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Technology Newsmaker Q&A Peter Green

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 09:00
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New England-based BellHawk Systems provides work-in-process and materials tracking systems for a variety of different industries.

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Company President Peter Green recently published a white paper on the value of using license plate container tracking barcodes to improve inventory visibility inside the warehouse.

What is the motivation for companies to shift from location-based tracking to more granular, license-plate barcode tracking?

Historically, companies used accounting systems that grew into being enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. They just wanted to know how much inventory you had and what it was worth. Those eventually added inventory and location data, but that location was very often just the stock room or the production floor. It wasn’t specific.

Then a whole other method came along, and we really needed to track materials very accurately. Now you could track a box of parts from the factory in Shenzhen province in China, see it being shipped to Shanghai, to the FedEx hub in Memphis, onto the local delivery truck, and then be notified when it is delivered to your facility. But when the box of parts goes into your warehouse you haven’t got a clue where it is.

Inventory is too complex, and we’re seeing a need to be more specific about what we track, what we have in stock and that is driving this move to license plate tracking.

What are some of the key challenges to implementing such a system?

A big challenge is a lack of knowledge. What software do I use, how do I train my people, what equipment do I use? Do I used a simple barcode scanner plugged into a PC, or a hands-free Bluetooth-connected scanner?

With the proliferation of parts, you have to put them wherever you have room (dynamic binning) and let the system worry about where they are. You stick a license plate tracking barcode on the parts if they don’t already have one from the supplier. The system tells you where to go get it, because you can’t afford to allocate a whole section of your stock room for fixed parts anymore.

Are there benefits to doing this beyond better inventory visibility?

The biggest thing we see is that companies can re-engineer their operations without actually launching a re-engineering effort. You wind up formalizing the process of receiving, putaway, picking, etc., and make them more efficient.

You go in and have to take an initial inventory and start really evaluating if you need that part that’s been sitting here for 15 years and has a half-inch of dust on it. You also gain a lot of efficiency by being able to look at how people are doing things in the warehouse. Should they have to walk all the way across the building to get a common part, or should we move those fast-moving parts closer to shipping?

You can revamp your operations without going in and telling your employees that you are going to re-engineer the way they do things.

The good news is the cost for these systems has come down dramatically. Small- to mid-sized clients may spend a few hundred dollars a month on a cloud-based tracking solution now.

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