Automatic identification technologies have certainly found a home in logistics, from first mile to last mile, and
in the warehouse. There, such technology is much more than an aid to pulling and picking. Auto-ID tech now
makes everything in such facilities much smarter.
To get a better understanding of it all, SupplyChainBrain recently met with Jay Steinmetz, CEO of Barcoding
Inc., a Baltimore-based integrator that provides a full array of such technology solutions. The conversation
took place at the company’s Annual Barcoding & RFID Conference.
Other participants in the discussion included Larry Mahan, general manager of Sky-Trax; Ralph Lieberthal,
principal, transportation & logistics, Motorola Solutions Inc.; Mike Lee, CEO of Airclic; Chris Sweeney, senior
vice president of Lucas Systems; and Chris Schenk, vice president of product marketing at Xata Corp. Video
interviews with each participant are available at www.SupplyChainBrain.com.
Q: Jay, you’ve seen quite a few large-scale implementations in the
last 14 years. What makes them succeed or fail?
Steinmetz: A lot of the failures don’t have top-level buy-in
or you have competing resources. Sometimes, these guys don’t
really want to see people succeed because it’s not their depart-
ment. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t stop that even with
good project management.
Q: What kind of preparatory work should precede big implemen-
tations like these?
Steinmetz: You have to make sure that the people who are
to use the technology have some sort of commitment to the system.
But you must also make sure the stuff will literally change the
process flow. A lot of times people implement these systems but
just take their existing processes instead of really understanding the
core of why these systems are being implemented to begin with.
Q: Buy-in, prep work—what else is needed to succeed?
Steinmetz: Project management is critical. You need a sys-
tem deployment that’s staged, that’s configured, that has proper
device management. We want to look into the devices, see who’s
using them effectively, who’s not, who’s entering the information
correctly. And you want to create an automation factor, which
means you prevent the ability for the customer to make mistakes
to begin with.
Q: It’s clear that this kind of technology empowers users. So where
does it go from here? What trends do you see?
Steinmetz: It will be convergence like we’ve never seen
before. A lot of RFID and barcoding, readers with built-in knowl-
edge capability, built-in databases, built-in GPS—built-in GPRS,
so I can magnetically attach a device to a truck and know the
moment an asset is deployed.
Q: Larry, does Sky-Trax see this kind of technology making forklift
drivers dinosaurs, soon to be extinct?
Mahan: No. Our “smart truck” is any traditional fork truck or
industrial vehicle that our customers use in their facilities. We add
technology to it to track whether it’s carrying a load—a pallet, for
example—and exactly what that pallet is. With this solution we can
then track inventory automatically. So the smart truck eliminates the
fork truck driver from having to be involved in the task of collecting
data and tracking inventory around the facility.
Q: Elaborate on the uses of this technology in the supply chain, if
Mahan: Logistics is really just about moving stuff around from
location to location in the most cost-effective and efficient way. And
that really depends a lot on the information system being able to
track accurately at the right time and in real time. Optical real-time
location systems, as well as barcoding and RFID pallet identification
technologies, all help us track things as they are being moved
around the warehouse.
Q: Do these technologies increase one’s control of the operation?
Mahan: One of the things everyone knows from controls
theory is that you really can’t control what you can’t measure, and
today’s warehouse and DC managers have a pretty tough job
because the basic part of their asset base is these fork trucks and
drivers. And right now there’s really no way of knowing what
they’re doing, where they are or what their work practices are.