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Kraft: Wireless System Keeps Track of Products in Distribution Centers

Kraft has been a household word for decades - consumers take home Kraft products from virtually every grocery store, supermarket, convenience store, and discount store across North America. The coordination and planning it takes to move all those products to the stores where consumers buy them could be daunting. Now, though, Kraft Canada's wireless system makes that task a lot less labor intensive than it used to be.

Application: Using Wireless Data Terminals to Track Finished Goods through Warehouses
In the early 1990s, Kraft Canada made a commitment to implementing new technology to automate its manufacturing plants and distribution centers. It began with a progressively integrated manufacturing and materials requisitioning and purchasing system, or MRP, in its seven Canadian manufacturing facilities. That system's success spurred Kraft to pilot and then install a wireless data collection and warehouse management system at its Montview distribution center, one of three in Canada. "Although the batch system worked well at our manufacturing facilities, we needed real-time data transmission at our distribution centers. Now our inventory is up-to-the-minute," says Daniel Lanctot, senior systems analyst at Kraft Canada.

Kraft Canada uses the wireless system for everything from receiving and putaway to inventory and quality control. Sixty-five forklift-mounted data terminals and 10 hand-held data terminals with integrated bar code scanners, all running off an IBM AS/400 host computer, dynamically direct forklift operators to complete specific tasks.

From the moment goods arrive at a warehouse until they're shipped, the system tracks their movement. "When product comes in the door," says Lanctot, "an operator scans the bar code tag to transmit the product description, quantity, lot number, and pallet number to the host computer. The host then generates a putaway task indicating the appropriate location, and automatically downloads it to the appropriate forklift operator's terminal."

When an order comes in, the warehouse management system automatically uses inventory rotation dates to generate a picking task, which dynamically directs a forklift operator to start building a load. The forklift operator first scans a bar code that describes the product's location, then scans a bar code on the pallet to verify that they match. Because the system can tell full pallet picks from multiple product picks, it knows whether to direct the forklift operator to a full pallet pick location or to a case picking location.

Once the forklift operator finishes a load, the dispatcher generates a bill of lading and sends the operator to the correct shipping dock. At the dock, the forklift operator gives the carrier the bill of lading, a warehouse operator scans the load, and the dispatcher confirms that it matches the bill of lading before the carrier takes it away.

Using special re-warehousing and replenishment programs, Kraft even uses the wireless system to optimize space. The programs automatically download trip tasks to forklift operators' terminals, directing them to move pallets according to lot numbers and rotation dates.

Benefits: More Efficiency, Higher Productivity, and Dependable Inventory
Inventory accuracy at the Montview distribution center has risen to 98 percent or more, and - because virtually every warehouse function is recorded on-line - Kraft can check inventory status at any time with confidence that it's correct. The re-warehousing and replenishment programs are an effective way to free up space to receive new product. As for customer service, Lanctot says this: "Now we know we're shipping the right product in the right quantity to the right customer at the right time." Kraft soon afterward installed similar systems at its Lasalle and Cobourg distribution centers. And to enhance service to its customers even further, Kraft Canada is also planning to integrate an EDI link (an on-line shipping, tracking, and payment system) into its wireless systems.

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