Cost-Cutting Ideas

April 1, 2001
New software keeps track of a wide variety of labels used to track and identify goods at the Digi International assembly plant.

Labels Are Always Available with New Software

Six years ago, Digi International, a leader in server-based remote access solutions, found its labeling system inadequate. Gordon Olson, who had been hired to work with subcontractors assembling printed circuit boards and mechanical hardware, was given the task of updating the system. He chose EASYLABEL for Windows, a product identification and bar code labeling software, and began designing new labels for Digi products and packages.

Before the new software, different label types were not categorized, and the only information available to employees was a list on the computer; they had to spend time searching through the order to find the correct label or serial number.

Olson created a process that took a more systematic approach. He assigned a part number to each individual label and used these part numbers as search fields in a database.

A Digi product may have multiple labels with different part numbers. One label may include regulatory information; another may be for a packaging label or a shipping label, and another label may display only the serial number. When the field’s data is to be retrieved, the operator searches the database by entering a part number to find the corresponding record.

The Enable Printing function enables the user to define variable, or operator-entry, fields. A brief prompt lets the operator request data before printing, such as the correct type of label stock or ink ribbon to use, or the quantity of labels to be printed. This feature has reduced the risk of human error.

Olson also created a label within the software that includes three bar codes: a serial number, a part number and a UPC code that resellers can use during point-of-sale.

Digi International also prints part numbers and serial numbers for placement on the enclosure hardware or printed circuit boards as they are being tested. Once the boards are ready to be shipped, the serial number from the product is entered and a package label that corresponds to the product is quickly printed and ready to be applied to the package.

Olson also uses the software to assign serial numbers using the Serial File function. After printing a set of formats, the serial file is automatically updated to contain the next logical value in the sequence. This reduces the time it would usually take to assign and store this information.

There are 500 to 600 formats with anywhere from five fields to 25 fields, and 4,200 different part numbers stored within the system. Approximately 30 different databases are used, enabling Olson to segregate the OEM files from standard product files.

The labeling system became such a valuable time- and money-saver that Olson duplicated the system for use in Digi International’s facilities in Sunnydale, California, and in Germany.

Since the software supports the Digi Serial Port Board, multiple printers operate from one computer system. At print time, the software asks the operator which port he would like to print to. The operator selects the desired printer from the available lists and sends the job to that printer. It is possible to drive up to 128 printers simultaneously from a single computer.

An operator can print labels with different types and sizes of label stock. He simply locates the correct record in the database, sends a print job to one of the printers, and the software takes care of the rest.

With the new software package, Digi International was able to increase productivity, reduce the chances of shipping errors and save money.

EASYLABEL software by Tharo Systems Inc.

Controllers Safely Move Large Molds

Polycon Industries of Guelph, Ontario, produces automotive bumper fascia, side trim and truck fenders for Ford, General Motors and other car manufacturers. Because the parts are so large, the steel molds for the injection molding machinery are each the size of a small car. Each mold is valued at nearly $1 million.

Polycon had to be able to move the 80,000-pound molds without tangling crane controls in overhead equipment. The company had been operating a 40-ton overhead crane to move the molds with pendant controls. Technicians felt a better system was needed.

"We were concerned because the pendant control operation limited our ability to move around the mold," said Seo Kongdara, mold change technician. "We needed to view it from the best position to be sure the mold wasn’t going to knock anything. An 80,000-pound block of steel could really do major damage."

Another challenge involved the removal of parts from the molding machine by overhead robots. Pendant control cables could easily become tangled in the robotic machinery.

The technicians agreed that radio remote controls would enable them to choose the best vantage point to control the operation while keeping them safely from the mold. A committee of mold change technicians and plant electricians looked at several alternatives. They selected the 816AT portable radio remote controller.

The PRRC permits precise movement of the mold as it is positioned in the injection molding machinery. As the mold is lowered into the equipment, it must pass between two carrier bars, then turn 90 degrees before being lowered into its final position. Switches on the radio transmitter control the rotating hook to permit this turn.

Kongdara said they save about 15 minutes for each mold change, permitting increased production. The technicians like the durability and safety features of the portable radio remote controls.

AT Series portable radio remote controllers by Cattron International Ltd.

Automated Carousel Key to E-Tailer's Success

Diamond Phoenix Corporation, a leading provider of automated material handling solutions for warehousing and distribution, recently completed the design, and successful installation of the second in a series of high-speed automated warehouse systems for Internet-based grocer Webvan Group Inc.

Webvan guarantees a 30-minute delivery time for its online orders of grocery items, drug store merchandise, and other consumer products.

Gary Dahl, vice president, distribution of Webvan, says, "Diamond’s technology and engineering expertise were key components of our proprietary automated material handling system and the ultimate success of this technology and our flagship site."

"The only true measure of successful e-tailing is delivering the goods on time," says Larry Strayhorn, president of Diamond Phoenix. "It’s the back-end operations — filling orders promptly and accurately, and providing on-time delivery and top-notch customer service — that are going to spell success for retailing on the Internet."

A vital element of the Webvan system is a series of automated carousels that use customized software to control the storage and retrieval of thousands of items. By automatically retrieving items from storage for distribution, the use of Diamond’s carousel technology can mean filling orders five to six times faster than with conventional methods, raising productivity and reducing labor costs.

Strayhorn predicts that the ability to deliver orders quickly and accurately will be the deciding factor in weeding out the already crowded e-tailing arena.

"Getting customers to the Web site is only the first step. We’re pleased to have been able to help Webvan make superior customer service the linchpin of its success," said Strayhorn.

Automated carousels by Diamond Phoenix Corporation.