Intergrating Material and Data Flow

Dec. 1, 2001
Having all the pieces is not always the answer. Hooking the pieces together is what makes a system a working system.

Integrating Material and Data Flows

Having all the pieces is not always the answer. Hooking the pieces together is what makes a system a working system.

Amarr Garage Door raised its profit margin by bringing down material intake time from three hours to eight minutes, while simultaneously lowering excess inventory with a wireless bar code tracking system interfaced to its J.D. Edwards World software.

Before Amarr could reap the advantages of real-time material handling tracking, it had to find a way to take its existing J.D. Edwards AS/400 screens to the shop floor for use on remote, hand-held terminals.

Material handlers typically use integrated terminals to scan raw material into inventory and onto the production line. Integrating such data with an existing major software package is a challenge. Often it means special software interfaced with the existing system’s database. It may also require modifications to existing host code — usually a risky operation.

Amarr, however, found a fast and simple way to do it. The Lawrence, Kansas, manufacturer used a screen integration tool, called QuikTrac 4.5, from Integrated Barcoding Systems (IBS). With this screen integration tool, Amarr moved from a basic, manual shop-floor operation to real time in less than three weeks, compared to the typical six-month changeover period.

Bruce Howard, Amarr’s IT programmer/analyst, used the integration tools in QuikTrac’s Developer module to map existing AS/400 screens in the J.D. Edwards World system to the smaller Intermec Antares 2425 hand-held terminals. “I felt the user [on the production floor] could have done it if needed,” says Howard.

The hand-held or lift truck-mounted integrated scanners now do item transfers, item issues, item scrapping, ship confirmation, purchase order receiving and two inquiries (one to view work that was done and a second to determine item availability).

How it works

Steel, boxes of hinges, rollers, track, windows and insulation foam are all housed in Amarr’s 250,000-square-foot production facility. When each item is received, it is recorded through the J.D. Edwards software. A bar code label referencing the item number and sales order number is created on a Datamax printer and applied to the raw material. It is scanned with an Intermec 2425 integrated terminal with either an internal or tethered scanner. If the supply is needed at the manufacturing line, it’s immediately taken there. Otherwise it is moved to a shelf in the warehouse area. There, the location is key entered (soon locations will be bar coded to eliminate the key entry process). This ties the item to its location in the inventory tracking software residing on the AS/400.

When the manufacturing line needs more raw material, material handlers responsible for monitoring supply levels query their mobile terminals to locate replacement stock. Querying is done either through key entry or scanning the bar code on a remaining item into a look-up screen. The terminal tells them exactly where to retrieve the raw material in the warehouse. When an item is removed, the material handler scans its bar code — unless the label is damaged, then the number can be key entered. The worker also keys in the location number. These actions automatically deduct material from the inventory tracking program, preventing another worker from going to an empty spot to retrieve supplies.

In the final part of the supply process, the worker indicates which production line gets the supply. When the production line uses the raw material, it is scanned to reduce supplies by that amount.

At the end of the production line, a label with two bar codes (one for the sales order number, the other representing the item number) is applied to the finished product. Once scanned, the order type automatically shows up in the J.D. Edwards Ship Confirmation module. If necessary, it is easily changed. If everything is approved, a tap on the enter key confirms it and authorizes it to be loaded for shipping. Once shipped, the finished product is relieved from the system.

In the future, Amarr expects to replace the double bar codes with a single “split” bar code that combines two values into one bar code. The act of scanning would split the values out, transferring them to the appropriate data fields. This eliminates one scanning operation, thus speeding the process.

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