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Potential tablet deployment. - Update: Never mind.

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Potential tablet deployment. - Update: Never mind.

CharlieSpencer
Update: it turns out the folks on the SAP side of the house have a project scheduled for next year. They'll be writing a custom interface directly into SAP for the warehouse pulling and inventory transfer applications, designed for the screens on our existing Intermec 700c Windows CE devices.

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions and information. I anticipate other potential applications in the future, and I hope other readers can benefit from your insights.

Palmetto.


Original post:
We're investigating replacing some paper reports with tablets.

We print 'pull sheets' for our warehouse employees dozens of times a day. The employee reads the sheet, pulls the inventory listed on it, then throws the sheet away.

The application that generates these sheets can be redirected to print to a .TXT or .PDF instead of a hard copy. The idea is for the employees to use some form of tablet device to view these files instead of printed forms. We'd like the employee to be able to put a check mark or have some other temporary to indicate which part numbers he or she has pulled, simply to let the employee know what's been done if they go on break or trade sheets. There is no reason to print or store the files after the parts have been pulled. The files would be stored on a Windows server, and access would authenticated via Active Directory. Connectivity would be over our internal closed 802.11g wireless access points; our security policy mandates a Cisco (or compatible) VPN client for all wireless communications.

Any suggestions in terms of hardware, software, deployment, learning curves, possible 'gotchas'? ROI will play a large part in the decision to even test this idea. The availability of 'consumer' apps (games, Internet connectivity, entertainment, multimedia, etc) is NOT a factor. Accountability and security are; I'd like to see devices that had no value if removed from the building. Compatibility with an AD domain will also rank highly.
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    AnsuGisalas

    be a form? Forms can have check boxes...
    BTW, ain't this a technical question ?:|

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    CharlieSpencer

    I don't need a formal form so much as a way the user can indicate he's pulled the parts for the first three lines but not for the next four. It won't be saved; the check marks can be lost when the employee closes the file.

    We use a Windows app called eCopy Paperworks to mark up .PDFs at $50 per seat. We'd be willing to pay a comparable price for a tablet-based app to do the same thing.

    Eventually we may look at replacing some of our printed forms that are scanned for permanently retained (product test checksheets, signed forms of product compliance with federal or contract standards). That's way down the road.

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    AnsuGisalas

    I was just saying, if there's a check-box the employee can just tap it when he/she's pulled the item, presto, it's marked. Like you said.
    As for the technicalities, I dunno, being a humanist :p. Did you know that some times people get more answers on the questions board ]:)

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    CharlieSpencer

    I regarded this more as an opinion discussion than one with a defined technical solution. I may repost it over there, but I'll give it a week or so on this side. After all, vulpine hasn't weighed in yet

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    Vulpinemac

    I'm also surprised that I've been 'invited' into the discussion.

    For the initial request, I will say that there are some times when technology may not be the answer, but considering the desire to save paper, a tablet device could be exactly the tool--it really depends on how you wish to use it.

    Per the discussion with Palmetto, it seems that neither the printout nor the pull data itself is really important; all you want is a pull guide. This sounds a lot like when I worked in a warehouse many long years ago when I was a teenager and had to pull tires for shipping based on where the truck was going. As such, a lot of wasted paper, though personally I think the checked pull record would be useful for rating the pull speed and accuracy of the puller--the tablet able to time the pull from dispatch to final checkmark. All it takes is the right software.

    That said, pretty much any of the new tablet formats could do it easily enough and significantly cheaper than the existing Windows-based tablets. However, there's a good possibility that the software already exists in one of the corporate apps which normally don't get seen by the general public. The problem here is that by going this way, you're talking almost $3000 per device plus the software.

    On the other hand, if the iPad or one of the Android devices had the software available, it's far, far cheaper per unit in the event of the occasional dropped tablet than one of the current Windows models.

    Please note that I'm not promoting any one brand over another; for this purpose it really doesn't matter. Personally, I think a basic iPad would be the better choice since you only need Wi-Fi and not 3G and there is no Android device that doesn't have phone capability--as yet.

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    CharlieSpencer



    Thanks for the input.

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    seanferd

    They had, some time ago, tablet-style solutions for this sort of thing. If you already use RF scanners, many of them can also be programmed to pull the item lists for the kit and display them (likely one at a time) on the scanner screen.

    I can't recall the vendor of the scanner I used to use, but the company I worked for used these, and was looking at going paperless for all the rush-type orders as well as the large production "kits". These were already capable of doing the job, but by the time I left, no one had written the code or implemented the back end. (Not surprising, as they were just finishing the implementation of real-time stock keeping. Prior to this, it was all tape batch processing on an AS400, so the stock was only really correct once a day. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.)

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    CharlieSpencer

    We have an established scanner vendor. I hadn't thought of approaching him with this.

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    robo_dev

    If you walk thru any Home Depot store you will see either Symbol, Intermec, or Telxon solutions like this.

    The solution will not be cheap, but the key is getting a well-made rugged device, so a consumer-grade ipad would last about a day in most warehouses. It has to be droppable.

    The most difficult parts of the solution are:

    1) you typically need a solid and supportable WLAN for these devices to connect to, so an enterprise-grade Cisco or Symbol (Motorola) network is best. Cisco is my preference here, as it has always proved to be the most supportable and the most reliable.

