Magazine Article | May 1, 1998

Double Productivity With Radio Frequency

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Salon products manufacturer implements a warehouse management system, with radio frequency
communications and bar code data collection,
to better manage its growing product line.

Integrated Solutions, May-June 1998
Matrix Essentials, a manufacturer of professional hair and skin-care products distributed nationally through professional salons, wanted to automate its warehousing and distribution processes. Matrix, a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., has a 200,000 square-foot distribution center in Solon, OH. The Matrix distribution center is part of a multi-facility "corporate campus" which includes four warehouses and three manufacturing buildings employing about 50 people. As part of its extensive inventory, the Matrix distribution center must work with approximately 1,300 SKUs (stock-keeping units).

The previously-used warehousing system at Matrix required internal teams to make manual inventory counts and to keep handwritten records. The system was labor intensive and involved time-consuming manual checks in production and distribution. With product volumes doubling over the past five years - and expected to grow even more with the launch of a new product line this year - the old paper-and-pen system was not efficient enough and required far too many labor hours.

What Technologies Were Implemented
Robocom Systems, Inc., a provider of automated warehouse and inventory control systems, based in Massapequa, NY, installed its RIMS (Robocom Inventory Management System) V3.2 warehouse management software. RIMS offers an effective method of monitoring the flow of material in and out of the warehouse as well as tracking current stock.

At the Matrix facility, the RIMS system supports inventory and distribution with LXE's (Atlanta, GA) RF/DC (radio frequency/data collection) handheld scanners. Fixed position scanners are from AccuSort (Telford, PA). RIMS runs on a Hewlett Packard 9000 H70 Series Server. Actual control of the storage and retrieval process is dedicated to two 486 PCs. The systems communicate via a 900 MHz spread spectrum, frequency-hopping system to capture inventory data and transmit storage/pick instructions. Bar code labels are printed on a Zebra-105 bar code printer.

How The Warehouse Management System Works
Customer orders and put-away instructions are communicated via the RF/DC handheld scanners, which contain a computer and LCD display. Through the RIMS software, specific instructions on where to pick, ship, and relocate products are displayed on the LCD. Employees scan a bar code on the product they are directed to and place it onto a conveyor belt. The RIMS software sends routing requirements to fixed-position scanners operated by conveyor-belt employees. The bar code is rescanned on the conveyor belt with the fixed-position scanners and the product is diverted down the proper lane based on the instructions provided by the software. Storage and retrieval data is instantly transmitted back to the server ensuring an up-to-date and accurate inventory count.

Benefits Of The New System
  • Matrix's product shipments have doubled within the last three years, while the number of personnel has remained about the same, thus giving Matrix more productivity from each worker.
  • The new system has made order picking much more efficient. An order that would have taken an employee six trips around the picking area now takes only one.
  • Employees use the RF/DC handheld devices to communicate better with each other, sending status messages via the LCD screens.