Magazine Article | March 1, 2003

More Than Just A WMS Interface Upgrade

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

When Roche Diagnostics upgraded its DOS-based WMS (warehouse management system) to a Windows-based version, the company gained more than just a familiar user interface.

Integrated Solutions, March 2003

Anyone who has implemented a new WMS (warehouse management system) understands that this type of project is tedious and can take months to complete. However, once a WMS is installed and employees cross over the learning curve, upgrading the system's software should be a snap. Unless, that is, the upgrade occurs 11 years after the initial installation. "Technically, this was a new installation for us, even though we were upgrading the existing software," explained Jamie Wilson, quality and training consultant at Roche Diagnostics (Indianapolis).

Upgrade From Legacy DOS Systems
Roche Diagnostics is a manufacturer of medical diagnostics equipment and products. The company's 130,000-square-foot distribution center in Indianapolis had used WMS software from ASAP Automation (Louisville, KY) since 1990. Dubbed ASAP Plus, the system included a Btrieve database and DOS client. "The ASAP Plus product was at the end of its development life cycle and support was being eliminated," Wilson said. "Report design was difficult for anyone other than our IT staff, and training was cumbersome due to the staff being unfamiliar with a DOS interface. We needed to upgrade to a hardware/software platform that was more consistent with our IT standards."

A Windows/Web-Based WMS
Roche wanted to upgrade to ASAP's Exacta Warehouse Management and Control System, which includes automated pick, pack, and manifest operations. A Windows-based program, Exacta offered Roche a familiar user interface and simplified, table-based report writing functionality using Crystal Reports (Palo Alto, CA).

In addition to Exacta, Roche's new system included an Oracle database, PC-based Visual Logic Controls (VLC) on Windows NT, a certified interface with SAP enterprise level software, unattended dynamic manifesting (TanData), electronic zoned conveyors (EZ Logic-Hytrol), a radio frequency network (Intermec Technologies Corp.), light-directed picking (LDP) (ASAP), and horizontal carousels (White Storage). At the beginning of 2001, the entire shipping department at Roche was asked to submit suggestions on how to improve the legacy WMS. Wilson said ASAP incorporated many of those suggestions into the new system. "For instance, the Web-based pack module was one of the most helpful parts of the Exacta solution for us," she said. "With that module, we are able to display information such as product pictures and specific packaging instructions. The old system had no pictures and offered limited text messages."

An Order Fulfillment Rate Increase Of 35%
Roche set up a fully functional testing/staging area for training employees on the new WMS. Employees completed mock orders and performed all of the system's transactions (e.g. operating conveyors, simulating picking and packing, turning carousels, and lighting LDP lights) without physically touching product. Approximately 150 employees were trained during 30 days. The overall project took 8 months to install and went live in May 2002.

"Our order throughput increased an average of 5% [400 deliveries] after the first month the Exacta system went live," commented Wilson. "After a few months, our order fulfillment rate also increased from 60% to 95%. In the future, we are planning on adding Exacta's replenishment module to make our picking for this process even more efficient."