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Ingram Micro: Wireless LAN Makes for Better Warehouse Management and Inventory Control

Including two facilities in Canada, 10 in the United States, and more in other countries, Ingram Micro has warehouse space totaling millions of square feet. "When you're moving $8 million of equipment per day, transactions happen very quickly. It's almost impossible to keep track of everything at all times. With the old system, we wouldn't actually lose equipment, but there were times when it was hard to know where things were on paper," says Ingram Micro's director of Canadian operations, Peter Van Bodegom.

Sixty warehouse operators in Canada and hundreds more in the United States now use hand-held computers with integrated scanners (all running off a central mainframe computer at the Nashville, Tennessee, facility) to collect and track warehouse data. "We're currently using wireless data collection in a number of different capacities," Van Bodegom says. One current use is in receiving and putaway. "When we receive product, we use the wireless system to conduct a Stage 1 door log: An operator scans the bar code with the hand-held terminal to record receipt of the order, along with the purchase order number, the bill of lading, the weight, and other information. Then we conduct Stage 2 verification by scanning the product itself; we confirm receipt by the vendor part number, the UPC [universal product code], or the Ingram SKU [stock keeping unit]."

The warehouses are also putting the wireless system to work to improve quality assurance and shipping procedures. When a warehouse fills a customer order, an operator enters the order into the warehouse's system by using a wireless hand-held computer to scan a bar code on the order ticket. After an operator picks a product from inventory and brings it to the shipping department, a shipping clerk scans both the order ticket and the product in the box to compare them. If the bar codes don't match, the system won't accept the order for shipment. If they do match, the system bills the customer and generates a packing slip that indicates the assigned carrier, and the package goes down the belt for shipment.

The wireless system accommodates both inventory maintenance and perpetual inventory: Rather than conducting inventory annually, the warehouses conduct inventory on one aisle each day.

Benefits: Accurate Order Fulfillment and Inventory Control, Better Customer Service, and More
Ingram Micro's wireless quality assurance program has had a major impact on productivity and quality. "Order accuracy has improved dramatically since we started using the wireless system," says Van Bodegom. "In Canada, accuracy is over 99 percent now, even though we're filling between 4,000 and 5,000 orders a day during our busy season, and the only errors we're finding are when a customer ordered the wrong item or a product is defective."

Inventory accuracy is improving too. "Before we implemented a totally wireless solution, variances in inventory were atrocious. But now, inventory accuracy improves every quarter. We expect it to be at 99 percent the next time we complete it."

The wireless system has become critical to customer service at Ingram Micro. "Our customers expect product faster today than they used to, and the wireless system lets us provide the level of service they want. Before, it could take as long as three days before we received an order. Now we receive orders on the same day they're placed. If we receive an order by 2:00 p.m., we'll ship it the same day."

Ingram Micro has found wireless technology to be a tremendous tool. As the company grows and the microcomputing market changes, Ingram Micro keeps finding more ways to use and expand its wireless networks.

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