SALT LAKE CITY -- Associated Food Stores here has become the first in the grocery industry to install a wireless yard tracking system.
The system not only locates assets, such as trailers and tractors, but also can monitor the temperatures of refrigerated units.
The system, from WhereNet, Santa Clara, Calif., uses special tags and a radio-frequency system to communicate location and other information about trailers, tractors and dollies.
WhereNet communicates from the yard of the wholesaler's expansive new facility in Farr West, Utah, to the yard management and warehouse management software system.
The implementation was substantially completed in late August, although components such as the temperature monitoring are still being installed.
Many warehouse operators struggle with yard management.
For example, a recent study by WhereNet found that 84% of respondents said they still use manual labor to locate and track inventory of high-value assets, and 100% said their data-capture information is inaccurate due to human input error, improper scans or missed scans.
Additionally, the study -- which polled operations managers, engineers and information technology executives in a number of industries -- found that 78% said their personnel perform at least one search a day for inventory or assets, and 25% reported 10 searches or more per day.
So with a site covering 600-plus acres, or one square mile, and a facility of 1 million square feet, AFS needed to come up with a more effective way of tracking these assets while they were in the yard, said Tim Van de Merwe, internal logistics manager at AFS.
"In a yard this size, with a manual process, it's very easy to lose equipment for days and even weeks," he said.
AFS is now able to know where a given piece of equipment is within 10 feet, and also track its progress through the facility, resulting in a faster throughput and the need for less equipment.
Van de Merwe sees a return-on-investment from the system in less than one year.
He declined to say how much AFS paid for it, although Tom Turner, senior vice president, WhereNet, said the systems range in price from $100,000 for the smallest facility to $1 million or more for the biggest installations, such as those it has done for the Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich.
AFS is "between small and medium," Turner said.
The expense of manually checking the location and condition of trailers can be significant. In a yard the size of AFS', this is almost a round-the-clock endeavor "and there is a salary attached to that," he said.
WhereNet can track the temperatures, fuel levels and open/closed door status of refrigerated trailers, better known throughout the industry as 'reefers."'
"We are just getting our feet wet on that, but there are huge gains in both labor and in quality control when it comes to managing temperature," he said.
Having just moved into the new warehouse in April, completing the temperature tracking component is not getting the company's full attention right now, but Van de Merwe expects it to be fully operational within a year.
Joshua Greenbaum, a market research analyst and consultant with Enterprise Applications Consulting, Daly City, Calif., confirmed that AFS is the first to use such a system.
It's WhereNet's RF tag tracking system that is unique in allowing a company to not only know where the shipping yard assets are, but also what their condition is.
"AFS has added a key element of automation to their overall supply chain. That is part of the overall trend in the industry, and it is going to contribute to lower costs and greater profitability," Greenbaum said.