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Zebra Uses Its Own Dart RTLS Technology to Boost Warehouse Efficiency

The company estimates that the real-time location system saves the warehouse 451 man-hours per month.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 05, 2012Zebra Technologies has put its own real-time location system (RTLS) technology to work at two of its warehouses—one in Vernon Hills, Ill., and a second in Heerenveen, the Netherlands. The solution saves time employees previously spent locating the proper place for loads of picked goods (approximately three minutes per load), estimates Gary Meekma, Zebra's senior manager of warehouse operations, while also reducing the amount of space required to stage each load by about 40 percent.

Zebra Technologies employs an Oracle warehouse-management system (WMS), along with Zebra's own ultra-wideband (UWB) Dart RFID sensors (readers) and tags. By reducing the amount of time workers spend searching for the proper location to gather together goods within the warehouse's staging area, the company reports that it saves 451 man-hours per month.


Zebra's warehouse workers use variously colored plastic cones with built-in RFID tags to identify the location of each order.

Zebra also utilized its new software tool, known as System Builder, to help it design the warehouse's RTLS deployment, by identifying the best placement of Zebra Dart UWB devices for the purpose of tracking assets.

The warehouse's new tracking system consists of Oracle software integrated with Zebra Technologies' software for managing the locations of orders, in addition to variously colored plastic traffic cones with built-in Dart tags for identifying an order's location, and Motorola Solutions' Symbol handheld computers with bar-code scanners that display location and order data. The handhelds also enable a user to scan a product's bar code as it is moved to the staging area. Six UWB Dart readers installed around the staging area identify the locations of the tagged cones, and forward that location data to the Oracle system via Zebra's software.

Zebra's Vernon Hills warehouse consists of four separate pods, created through multiple expansions to accommodate the company's growth. After the firm reconfigures its printers and related supplies according to customers' needs, they are placed in the warehouse, within the same building, before being packed to fill orders and then being sent to customers via truck. Until February 2012, the staff used paper-based picking orders and moved throughout all four pods, manually assembling items for an order. Those items were taken by forklift to the 10,000-square-foot staging area where orders were built. The worker who packed the order then proceeded to the warehouse for another load until that order was filled. However, the company reports, the system proved time-consuming for the warehouse staff.

In February, Zebra Technologies installed an Oracle WMS at its North American locations (its other facilities went live with Oracle in January 2011), in order to eliminate the need for paper, and to help the staff locate the goods picked for orders. Each warehouse worker carries a Symbol handheld bar-code scanner that lists the locations of items to be picked, as well as the approximate spot at which each product should be placed within the staging area to fill an order. A worker scans the bar code on the each item while picking it, and that scan indicates what was being pulled for the order in the WMS residing on Zebra's back-end system.

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