AC&TS Customer Solution

CASE STUDY: Streamlining Order Fulfillment With a new PRN Tracking System

“After being told time and time again that our request simply couldn’t be accomplished, AC&TS comes in, looks at our problem in a completely different way, and creates a solution that has increased efficiency, accuracy, and throughput for our company on a corporate level. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results.” D.T., Corporate Project Engineer.


The Challenge:

Streamlining order fulfillment for a specific product group (beverage pouches) by improving the Product Resource Number (PRN) inventory tracking system.

The Solution:

Developing a customized system to track specific PRNs for beverage pouches, thereby improving overall efficiency and throughput while also reducing coding errors.

Technical Highlights
  • Industry: Food and Beverage
  • Application: Inventory Tracking
  • Products Used:
    • SICK® Bar Code Scanner
    • Customized Visual Basic application



Background:

One of the largest food and beverage manufacturers in North America approached AC&TS with the challenge of overhauling their PRN inventory tracking system to streamline order fulfillment and resource tracking. The client makes and markets a wide range of food and drink products, including convenient meals, refreshment beverages and coffee, cheese, and other grocery products. Their products include a host of iconic brands that are household names, especially in the United States and Canada.

The client’s operators must manually scan each product as it comes through the production line after being palletized. This tedious task of manual product scanning entries results in mistakes, and ultimately, incorrect product tracking information.

During the order fulfillment process, the beverage pouches – once packaged for sale – travel along the production line and each box containing the pouches receives a label that indicates flavor. Next, the boxes are sorted and palletized according to each customer’s requirements. The individual pallets are then tracked by product type and destination depending on the PRN. The client had sought different production processes for their beverage pouches by tracking PRNs in a variety of ways during production runs, including by flavor, pallet number, and specific location of inventory. The company believed that with a method to track each pallet into warehouse buffer storage, the pallets could be more easily identified and retrieved, therefore making the process of fulfilling orders from around country much quicker and more efficient.

Process:

When the client approached AC&TS, they had little hope that their request could be accomplished. After all, they were already told from several engineering and technical teams that “it can’t be done.” At one point, a team tested a solution at some west coast plants, but the solution failed with no proposed remedy. AC&TS looked at the problem from a different angle, and broke it down into smaller pieces.

To begin, the AC&TS team chose to employ a high-speed SICK® Bar Code Scanner for a few reasons: first, the team had successful experience using the scanner; second, it had excellent technical support since it communicated via Ethernet; and third, it was incredibly fast yet economical. Then, AC&TS developed a customized Visual Basic application that allowed the capture of PRNs, location codes and product IDs. The AC&TS custom-designed user interface gave the ability to select various product codes and destinations, which eliminated the need to manually scan and track the pallets as they were processed.

Additional Challenges:

Because this project was taking place at a regional location, AC&TS was not allowed direct access into the Corporate Mainframe Database. Though they initially planned to use a Rockwell Encompass Product Partner Enterprise Application Transaction (eATM) Module during the early stages of the project, the team had no choice but to work with their existing manual entry system, Rumba, which interfaced with the corporate database. They worked around this hurdle by using the embedded Visual Basic Application in Excel® and developing an application to read the palletized product’s bar code label and combine that data with the selected product and destination already written in the Rumba corporate database interface. Because the operator was interacting with the newly designed AC&TS interface, he or she was only allowed to select the proper product and destination once during a product run. This virtually eliminated any errors associated with the manual scanning and tracking of each and every pallet.

Results:

Right away, the client’s new, innovative PRN inventory tracking system gave them a much greater amount of control over inventory, significantly boosting efficiency. And thanks to the brand-new, high-speed barcode scanning application, all product information was now available instantly, creating a much faster way to fulfill orders throughout the nation. It also significantly reduced pallet coding and tracking errors as well as improved accuracy, productivity, and throughput compared to past methods. Once the client’s corporate office learned of this effective technology and how well it has worked on a regional level, they installed a similar solution at every North American facility.

Today, the client’s buffer warehouse still uses a version of the original inventory tracking system that is maintained by an AC&TS team.

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