    2) Software distribution/updates can be a big issue, depending on the size of the install. I worked with a product called WaveLink Mobile Manager and Wavelink Avalanche for an install with several thousand handheld and vehicle-mount touchscreen tablet devices which did barcode scanning and warehouse inventory with SAP.

    Wavelink also makes some app development tools, so I worked with an integrator who created some SAP interfaces for both handheld and touch-screen computers. Then the Wavelink Avalanche can distribute/update the code automatically.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Preference will be given to devices manageable with Microsoft's 'System Center Configuration Manager', although that won't be a deal-breaker.

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    robo_dev

    So in my case some tablets ran XP, some vehicle-mount computers ran Windows CE, and the handheld devices run Windows Mobile...to support a similar app across multiple platforms was somewhat challenging.

    At least you're set with the Cisco WLAN, but if your Barcode people are the one that starts with an S and rhymes with 'thimble', they will probably want you to tear it out and use their WLAN (been there, done that).

    If you're using a regular OS like Win7 or XP, then it makes life easier from an App standpoint, but can require more powerful hardware.

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    NickNielsen Moderator

    will run your OS of choice. Some of those I support run Windows CE, others run Windows Mobile, and others even run SCO Unix or another POSIX-compliant OS. The best I've seen for durability are the <a href="http://www.motorola.com/Business/US-EN/Business+Product+and+Services/Mobile+Computers/Handheld+Computers/MC9090-K_US-EN">9000-series</a>, but they are pricey, and if your RF coverage has issues, the 9000s will too. The <a href="http://www.motorola.com/Business/US-EN/Business+Product+and+Services/Mobile+Computers/Handheld+Computers/MC3000_Gun_US_EN">3000-series</a> are just as durable, but smaller, and, in my experience, have better reception in areas with low signal.

    Symbol purchased Telxon back in 2000, so Telxon equipment is no longer available. I've not supported Intermec devices, so have no idea how they would integrate with your systems.

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    The 'G-Man.'

    Go for glasses with HUD's which allow the employees hands to be free!

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    CharlieSpencer

    Oh, yeah; there it is:

    :-q

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    The 'G-Man.'

    they are on the way....

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    AnsuGisalas

    Larsonesque group of people poking each other in the eye as they're "point-and-click"-ing with their HUD-goggles.
    Yup, that will fly :)

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    CharlieSpencer

    getting them to comply with OSHA standards for safety glasses, recharging the batteries, or how the Larson woman with the classic 'cat eye' frames is going to adapt.

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    The 'G-Man.'

    It's the next big thing, it really is, honest Guv.

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    NotSoChiGuy

    ...you had mentioned previously that you were using Sharepoint, but there were some issues in terms of buy-in/usage. This could actually be a good use of Sharepoint.

    You could setup a site that incorporates some sort of work flow. PDF form gets posted, people in warehouse get an e-mail, they do what they need, and then complete the work flow once the parts get pulled.

    That should keep some of the software costs down by using what you have in place already.

    In terms of a tablet that has little value once it leaves the premises, something like this (NOTE: posting this as an example of a direction to head overall, and not as an endorsement of the particular vendor) may work:
    http://www.tangent.com/t_thinclients/tablet312.htm

    Hope this helps!

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    CharlieSpencer

    if not two. Right now the people generating the pull list can easily redirect the output from a physical printer to 'print to file' directly into a network share. The capability isn't there to print directly to SharePoint from SAP. Moving the file from the share to SharePoint would be an additional step that I can't see as adding any benefit.

    In addition, it's easier to delete the completed sheet from a share than from SharePoint. If this comes to fruition, I see using a batch file to clean out the share regularly. There's probably a way to do that in SP, but it's beyond me at this time.

    People in our warehouse don't have e-mail. There are computers, but they're not dedicated to individual users and warehouse employees don't have individual logins or accounts.

    Thanks for the hardware link.

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    Vulpinemac

    Simple and Cheap are, to some extent, clipboard and pencil. However, over time, that 'cheap' becomes expensive as the cost of paper and pencils/pens can add up pretty quickly. A ream of paper costs about $50 before any printing is done and when you add the cost of printing--whether it be inkjet or laser/photocopier--pumps that price up very quickly in cost of ink/toner and maintenance. The pen/pencil to check off the items as pulled tends to look cheap up front, but over time when you consider daily loss through breakage, simple dropped items and too-typical pilfering, even this cost can become excessive over time.

    So, how do you minimize the costs? A network of TV stations in Georgia did it by doing essentially what you want--writing up their scripts on computers and pushing them to the on-air reporters through iPads. They determined that even with the costs of buying a number of iPads, they'd be saving roughly $40,000 per year on paper and printing costs. That may not sound like much to a large corporation, but a smaller industry would see that as very significant. That actually covers the salaries of one to two additional people on the pulling floor. Those extra people could mean faster overall pulling times which could mean faster throughput and higher profits.

    The other point here is that you're trying to look at existing technologies, and fantasies like the 'goggles' promoted by one commenter even in his own words of "...they're coming..." clearly states that they don't exist in any usable form and are not likely to be ready for years yet. When you need a solution now, you can't say, "Wait a couple years and the technology will give you what you want."

    That said, the Android semi-tablet devices and Apple's iPad and iPod Touch are currently the only possible choices. It's at least somewhat possible that the iPod Touch could be the better choice despite its smaller size due to the fact that it's easily pocketable or could be hung by a lanyard around the neck while the inventory is being pulled, though that would make pilferage more tempting. The fact that Apple's iOS includes the ability for the device to report its position on a map as long as it's in range of a Wi-Fi network makes both the iPod Touch, the iPhone and the iPad more difficult to steal and get away with it. More than one petty thief has been caught red-handed by the very device he stole leading the police to his door. I've even used it myself to locate my misplaced phone in my car, outside my home, the system is so accurate.

