KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Associated Wholesale Grocers here is rolling out arm-mounted radio frequency devices in its second warehouse after initial testing here resulted in significant accuracy improvements.
The company's Fort Scott, Kan., warehouse for general merchandise and health and beauty care products will be operational with the new system by year-end, said Michael Frank, vice president of distribution. Eventually, Associated hopes to have all warehouses using the new technology.
Associated's warehouse here is currently recording about eight errors per 10,000 cases shipped, an accuracy rating that surpasses the industry goal of 10 errors per 10,000 cases shipped.
The wholesaler is pushing to do even better and is aiming for four errors per 10,000 cases shipped, Frank said. He declined to specify the facility's error rate prior to introducing the technology.
AWG said a key benefit of increasing accuracy through this system is its ability to save all the recovery costs of shipping the wrong item and the paperwork to get it back.
He discussed the technology during a session at last week's Productivity Conference in Miami Beach, Fla., which was sponsored by Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., and the Grocery Manufacturers of America,Washington.
"We're in a world of continuous replenishment, just-in-time deliveries and vendor-managed inventories," said Frank. Against this backdrop, "Customers are no longer willing to bear the expense of their suppliers' inaccuracies and that goes for us and up and down the pipeline."
Retailers have trimmed their inventories dramatically, "so if you don't ship it right the first time it might cost them retail sales," he explained. "We support retailers and want it to go out right the first time."
The radio frequency terminal, which weighs 8 ounces including the battery, was developed by Symbol Technologies, Bohemia, N.Y., and the software was written by Associated Wholesale Grocers. Because the system is designed in open architecture, it has the capability to connect with other warehouse management systems for functions such as cycle counts.
Called Personal Order Verification, the proprietary system consists of an RF terminal that rests on the forearm and is connected to a ring worn on the finger. The ring contains a scanner component.
This system is linked to a mainframe computer where orders are billed and processed. The selection orders are communicated through the network and out to a specific arm unit.
Electronic instructions in the arm unit tell the order selector where to go and how many cases to select. Then the individual scans to verify the merchandise he's picking up is the merchandise that has been ordered and enters the appropriate quantity and goes on to the next slot, Frank said.
For certain perishable items sold by weight, the selector scans the weighted bar code and that weight is recorded and uploaded into the billing system so the customer is billed for the exact weight of what was shipped.
At the completion of the order, the system gives the selector directions on where to load the order.
However, the system is not without its design restrictions. Frank said AWG is experiencing a 60% failure rate trying to read bar codes on corrugated packaging. He attributed this to different ink densities and degrees of corrugation in the board. On the other hand, it is 99.99% accurate on labels, he said.
"If the bar code is on a white label, it's almost guaranteed it will read if it's the right symbology," Frank explained. "To ensure this, we code the slot ourselves. With catch weights, we encourage the manufacturers to come into compliance with the Efficient Consumer Response initiatives that standardize the Uniform Code Council 128 symbology."