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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
Thanks to this system, Zebra reports, it is no longer necessary for a single staff member to work on one order in order to track what had been picked. Now, as many as five employees could work simultaneously to fill the same order, simply by following directions displayed on a Symbol scanner, based on Oracle data.

However, Meekma says, although this system saved a few minutes for each picking load, and also enabled multiple individuals to work on an order simultaneously, this new process could create confusion in the staging area without an RTLS solution in place. To make efficient use of space, the staging area is designed for flexible staging. That means staff members create a lane for loading a particular order, based on the order's size. A smaller order does not require as much space as a larger one. When more than one person is working on a single order, however, only the employee who makes the first drop-off knows the exact location of the staging area for that particular order.

Zebra's Gary Meekma
This is where Zebra's UWB solution comes in. The company installed UWB tags in the tops of 100 plastic traffic cones used to identify the lanes. The cones come in one of five colors, such as yellow or red, with 20 cones for each color. By providing color coding, the staff can more easily identify the correct lane by searching for the color (such as red) of the cone associated with that specific order. The Zebra Dart RTLS UWT-1100-A-00AB tag on the top of each cone transmits a unique ID number every four seconds, via a UWB 500 MHz to 10.6 GHz signal complying with the IEEE 802.15.4f standard. Six sensors (readers) installed on the ceiling receive that signal and then forward the read data to Zebra's Visibility Server Software (VSS). The software uses triangulation to identify each cone's location, explains Adebayo Onigbanjo, Zebra Technologies' senior product marketing manager. It then integrates that information into the Oracle WMS, where a cone's unique ID is linked to that cone's color.

Upon dropping off the first items for a particular order, a worker places those products on a pallet within the staging area, and then takes a cone and places it on one of the boxes in that order. Next, the employee uses the Symbol device to scan the bar-code number printed on the box, as well as a bar-code number printed on the cone, thus linking the order with that specific cone and color.

The Symbol handheld displays additional items for that order for the staff to pick. Once the load is moved to the staging area for drop-off, the handheld also provides the color of the cone associated with that order, along with its location, based on reader data, which is then displayed as a location number that is also stenciled on the floor. Workers use the stenciled numbers to pinpoint the location of the staging area assigned to a particular order.

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