    One advantage to choosing the iPod touch might be that 'toughened' cases are already available that could help protect it in a fall, but again a lanyard system to secure it to the puller's body would significantly reduce that risk of dropping it as well.

    Without seeing the environment and determining the likely usage pattern myself, I couldn't go much farther in a recommendation. The smaller iPod could offer most of the advantages of the iPad, but it would be harder to read and 'mark' due to that small size. The iPad would be easier to read and 'mark', but would have a greater risk of breakage.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Ideally we'll be securing the device to the carts already in use. That will help with the security issue too. If that turns out ot be the case, a swappable battery is mandatory.

    Potential theft is one reason I'd prefer to avoid devices that would have any consumer appeal. We have several dozen Windows CE devices with keypads and scanners, but the only entertainment value they have is playing laser tag!

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    robo_dev

    Typically a Texlon or Intermec touch-screen bolted to a cart, with a printer and barcode scanner.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Maybe over there in the Big City, but not here in the capital of Cackalackie.

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    robo_dev

    http://www.wifi-spy.org/

    There are photos of Costco and Home Depot inventory carts

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    AnsuGisalas

    now. Gleefully carting around the hanger-like gut of the warehouse, playing laser tag racing.

    You could take admission, start a whole new business

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    CharlieSpencer

    There isn't room to swing a cat, dead or other wise. We've caught a few on third shift playing out in one of the manufacturing departments, where there's more line-of-sight. That results in a conversation with HR regarding OSHA requirements. The employee can either stop the practice or buy laser-safe safety glasses out of his own pocket.

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    AnsuGisalas

    is fair.
    Except; probably they should buy laser safe glasses also for the innocent by-standers.
    Collateral damage sucks.

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    jpmorgan5150

    We are a completely different company, but I tried doc delivery with sharepoint and it didn't work at all. I was delivering PDF's.

    Dropbox would work, but you have the challenge of editing the PDF on an ipad. You'd need dropbox (free), an iPad and a pdf editing app.

    Then all you have to do is print to a dropbox folder called 'pulls' and have the employee move it to an archive folder in dropbox. You see what has been worked and it costs almost nothing.

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    CG IT

    was recently on a deployment for roaming handheld POS devices for Home Depot. The whole device was pretty cool. Had a walkie talkie, could scan bar codes, could be a POS unit and print out a receipt with a bluetooth printer worn on the belt [about 1/2s the size of those Dymo label printers].

    Home depot got rid of their carts for inventory that had big wireless printers and the handheld bar code scanners all run by a car battery and went with this [Motorola made em] for inventory as well as units being on floor roaming POS registers with receipt printer, with walkie talkie.

    you could load whatever app you want on them [run WinMobile so ...].

    If all you want is for the "picker" to indicate they went into the warehouse to "pick" a part or item, a tablet sounds good, but.... maybe a handheld that's touch screen [like an iPhone]would work better [and be less tempting to disappear]. They could update status right at the bin or simply scan the bar code at the bin to feed RT part status applications.

    As smart phone that prints, runs apps and is a walkie talkie as well.

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    seanferd

    Teklogix
    http://www.psionteklogix.com/us

    http://www.psionteklogix.com/us/products/handheld.htm
    Waaay more advanced than what I was using, and ... oh: http://www.psionteklogix.com/us/products/discontinued-products.htm
    The 7025IS, 7030, 7035, units were what I had used, mostly with a hand scanner on a recoil cable. Later on they had different scanners for dudes in the "pick" (human-size racking area with ladders)which had a little laser you strapped to your finger.

    Anyhoo, they were supposedly capable of displaying picking lists, but PTB liked to code this $#!+ in-house, so I never saw it happen. IT was small and had plenty to do otherwise. The new ones run WinCE, so...

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    CG IT

    Home Depot simply pushes em from the server and the range was great. I installed 4 antennas in the server room on one side of the building, and you could go all the way to the corner of the garden area [other side of building] and not loose connectivity.

    Just an suggestion based on what retailers use for inventory. Home Depot is just a big warehouse that customers pick, and the cashiers ringup [bar code scan] does the inventory control as well as sales.

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    seanferd

    Plus easier integration with any existing MS solution stack, I'm sure. Teklogix seems to have brought in WinCE fairly recently, so I figured that would fit well with Palmetto's (former) requirements.

    Heck, I'd be willing to bet there is an off the shelf app for Win that would do picking lists one way or another.

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    CharlieSpencer

    One of the reasons I'd prefer to deal strictly with .PDFs or .TXTs is to hopefully make it easier to use 'off the shelf' apps. We have don't have any app development skills in house for anything outside SAP. If we can start small and prove the value with a simple project, it may become easier to justify paying for a programmer for additional apps.

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    jhinkle

    I work for a company that consults to warehouses that manage DSD food services. We have a huge deployment of tablets. We use Toshiba Portege M700's and M750's which run Windows so you can get AD connectivity. At this point though there are so many tablets you can find something with AD/LDAP connectivity that will work for you.

    1) You need to put the tablets in cases to help keep them from getting destroyed so quickly.

