Wal-Mart is known for inventing the practice of sharing sales data via computer with major suppliers. The company has used wireless technology — such as WMSs (warehouse management systems) and RF (radio frequency) data communications systems — for years to track and manage the flow of goods through its DCs (distribution centers). Wal-Mart recently began looking for another application — controlling and monitoring forklifts and other industrial vehicles that move merchandise inside its DCs. More than 100 such vehicles are typically utilized at a Wal-Mart DC.
Forklifts are the workhorses of material handling in a DC and are critical to DC productivity and throughput. Wal-Mart wanted to analyze how an industrial VMS (vehicle management system) could improve its DC facilities. The company developed a list of requirements for its industrial VMS. The retailer was looking to implement new activity metrics to better analyze and optimize the utilization of vehicles and operators in order to increase productivity and safety. Wal-Mart also hoped to establish reliable vehicle access control and ensure only properly trained operators could use equipment.
Wal-Mart considered various wireless avenues, including its existing 2.4 GHz wireless LAN, cellular based subscription service, and standard RFID (radio frequency identification) spectrum (900 MHz). Wal-Mart chose to implement an application-specific wireless system from I.D. Systems that uses the same 900 MHz radio frequency spectrum of its other RFID systems. After a pilot, Wal-Mart rolled out the new solution companywide. To increase productivity, the VMS provides data on peak vehicle utilization, metrics on operator activities, and real-time visibility of vehicle/operator location status. To increase safety, the VMS provides vehicle access control with an on-board database of driver authorizations to establish and maintain operator accountability, an electronic safety checklist system, and automatic reporting of emerging repair issues. The RFID VMS has given Wal-Mart new ways to drive continuous improvement in material handling operations and new process controls for safety management.