer for us. And we’ve had it even before the smartphones had it.”

No matter which wireless technology you’re putting to use in your warehouse/DC operations, going wireless and freeing yourself from paper—while achieving real-time visibility on your trucks and inventory—are the clear beneficial attributes that are making wireless technology the hot topic it is today. 

Tortilla manufacturer Mission Foods is a terrific example of what can be done through a comprehensive wireless system. The company employed a combination of wireless technologies—from handheld computers, to wireless networks, to RFID—to automate transactions, track assets, and manage labor and inventory in its distribution operation. Let’s take a closer look at how this innovative manufacturer made it happen. 

imageMission’s mission
With 16 plants and 50 distribution centers (DCs), Irving, Texas-based Mission Foods is one of the largest manufacturers of tortillas, chips, salsa, and taco shells in the U.S. Mission’s mission is simple: To deliver fresh, shelf-stable tortilla products to every customer, every time, on time.

Mission’s supply chain operation accomplishes this by following a direct-store-delivery (DSD) model using independent operators to quickly move products to market. It has a network of about 2,000 independent distributors who transport Mission’s products over 2,300 routes. They pick up these products from Mission’s facilities and deliver them directly to supermarkets and retail stores.

Since the late 1980s, Mission Foods had been using batch computers for its DSD routes, while relying heavily on paper and corrugated for picking and packing items. But by 2005, following years of dramatic developments in wireless networks, data capture, and mobile computers, Eduardo Valdes, vice president of management information systems, knew it was high time to leverage these technologies and transform Mission’s distribution process. 

Under his watch, Mission Foods began making the move towards wireless technology in three critical areas: its DSD operation; in the tracking of returnable plastic containers; and within the four walls of the warehouse.

About the Author

Maida Napolitano
Contributing Editor

Maida Napolitano has worked as a Senior Engineer for various consulting companies specializing in supply chain, logistics, and physical distribution since 1990. She’s is the principal author for the following publications: Using Modeling to Solve Warehousing Problems (WERC); Making the Move to Cross Docking (WERC); The Time, Space & Cost Guide to Better Warehouse Design (Distribution Group); and Pick This! A Compendium of Piece-Pick Process Alternatives (WERC). She has worked for clients in the food, health care, retail, chemical, manufacturing and cosmetics industries, primarily in the field of facility layout and planning, simulation, ergonomics, and statistic analysis. She holds BS and MS degrees in Industrial Engineering from the University of the Philippines and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, respectively. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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