    2) Get a good warranty, they're going to get destroyed (Literally I have these things come back in pieces). I use Service Connection and they do onsite/offsite work. It really simplifies keeping this equipment running because it's one less thing I have to tear apart and troubleshoot every day.

    3) Screen protectors, I can't stress this enough, they'll save you a lot of repair time on the screens and they're cheap so accounting can't say no.

    4) Get something that supports stylus & finger touch, they're going to lose the stylus you give them and you'll need a work around. You'll also want to let them know that they are responsible for the Stylus. Making them pay for replacements is incentive to not keep losing them.

    5) If you're working in a warehouse and you're using fork lifts you can look at getting LXE units (I've used LXE MX3X & LXE VX9's). They mount on anything that moves and they support hand scanners. (I prefer PSC Powerscan). If you want to go the barcode route let me know and I can give you some advice.

    6) Put the icons for your software on the desktop where it's clearly visible. Remove all extra icons. I've had a lot of issues with users opening random things without thinking about it then calling to ask what they're doing. You could also stick your software in the startup and make it the only thing they see.

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    CharlieSpencer

    We have four M400s. They're slower than frozen molasses, but we had a need and these seemed like the best solution to the department that bought them (not IT). We also have two Dell Latitude XT units; they're faster but no one wants any of them as their primary system.

    We use almost 60 Intermec Windows CE units, about the size of three packs of cigarettes. We solved the lost stylus issue by dummy-cording them to the units. That's also given us considerable experience in simplifying the user interface, as you suggested.

    How does the finger touch work through the screen covers?

    I think the warehouse manager better make any decision regarding units mounted on forklifts. I can see some dummy trying to drive and enter data at the same time. (Did you know there are actually people who text and drive? )

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    jhinkle

    I have one of the M400's out here too. They're horrible compared to the later models. I'm not saying the 700 series are perfect, but they're a lot better.

    The screen covers are really thin. They're just a thin piece of plastic with some sticky edges so you don't even notice them when you use the finger touch.

    I like the idea of the tethers. Only problem I would see is people tearing them off.

    We solved the texting & driving problem :-) They only use the fork lift units with bar code scanners so there is no typing involved. They log into the unit using a ID card that connects them to an AS/400. Even if they tried to type on the units I think they're afraid of the green screen.

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    sjdorst

    If a spreadsheet, Google Apps allows simultaeous editing - so for a large order, multiple people could work on a single order.

    The spreadsheet is SAVED - so there is at least some record of the activity.

    When done, spreadsheet could be moved to a "complete" folder (possibly through a "Done" button in the spreadsheet triggering the move)

    Problems:

    ERP system needs to generate Google Apps Spreadsheet AND get it into the right place.

    Pull Tickets that are complete except for backordered items need to be segregated into their own folder so that receiving people see them - and general order pullers don't!

    Probably also needs to feed back to the ERP for line by line pull status.

    On second thought, this might not be great for Google Apps - as the integration with the ERP - both in creating the spreadsheets and feeding the information back to the ERP may well be problemmatic. -- I probably need to take a much closer look at the api available!

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    CharlieSpencer

    but don't Google Apps require Internet access? By policy, warehouse and factory floor employees here are not allowed Internet access via factory / warehouse computers. Yeah, they may be getting there from their phones, but I just enforce the policies I'm given. Phone use is between the employee and his / her supervisor and is an issue that pre-dates web access via phone.

    Will Google Apps save locally or only on Google's site? We're not interested in storing data in the cloud.

    Tickets are screened first and ones with backordered items aren't issued to pullers. We're looking at pulling for assembly lines, not for customer orders; I apologize if I haven't adequately described the situation.

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    jpmorgan5150

    Dropbox does normally require web access, but it also does lan sync on PC's, but I doubt it works at all without internet. You could always remove safari and lock the apps down on the iPad, otherwise forget what I said earlier.

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    sjdorst

    Yep, Google Apps requires internet access. Had you mentioned the no internet access restriction, I'd never have suggested it.

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    DadsPad

    Maybe you could use RFID and not have anybody do entering.

    Not speaking from experience, but this was touted as a solution to warehouse efficiency.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Wal-Mart hasn't able to make RFID work yet. That's been a couple of years, but I can see several problems.

    We're not big enough to mandate our suppliers include the necessary tags on our incoming parts.

    We're dealing with very small parts (one
    of our main departments puts ICs on PCBs) and bulk materials (another does custom wiring).

    There's probably a solution that integrates with SAP, but if I wanted to go that route, I'm sure bar codes alone would be satisfactory.

    Thanks.

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    CG IT

    if it's mostly automated, then it's a matter of totals. total in [bin] vs total out [used]. individual hand pick is simply scanning the bar code on the bin, which opens the app, then enter quantity picked.


    If the picker gets a paper pick sheet, gets the part, then throws the pick sheet away, how is the pick data entered into the system? that's really where the tablet or handheld comes in, entering R/T pick activity in the database. Once picked the line item is removed from the pick list.

    While the pdf replaces the paper, the pick activity still has to be entered into the system, so if you get rid of the paper as well as the second step effort to enter pick data into the system, you've reduced the time activity. Not sure pdf docs with enterable data can be translated into a DB that would remove the line item picked that shows up on the pick list as needing to be done.

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    CharlieSpencer

    "If the picker gets a paper pick sheet, gets the part, then throws the pick sheet away, how is the pick data entered into the system?"

