Where Is Everything?

By  Susan Nunziata — September 04, 2009

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the barcode. In the intervening decades, a tool that was initially created for the retail industry has expanded into a myriad of uses, including a wide range of asset tracking solutions.

These days, though, the wireless options for tracking assets are as varied as the assets themselves. In addition to barcode-based applications, wireless solutions include passive and active RFID tags, the integration of GPS, and advances in WWAN and WLAN technology that enable the transmission of real-time location data.

The examples illustrated here all share common business drivers: reduce inventory expenses and improve accuracy of asset tracking; save time and labor costs; and enhance customer service.

For Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, an asset tracking solution deployed over its WLAN is projected to save  tens of thousands of dollars in inventory replacement costs alone (Click here for the full case study). For American Mobile Imaging, a GPS-based solution is reaping rewards by improving labor accountability (Click here for the full case study).

"On a daily basis we have real-time information," says Shumate Mechanical's CIO Frank Steinocher. "We have parts and labor information, with revenue. We can see how much we billed that day, how much our labor is that day, how much our costs are that day, and if there are any problems/changes we can address them the next day."

Shumate Mechanical is an HVAC repair, maintenance and installation operation based in Atlanta, GA. Its 35-40 field service trucks are carrying $5,000-$10,000 worth of inventory apiece at any given time. The company has about 10,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers signed on for long-term maintenance contracts that require techs to visit them twice a year. Plus it handles installations, emergency calls, and other services for a total of 80,000 customers.

In March 2008 the company switched from a paper-based process to a barcode-based inventory management solution that uses Motorola MC70 rugged handheld computers to keep track of what's on those repair vehicles, as well as  to improve the tracking of assets in its warehouse. The devices also feature integrated GPS that provides drivers with turn-by-turn directions and allows management to know the location of any vehicle at any time, making for efficient dispatching, among other benefits.

Among the benefits, says Steinocher, was an immediate improvement in cash flow. Since the deployment, Shumate Mechanical has realized other concrete benefits, including:

  • An increase in the average number of service calls per tech. "[Techs are] averaging easily two calls a day more in summer than they had been, on an average service ticket of $200," says Steinocher.
  • Improvement in inventory accuracy. "Instead of making a $100,000 inventory adjustment at the end of the year, we're making a $10,000 adjustment," he says.
  • Savings in labor costs. "On labor, we saved an hour per day per tech," says Steinocher. "With 40 techs, that's a savings of 40 hours a day at $15-$20 per hour per tech."

 

RFID In The Field

Box Canyon Dairy in Wendall, Idaho, needed a way to keep track of its 7,000 milk cows and other cattle across its 2,500-acre facility. Every cow needs to have regular veterinary checkups, and federal regulations require compliance with a stringent set of rules that includes maintaining an up-to-date history on each individual animal. To manage the complex breeding and veterinary procedures that take place at the dairy, GM Scott Haag would traditionally create up to 10 pages worth of daily instructions for his employees, breeders and vets. This would eat up about two to three hours of his day.

Box Canyon turned to a solution that includes RFID tags placed on the cows' ears. The tags are scanned using an RFID wand connected to xTablet PCs from MobileDemand. The data is processed using the DairyQuest software developed by ProfitSource.

Haag is able to upload all of the day's relevant data onto the rugged Tablet PCs, and when a cow is spotted, the Tablet PC will speak to the farm hand, vet or breeder and then outline the treatments that need to occur. Treatment can be recorded and tracked in the central database immediately and wirelessly through the Tablet PC.

The two to three hours that Haag once spent preparing paperwork are a thing of the past. Instead, he takes 25-30 minutes to upload updated information on the eight xTablet PCs at the dairy. This translates into more efficient workdays for his crew. "I gained an additional two hours in my day to do something else," says Haag. "As for my employees, it cuts in half the amount of time they spend looking for animals."

Non-Profit Advantage

Non-profit organization Planet Aid, in Holliston, MA, is using barcodes and CipherLab 8000 Series ruggedized mobile computers with integrated scanners to streamline its clothing collection and recycling program across the U.S. Each clothing drop-off bin has its own barcode. Donated items are resold, with proceeds used to support education, community development and HIV/AIDS programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

When a Planet Aid employee collects clothing from a drop-off spot, a barcode on the bin is scanned. The driver then estimates the amount of clothing in the bin and records it in the  mobile computer. Data are uploaded to Planet Aid's main database from the  scanner so that site production and performance metrics can be analyzed instantly. This helps Planet Aid create efficient collection schedules based on the amount of clothing received in its bins.

In wireless asset tracking, efficiency is the name of the game.

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