Magazine Article | May 24, 2012

Rugged Handhelds Replace Unreliable Devices

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Field Technologies magazine

Established in 1910, Ocean Beauty Seafoods operates in the Pacific Northwest. Its corporate headquarters are located in Seattle, and six seafood processing plants are located throughout Alaska. Ocean Beauty distributes millions of pounds of canned, smoked, frozen, and fresh seafood annually. Its customers range from retailers to restaurants and grocery stores. At the height of the fishing season, approximately 2,000 Ocean Beauty Seafoods employees are working at the company’s Alaskan plants. Traceability and product quality are key to Ocean Beauty meeting global food standards.

A few years ago, Ocean Beauty Seafoods installed SIMBA, a software solution that uses bar code technology for tracking, at its plants. While the distribution process became streamlined and more efficient, the handheld devices initally rolled out with SIMBA were unable to withstand the harsh, wet conditions in the plants and were constantly being sent out for repair. Ocean Beauty needed a more rugged handheld device that could accelerate and simplify its distribution process.

Ergonomics Factors Into Handheld Selection
To meet this need, Ocean Beauty Seafoods worked with Dynamic Systems Inc. (DSI), a systems integrator that specializes in bar code technology. DSI suggested the Psion Workabout Pro 3 because of its ergonomic form factor, ruggedness, and IP65 rating. With the SIMBA software running on Psion’s device, the distribution process has become more efficient and reliable. After a batch of fish is processed, the product is placed in a carton and given a bar code label created by a dedicated bar code label printer. The label contains tracking information including the product’s date of processing. When the carton is removed from the freezer for shipment, an employee scans the bar code with the Workabout Pro 3 and enters what container the order was loaded onto and where the shipment is headed. This system is integrated with the inventory system used at the company’s headquarters. Ocean Beauty Seafoods tracks its fish throughout the distribution and delivery process, ensuring its orders are accurate and its seafood is fresh.

Mobile Printers Trump Vehicle-Mounted Version

Tastykake, a Philadelphia-based company, sells more than $250 million worth of cakes and pies annually across the East Coast. With nearly 500 delivery routes, Tastykake brings fresh baked goods to hundreds of stores every day.

Drivers use Motorola MC9000 handhelds to log inventory. As they bring in new products, they print out invoices for each store on printers in their trucks. In an effort to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and add new capabilities, Tastykake began looking at new mobile printers. “The old printers were big fixed units with a lot of moving parts,” said Brendan O’Malley, VP and CIO at Tastykake. “We wasted a lot of paper and went through a lot of ribbons, and they weren’t as flexible or reliable as we wanted.”

Tastykake looked at a number of different mobile printing solutions before deciding on the RW 420 mobile printer from Zebra Technologies. Tastykake selected three printers to compare and put them in the hands of route drivers for testing. For comparison, drivers tested each printer for two weeks. At the end, they rated the printers against each other on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the top score. Across five key indicators, Zebra printers earned an average score of 4.6, while the incumbent printers earned a score of 3.0.

Map Mobile Printer
Integration Before Rollout

Although drivers preferred the Zebra mobile printers, O’Malley was concerned about printer compatibility with the existing handheld applications — especially given the number of routes the company runs. If upgrades affected the integration between computers and printers, complications in the field could outweigh the benefits of switching.

However, Zebra offered emulation firmware that simplified the transition. Centrategy, a Zebra partner, created the custom firmware allowing Zebra printers to talk to Tastykake applications. “The emulation firmware allows the Zebra RW 420s to act just like our old printer. The applications don’t know the difference,” O’Malley said. “It was straightforward and less expensive. We were able to roll out the new printers with no impact to applications.”