    I'm peripherially involved at this stage and don't yet have all the details of the data flow. I've been told by someone better involved that the sheet is disposed of. I've been -assuming- there's a transaction to mass relieve all line items from inventory and charge them to the corresponding work order.

    I guess it's a matter of how much the stockroom wants to automate. I've heard it mentioned a couple of times that upper management wanted to bring in someone to improve the processes. We had a firm look at the material flow from Receiving to stock, but they were focused on physical improvements (layout, eliminating obstacles, etc.) and not overall process improvement.

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    CG IT

    if it's a manual update then a handheld [or tablet] that updates the DB in R/T removes the manual update process when an item is picked from inventory. That requires the handheld or tablet to have a client GUI and a connection to the DB to update it as items are taken from inventory and entered. Something the DB guys would have to see if they can make a compact GUI app that would run on WinCE or Win Mobile.

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    AnsuGisalas

    be a form? Forms can have check boxes...
    BTW, ain't this a technical question ?:|

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    CharlieSpencer

    I don't need a formal form so much as a way the user can indicate he's pulled the parts for the first three lines but not for the next four. It won't be saved; the check marks can be lost when the employee closes the file.

    We use a Windows app called eCopy Paperworks to mark up .PDFs at $50 per seat. We'd be willing to pay a comparable price for a tablet-based app to do the same thing.

    Eventually we may look at replacing some of our printed forms that are scanned for permanently retained (product test checksheets, signed forms of product compliance with federal or contract standards). That's way down the road.

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    AnsuGisalas

    I was just saying, if there's a check-box the employee can just tap it when he/she's pulled the item, presto, it's marked. Like you said.
    As for the technicalities, I dunno, being a humanist :p. Did you know that some times people get more answers on the questions board ]:)

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    CharlieSpencer

    I regarded this more as an opinion discussion than one with a defined technical solution. I may repost it over there, but I'll give it a week or so on this side. After all, vulpine hasn't weighed in yet

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    Vulpinemac

    I'm also surprised that I've been 'invited' into the discussion.

    For the initial request, I will say that there are some times when technology may not be the answer, but considering the desire to save paper, a tablet device could be exactly the tool--it really depends on how you wish to use it.

    Per the discussion with Palmetto, it seems that neither the printout nor the pull data itself is really important; all you want is a pull guide. This sounds a lot like when I worked in a warehouse many long years ago when I was a teenager and had to pull tires for shipping based on where the truck was going. As such, a lot of wasted paper, though personally I think the checked pull record would be useful for rating the pull speed and accuracy of the puller--the tablet able to time the pull from dispatch to final checkmark. All it takes is the right software.

    That said, pretty much any of the new tablet formats could do it easily enough and significantly cheaper than the existing Windows-based tablets. However, there's a good possibility that the software already exists in one of the corporate apps which normally don't get seen by the general public. The problem here is that by going this way, you're talking almost $3000 per device plus the software.

    On the other hand, if the iPad or one of the Android devices had the software available, it's far, far cheaper per unit in the event of the occasional dropped tablet than one of the current Windows models.

    Please note that I'm not promoting any one brand over another; for this purpose it really doesn't matter. Personally, I think a basic iPad would be the better choice since you only need Wi-Fi and not 3G and there is no Android device that doesn't have phone capability--as yet.

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    CharlieSpencer



    Thanks for the input.

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    seanferd

    They had, some time ago, tablet-style solutions for this sort of thing. If you already use RF scanners, many of them can also be programmed to pull the item lists for the kit and display them (likely one at a time) on the scanner screen.

    I can't recall the vendor of the scanner I used to use, but the company I worked for used these, and was looking at going paperless for all the rush-type orders as well as the large production "kits". These were already capable of doing the job, but by the time I left, no one had written the code or implemented the back end. (Not surprising, as they were just finishing the implementation of real-time stock keeping. Prior to this, it was all tape batch processing on an AS400, so the stock was only really correct once a day. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.)

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    CharlieSpencer

    We have an established scanner vendor. I hadn't thought of approaching him with this.

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    robo_dev

    If you walk thru any Home Depot store you will see either Symbol, Intermec, or Telxon solutions like this.

    The solution will not be cheap, but the key is getting a well-made rugged device, so a consumer-grade ipad would last about a day in most warehouses. It has to be droppable.

    The most difficult parts of the solution are:

    1) you typically need a solid and supportable WLAN for these devices to connect to, so an enterprise-grade Cisco or Symbol (Motorola) network is best. Cisco is my preference here, as it has always proved to be the most supportable and the most reliable.

    2) Software distribution/updates can be a big issue, depending on the size of the install. I worked with a product called WaveLink Mobile Manager and Wavelink Avalanche for an install with several thousand handheld and vehicle-mount touchscreen tablet devices which did barcode scanning and warehouse inventory with SAP.

    Wavelink also makes some app development tools, so I worked with an integrator who created some SAP interfaces for both handheld and touch-screen computers. Then the Wavelink Avalanche can distribute/update the code automatically.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Preference will be given to devices manageable with Microsoft's 'System Center Configuration Manager', although that won't be a deal-breaker.

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    robo_dev

    So in my case some tablets ran XP, some vehicle-mount computers ran Windows CE, and the handheld devices run Windows Mobile...to support a similar app across multiple platforms was somewhat challenging.

    At least you're set with the Cisco WLAN, but if your Barcode people are the one that starts with an S and rhymes with 'thimble', they will probably want you to tear it out and use their WLAN (been there, done that).

