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Paper Converting Plant Uses Wireless LANs to Access the Plant Network from Forklift Trucks

Material handlers at a U.S. paper converting plant have the ultimate in office convenience: their forklift cabs are their offices. They can inventory products, scan barcodes, generate labels, send mail, write a document, use a spreadsheet, check on the status of various orders, and fax a message - all without leaving their trucks.

Application: Using Wireless LANs to Access the Plant Network from a Forklift Truck
The company converts large parent rolls of coated paper into 2500-lb. skids of sheated paper that printers use for glossy publications and catalogs. Material handlers work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, moving and inventorying incoming rolls and finished skids.

Each of the company's electric forklift cabs has a custom-built arm for a laptop and a custom-built arm for their laptop and a DC to AC transformer that supplies power from the trucks to the laptop. A PC Card connects a laptop wirelessly to access points mounted in the ceiling on columns. These points are distributed evenly around the 250,000 square ft. building (500 ft. by 500 ft.) allowing users to move from one coverage area to anchor without losing the network connection. The access points connect the forklift laptops to the plant's network of 34 desktop PCs and 20 laptops.

In addition, workers can also access the inventory system through a PC that uses a PC Card and sits on a rolling stand. Because this PC is connected to the network through the access points rather than through the wiring, users can move it around the building and plug it in where needed.

Keeping track of paper rolls and finished products: When operators unload a roll of paper from a truck or rail car, they scan the roll's barcode with a long-range barcode reader connected directly to the laptop. "Operators can input the information into our systems without ever having to touch a piece of paper," says Ben Spalding, Information Service Leader at this paper converting plant. All bay locations are barcoded as well, so when operators take a roll over to a bay, they can shoot the floor and know exactly where they put the roll. The system also works the same way for finished products, which are also barcoded. The laptop can generate labels for products as well as maintenance systems.

A variety of horizontal applications: In addition to accessing the company's inventory software, forklift operators can use a variety of DOS and Windows applications loaded over the network, enabling them to send mail, write documents, and use spreadsheets.

The laptops also have an IBM 3270 terminal emulator that allows operators to access the corporate order management system. "They can see as orders are taken by our customers, or what the status of an order is," says Spalding. Orders are taken at one of the company's customer service offices in Westbrook, Maine, and sent electronically over a wide area network.

Benefits: Increased Efficiency and Reduced Costs
Having constant access to information, applications, and resources on the network has resulted in increased efficiency and productivity within the plant. Forklift operators and PC users can handle their plant operations and perform daily office communications from anywhere in the plant.

"...wireless LAN products do anything from a forklift that you can do from a desktop. You can literally send a fax from a forklift." - Spalding

Installation Size
Fifteen laptops and one PC with wireless PC Cards accessing the wired infrastructure via any one of seven access points mounted in the ceiling of the plant.

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