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Tighter control over operations.

Ray: Firms need tighter control and more up-to-the minute information to help them manage their operations. As a result, software for the warehouse and manufacturing floor, as well as automatic data collection (ADC) technologies, clearly are becoming core survival tools for today's managers.

Gary: In fact, 1995 will probably be marked as the year that warehouse management software (WMS) really came into its own. There were clear shifts in the way people use the software and in the capabilities these packages offer.

Perhaps most importantly, the role of WMS has expanded from that of controlling certain, selected functions to coordinated control of all warehouse activities - from receiving through to shipping. The software is now better recognized as the link between corporate order processing systems and shipments to customers. Using direct input from bar codes and radio frequency data communication systems, WMS manages resources from inventory to people.

To make that possible, existing packages have been upgraded by at least six firms - Ann Arbor Computer, Norel, Catalyst, McHugh Freeman, Cambar, and Robocom. In general, the upgrades offer broadened control of warehouse activities, reduced the customization required for any application, and simplified interfaces to Windows operating systems, client/server networks, and existing databases.

Karen: Although not as well established as WMS, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) - software packages that provide real-time control of manufacturing operations using plans and schedules set by MRP II (manufacturing resource planning software) and related planning packages - are gaining a solid foothold on the shop floor.

Gary: To speed along the implementation of MES, Industrial Computer Corp. introduced earlier this year a rapid deployment program. It is designed to deliver benefits such as shorter cycle times, improved quality, and increased data accuracy in a matter of weeks - not months, as before.

Karen: Ongoing development efforts are also expanding the software's functionality and ease of use. Effective Management Systems just issued a new release of its package that allows a powerful suite of manufacturing applications to run on virtually any open operating system or hardware platform.

Gary: Similarly, we're seeing some interesting developments in ADC technology, particularly with the focus of much of the current activity on the consolidation of power.

Two-dimensional bar codes are a prime example. On the one hand, standard linear bar codes provide an identifying number that links a unit of inventory to a computer-resident database. However, 2-D bar codes pack all of the information from that database onto a high-density printed symbol that travels with the inventory.

Tom: And whether an end user is printing a 2-D bar code or a high-density standard bar code, a breakthrough in thermal transfer technology from Intermec is sure to improve the printed image with 400 dots/in. (dpi) resolution. Until now, thermal transfer printers had a maximum resolution of 300 dpi.

Gary: While 2-D bar codes consolidate data, recent hardware developments consolidate the management of that data. Pen computers from Telxon, Norand, LXE, Fujitsu, and Symbol combine integrated bar code scanners and radio frequency units with a pen stylus. The result is a portable, easy-to-use single unit that collects data in two different ways and communicates it directly to a central database.

Probably the past year's pinnacle in consolidated hardware capabilities is a hand-held unit developed by Symbol and Monarch Marking. The first-of-a-kind unit combines a terminal with keyboard and display, integrated scanner, radio frequency data communication (RFDC) capabilities, and label printer. The technology is already in use at Federated Department Stores, which is using 350 of the units.

Ray: Even in radio frequency identification (RFID), it's getting easier to collect the data.

Gary: Absolutely. A portable, hand-held device from Telxon eliminates the need for traditional, fixed position scanners. Yet another portable unit fits a portable RFID reader from Indala onto a terminal with RFDC capabilities from Telxon. And Hughes has come up with a stationary RFID reader that also collects data from magnetic stripe cards.

The final step in data collection-communicating what's been collected - has taken on a new dimension with the emergence of 2.4 GHz spread spectrum technology in RFDC. Similar to established spread spectrum technology, 2.4 GHz does not require a license for use and avoids interference from other sources.

However, the latest development (which is now offered by Intermec, Symbol, Teklogix, Telxon, Norand, and LXE) hooks directly to established networks without extensive software revisions. Integration is easier and users enjoy maximum flexibility when managing data across both wireless and wired systems at the same location.

Ray: As always, we have seen some exciting developments in materials handling strategies and equipment this year. But keep in mind that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of opportunities for improvement. Stay tuned for developments as we report on them in future issues of the magazine.

A new dimension in control: 2-D bar codes

As evidence of the growing popularity of 2-D bar codes, two of the potentially largest volume applications were put in motion this year. At the new UPS hub in Chicago, a 1-sq-in. Maxicode symbol will be used to identify 2.8 million packages a day by the end of 1996. During the current startup phase, 2-D labels that contain each package's zip code are printed and applied onsite with Imtec and then scanned with Vision Systems overhead scanners. In the future, up to 100 characters of data critical to UPS and its customers will be encoded.

The other blockbuster application for 2-D is military shipment labels. The Department of Defense selected as its standard the PDF-417 symbology developed by Symbol Technologies. To facilitate mobile collection of data from these and other PDF-417 labels. Symbol also recently introduced an improved hand-held scanner.

MES: Bringing better control

to the shop floor

A software integration tool that bridges the gap between planning and shop floor operations, manufacturing execution system software (MES) is gaining recognition among U.S. manufacturers. In fact, installations of MES are advancing at nearly a 30% annual clip, according to Advanced Manufacturing Research of Cambridge, Mass.

For example, just this month, Sunbeam-Oster completed the installation of an MES system integrated by Anderson Consulting. By putting real time information into the hands of shop floor personnel, the appliance maker anticipates having better control over operations.

Sunbeam, whose new plant is shown in the photo, also expects to reduce the amount of labor hours now required to keep databases current and eliminate the potential for data entry errors.
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Title Annotation:Top Product Trends and Developments of 1995; includes related article on manufacturing execution system software; warehouse management
Author:Kulwiec, Ray; Feare, Tom; Forger, Gary; Auguston, Karen
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Words:1068
Previous Article:Productivity and efficiency.
Next Article:Industrial construction pace spurs handling equipment demand.
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