    If you're using a regular OS like Win7 or XP, then it makes life easier from an App standpoint, but can require more powerful hardware.

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    NickNielsen Moderator

    will run your OS of choice. Some of those I support run Windows CE, others run Windows Mobile, and others even run SCO Unix or another POSIX-compliant OS. The best I've seen for durability are the <a href="http://www.motorola.com/Business/US-EN/Business+Product+and+Services/Mobile+Computers/Handheld+Computers/MC9090-K_US-EN">9000-series</a>, but they are pricey, and if your RF coverage has issues, the 9000s will too. The <a href="http://www.motorola.com/Business/US-EN/Business+Product+and+Services/Mobile+Computers/Handheld+Computers/MC3000_Gun_US_EN">3000-series</a> are just as durable, but smaller, and, in my experience, have better reception in areas with low signal.

    Symbol purchased Telxon back in 2000, so Telxon equipment is no longer available. I've not supported Intermec devices, so have no idea how they would integrate with your systems.

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    The 'G-Man.'

    Go for glasses with HUD's which allow the employees hands to be free!

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    CharlieSpencer

    Oh, yeah; there it is:

    :-q

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    The 'G-Man.'

    they are on the way....

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    AnsuGisalas

    Larsonesque group of people poking each other in the eye as they're "point-and-click"-ing with their HUD-goggles.
    Yup, that will fly :)

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    CharlieSpencer

    getting them to comply with OSHA standards for safety glasses, recharging the batteries, or how the Larson woman with the classic 'cat eye' frames is going to adapt.

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    The 'G-Man.'

    It's the next big thing, it really is, honest Guv.

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    NotSoChiGuy

    ...you had mentioned previously that you were using Sharepoint, but there were some issues in terms of buy-in/usage. This could actually be a good use of Sharepoint.

    You could setup a site that incorporates some sort of work flow. PDF form gets posted, people in warehouse get an e-mail, they do what they need, and then complete the work flow once the parts get pulled.

    That should keep some of the software costs down by using what you have in place already.

    In terms of a tablet that has little value once it leaves the premises, something like this (NOTE: posting this as an example of a direction to head overall, and not as an endorsement of the particular vendor) may work:
    http://www.tangent.com/t_thinclients/tablet312.htm

    Hope this helps!

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    CharlieSpencer

    if not two. Right now the people generating the pull list can easily redirect the output from a physical printer to 'print to file' directly into a network share. The capability isn't there to print directly to SharePoint from SAP. Moving the file from the share to SharePoint would be an additional step that I can't see as adding any benefit.

    In addition, it's easier to delete the completed sheet from a share than from SharePoint. If this comes to fruition, I see using a batch file to clean out the share regularly. There's probably a way to do that in SP, but it's beyond me at this time.

    People in our warehouse don't have e-mail. There are computers, but they're not dedicated to individual users and warehouse employees don't have individual logins or accounts.

    Thanks for the hardware link.

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    Vulpinemac

    Simple and Cheap are, to some extent, clipboard and pencil. However, over time, that 'cheap' becomes expensive as the cost of paper and pencils/pens can add up pretty quickly. A ream of paper costs about $50 before any printing is done and when you add the cost of printing--whether it be inkjet or laser/photocopier--pumps that price up very quickly in cost of ink/toner and maintenance. The pen/pencil to check off the items as pulled tends to look cheap up front, but over time when you consider daily loss through breakage, simple dropped items and too-typical pilfering, even this cost can become excessive over time.

    So, how do you minimize the costs? A network of TV stations in Georgia did it by doing essentially what you want--writing up their scripts on computers and pushing them to the on-air reporters through iPads. They determined that even with the costs of buying a number of iPads, they'd be saving roughly $40,000 per year on paper and printing costs. That may not sound like much to a large corporation, but a smaller industry would see that as very significant. That actually covers the salaries of one to two additional people on the pulling floor. Those extra people could mean faster overall pulling times which could mean faster throughput and higher profits.

    The other point here is that you're trying to look at existing technologies, and fantasies like the 'goggles' promoted by one commenter even in his own words of "...they're coming..." clearly states that they don't exist in any usable form and are not likely to be ready for years yet. When you need a solution now, you can't say, "Wait a couple years and the technology will give you what you want."

    That said, the Android semi-tablet devices and Apple's iPad and iPod Touch are currently the only possible choices. It's at least somewhat possible that the iPod Touch could be the better choice despite its smaller size due to the fact that it's easily pocketable or could be hung by a lanyard around the neck while the inventory is being pulled, though that would make pilferage more tempting. The fact that Apple's iOS includes the ability for the device to report its position on a map as long as it's in range of a Wi-Fi network makes both the iPod Touch, the iPhone and the iPad more difficult to steal and get away with it. More than one petty thief has been caught red-handed by the very device he stole leading the police to his door. I've even used it myself to locate my misplaced phone in my car, outside my home, the system is so accurate.

    One advantage to choosing the iPod touch might be that 'toughened' cases are already available that could help protect it in a fall, but again a lanyard system to secure it to the puller's body would significantly reduce that risk of dropping it as well.

    Without seeing the environment and determining the likely usage pattern myself, I couldn't go much farther in a recommendation. The smaller iPod could offer most of the advantages of the iPad, but it would be harder to read and 'mark' due to that small size. The iPad would be easier to read and 'mark', but would have a greater risk of breakage.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Ideally we'll be securing the device to the carts already in use. That will help with the security issue too. If that turns out ot be the case, a swappable battery is mandatory.

