Red Gold, based in Orestes, Ind., is one of the nation’s largest full line tomato product manufacturers. A few years ago it was using a wholly manual, paper-based process to track inventory and finished goods production. As cans of tomato products were loaded into cases and palletized, machine operators, lift truck operators, and palletizer operators wrote down multiple pieces of information in longhand to record production. Shipment tracking was measured in days and weeks because of the time required to gather these manual records, summarize the data, and validate their accuracy.
Manufacturing and shipping operators also had to record a variable-length case code that was stenciled onto each shipping tray or case. These codes, eight to 14-characters long, including both alpha and numeric characters, were unstructured and not always printed in the same place on the trays or cases. Although the case codes were a key part of the company’s product traceability system, manual data collection created multiple opportunities for transcription errors. Red Gold’s primary distribution center may have 50,000 to 60,000 pallets in storage on any given day, and between 100 to 200 trucks move in and out of the facility each day. With this high number of product moves, the manual recording process was a constant, daily struggle with accuracy.
Red Gold automated these processes using the QuikTrac data collection system from Integrated Barcoding Systems, integrated directly with the company’s IBM System I, which Red Gold uses to run its ERP LX software. Red Gold also installed a wireless LAN, along with bar code scanning and printing equipment to work with the data collection system.
Now, during production, operators on the palletizing line receive production information, including the case codes for the product, on HP thin client terminals connected to Red Gold’s IBM System i computer. As each pallet is completed, the operator creates a bar code label, using TL Ashford label software and a Zebra Technologies printer. The label is attached to the pallet for inventory recording purposes; data is transmitted, wirelessly, via a Cisco Systems wireless LAN.
Lift truck operators then use vehicle-mount Intermec Technologies computers and scanners to record that the pallet has been produced. The lift truck moves the pallet to a storage location in the warehouse facility, and the operator scans a bar-coded placard at the location to record the putaway data. Pallets may also be loaded into an over-the-road truck for shipment to the distribution center. Pallets are scanned when they are loaded at the manufacturing facilities, and again when they are received at the DC.
QuikTrac has automated the recording of inventory transfers within LX. As orders are picked, the system validates those items and quantities are accurate according to the order within LX. As a result, Red Gold now has a database of pallet-level information that is more granular and detailed.
“Because of the robust database of what is on each pallet, we can do a much faster job of identifying when we produced a product, what’s on each pallet, and where it was shipped to,” says Trevor Kaye, senior project manager, supply chain, at Red Gold. “That has been increasingly important because as a food producer, Red Gold is subject to stringent FDA traceability requirements, as well as customer traceability requirements established by the Safe Quality Foods (SQF) standard.
Also, by adopting a bar code-based data collection solution, Red Gold has raised its inventory accuracy to 99% and improved its own production tracking.