    Potential theft is one reason I'd prefer to avoid devices that would have any consumer appeal. We have several dozen Windows CE devices with keypads and scanners, but the only entertainment value they have is playing laser tag!

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    robo_dev

    Typically a Texlon or Intermec touch-screen bolted to a cart, with a printer and barcode scanner.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Maybe over there in the Big City, but not here in the capital of Cackalackie.

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    robo_dev

    http://www.wifi-spy.org/

    There are photos of Costco and Home Depot inventory carts

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    AnsuGisalas

    now. Gleefully carting around the hanger-like gut of the warehouse, playing laser tag racing.

    You could take admission, start a whole new business

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    CharlieSpencer

    There isn't room to swing a cat, dead or other wise. We've caught a few on third shift playing out in one of the manufacturing departments, where there's more line-of-sight. That results in a conversation with HR regarding OSHA requirements. The employee can either stop the practice or buy laser-safe safety glasses out of his own pocket.

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    AnsuGisalas

    is fair.
    Except; probably they should buy laser safe glasses also for the innocent by-standers.
    Collateral damage sucks.

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    jpmorgan5150

    We are a completely different company, but I tried doc delivery with sharepoint and it didn't work at all. I was delivering PDF's.

    Dropbox would work, but you have the challenge of editing the PDF on an ipad. You'd need dropbox (free), an iPad and a pdf editing app.

    Then all you have to do is print to a dropbox folder called 'pulls' and have the employee move it to an archive folder in dropbox. You see what has been worked and it costs almost nothing.

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    CG IT

    was recently on a deployment for roaming handheld POS devices for Home Depot. The whole device was pretty cool. Had a walkie talkie, could scan bar codes, could be a POS unit and print out a receipt with a bluetooth printer worn on the belt [about 1/2s the size of those Dymo label printers].

    Home depot got rid of their carts for inventory that had big wireless printers and the handheld bar code scanners all run by a car battery and went with this [Motorola made em] for inventory as well as units being on floor roaming POS registers with receipt printer, with walkie talkie.

    you could load whatever app you want on them [run WinMobile so ...].

    If all you want is for the "picker" to indicate they went into the warehouse to "pick" a part or item, a tablet sounds good, but.... maybe a handheld that's touch screen [like an iPhone]would work better [and be less tempting to disappear]. They could update status right at the bin or simply scan the bar code at the bin to feed RT part status applications.

    As smart phone that prints, runs apps and is a walkie talkie as well.

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    seanferd

    Teklogix
    http://www.psionteklogix.com/us

    http://www.psionteklogix.com/us/products/handheld.htm
    Waaay more advanced than what I was using, and ... oh: http://www.psionteklogix.com/us/products/discontinued-products.htm
    The 7025IS, 7030, 7035, units were what I had used, mostly with a hand scanner on a recoil cable. Later on they had different scanners for dudes in the "pick" (human-size racking area with ladders)which had a little laser you strapped to your finger.

    Anyhoo, they were supposedly capable of displaying picking lists, but PTB liked to code this $#!+ in-house, so I never saw it happen. IT was small and had plenty to do otherwise. The new ones run WinCE, so...

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    CG IT

    Home Depot simply pushes em from the server and the range was great. I installed 4 antennas in the server room on one side of the building, and you could go all the way to the corner of the garden area [other side of building] and not loose connectivity.

    Just an suggestion based on what retailers use for inventory. Home Depot is just a big warehouse that customers pick, and the cashiers ringup [bar code scan] does the inventory control as well as sales.

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    seanferd

    Plus easier integration with any existing MS solution stack, I'm sure. Teklogix seems to have brought in WinCE fairly recently, so I figured that would fit well with Palmetto's (former) requirements.

    Heck, I'd be willing to bet there is an off the shelf app for Win that would do picking lists one way or another.

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    CharlieSpencer

    One of the reasons I'd prefer to deal strictly with .PDFs or .TXTs is to hopefully make it easier to use 'off the shelf' apps. We have don't have any app development skills in house for anything outside SAP. If we can start small and prove the value with a simple project, it may become easier to justify paying for a programmer for additional apps.

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    jhinkle

    I work for a company that consults to warehouses that manage DSD food services. We have a huge deployment of tablets. We use Toshiba Portege M700's and M750's which run Windows so you can get AD connectivity. At this point though there are so many tablets you can find something with AD/LDAP connectivity that will work for you.

    1) You need to put the tablets in cases to help keep them from getting destroyed so quickly.

    2) Get a good warranty, they're going to get destroyed (Literally I have these things come back in pieces). I use Service Connection and they do onsite/offsite work. It really simplifies keeping this equipment running because it's one less thing I have to tear apart and troubleshoot every day.

    3) Screen protectors, I can't stress this enough, they'll save you a lot of repair time on the screens and they're cheap so accounting can't say no.

    4) Get something that supports stylus & finger touch, they're going to lose the stylus you give them and you'll need a work around. You'll also want to let them know that they are responsible for the Stylus. Making them pay for replacements is incentive to not keep losing them.

    5) If you're working in a warehouse and you're using fork lifts you can look at getting LXE units (I've used LXE MX3X & LXE VX9's). They mount on anything that moves and they support hand scanners. (I prefer PSC Powerscan). If you want to go the barcode route let me know and I can give you some advice.

    6) Put the icons for your software on the desktop where it's clearly visible. Remove all extra icons. I've had a lot of issues with users opening random things without thinking about it then calling to ask what they're doing. You could also stick your software in the startup and make it the only thing they see.

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    CharlieSpencer

    We have four M400s. They're slower than frozen molasses, but we had a need and these seemed like the best solution to the department that bought them (not IT). We also have two Dell Latitude XT units; they're faster but no one wants any of them as their primary system.

    We use almost 60 Intermec Windows CE units, about the size of three packs of cigarettes. We solved the lost stylus issue by dummy-cording them to the units. That's also given us considerable experience in simplifying the user interface, as you suggested.

    How does the finger touch work through the screen covers?

    I think the warehouse manager better make any decision regarding units mounted on forklifts. I can see some dummy trying to drive and enter data at the same time. (Did you know there are actually people who text and drive? )

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    jhinkle

    I have one of the M400's out here too. They're horrible compared to the later models. I'm not saying the 700 series are perfect, but they're a lot better.

    The screen covers are really thin. They're just a thin piece of plastic with some sticky edges so you don't even notice them when you use the finger touch.

    I like the idea of the tethers. Only problem I would see is people tearing them off.

    We solved the texting & driving problem :-) They only use the fork lift units with bar code scanners so there is no typing involved. They log into the unit using a ID card that connects them to an AS/400. Even if they tried to type on the units I think they're afraid of the green screen.

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    sjdorst

    If a spreadsheet, Google Apps allows simultaeous editing - so for a large order, multiple people could work on a single order.

    The spreadsheet is SAVED - so there is at least some record of the activity.

    When done, spreadsheet could be moved to a "complete" folder (possibly through a "Done" button in the spreadsheet triggering the move)

    Problems:

    ERP system needs to generate Google Apps Spreadsheet AND get it into the right place.

    Pull Tickets that are complete except for backordered items need to be segregated into their own folder so that receiving people see them - and general order pullers don't!

    Probably also needs to feed back to the ERP for line by line pull status.

    On second thought, this might not be great for Google Apps - as the integration with the ERP - both in creating the spreadsheets and feeding the information back to the ERP may well be problemmatic. -- I probably need to take a much closer look at the api available!

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    CharlieSpencer

    but don't Google Apps require Internet access? By policy, warehouse and factory floor employees here are not allowed Internet access via factory / warehouse computers. Yeah, they may be getting there from their phones, but I just enforce the policies I'm given. Phone use is between the employee and his / her supervisor and is an issue that pre-dates web access via phone.

    Will Google Apps save locally or only on Google's site? We're not interested in storing data in the cloud.

    Tickets are screened first and ones with backordered items aren't issued to pullers. We're looking at pulling for assembly lines, not for customer orders; I apologize if I haven't adequately described the situation.

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    jpmorgan5150

    Dropbox does normally require web access, but it also does lan sync on PC's, but I doubt it works at all without internet. You could always remove safari and lock the apps down on the iPad, otherwise forget what I said earlier.

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    sjdorst

    Yep, Google Apps requires internet access. Had you mentioned the no internet access restriction, I'd never have suggested it.

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    DadsPad

    Maybe you could use RFID and not have anybody do entering.

    Not speaking from experience, but this was touted as a solution to warehouse efficiency.

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    CharlieSpencer

    Wal-Mart hasn't able to make RFID work yet. That's been a couple of years, but I can see several problems.

    We're not big enough to mandate our suppliers include the necessary tags on our incoming parts.

    We're dealing with very small parts (one
    of our main departments puts ICs on PCBs) and bulk materials (another does custom wiring).

    There's probably a solution that integrates with SAP, but if I wanted to go that route, I'm sure bar codes alone would be satisfactory.

    Thanks.

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    CG IT

    if it's mostly automated, then it's a matter of totals. total in [bin] vs total out [used]. individual hand pick is simply scanning the bar code on the bin, which opens the app, then enter quantity picked.


    If the picker gets a paper pick sheet, gets the part, then throws the pick sheet away, how is the pick data entered into the system? that's really where the tablet or handheld comes in, entering R/T pick activity in the database. Once picked the line item is removed from the pick list.

    While the pdf replaces the paper, the pick activity still has to be entered into the system, so if you get rid of the paper as well as the second step effort to enter pick data into the system, you've reduced the time activity. Not sure pdf docs with enterable data can be translated into a DB that would remove the line item picked that shows up on the pick list as needing to be done.

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    CharlieSpencer

    "If the picker gets a paper pick sheet, gets the part, then throws the pick sheet away, how is the pick data entered into the system?"

    I'm peripherially involved at this stage and don't yet have all the details of the data flow. I've been told by someone better involved that the sheet is disposed of. I've been -assuming- there's a transaction to mass relieve all line items from inventory and charge them to the corresponding work order.

    I guess it's a matter of how much the stockroom wants to automate. I've heard it mentioned a couple of times that upper management wanted to bring in someone to improve the processes. We had a firm look at the material flow from Receiving to stock, but they were focused on physical improvements (layout, eliminating obstacles, etc.) and not overall process improvement.

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    CG IT

    if it's a manual update then a handheld [or tablet] that updates the DB in R/T removes the manual update process when an item is picked from inventory. That requires the handheld or tablet to have a client GUI and a connection to the DB to update it as items are taken from inventory and entered. Something the DB guys would have to see if they can make a compact GUI app that would run on WinCE or Win Mobile.