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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
When a worker's handheld displays an item to be picked, that individual retrieves the product and inputs or scans its bar-coded number, confirming that the load has been picked up. The employee is then directed to the stenciled location number and colored cone where the item should be dropped off. After placing the object next to those already in the staging lane designated for that order, the staff member scans the bar-code number printed on the cone. If there is a mistake, the worker will see an alert on the scanner's screen, indicating that the goods are being placed in the incorrect staging lane. Once the order is completely assembled within the staging area, the cone is temporarily removed while the pallet is covered in stretch wrap. The cone is then placed back on top of the stretch-wrapped pallet, in order to help the staff identify the order and load it onto the appropriate truck, where the cone is then removed and returned to the staging area.

Without an RTLS solution, the company reports, the process of locating a shipment in the staging area could take the staff from one to eight minutes—approximately three minutes on average. Since the warehouse averages 1,000 drops daily, Meekma says, that time adds up quickly, though the RTLS cuts about a minute off each drop time.

Based on the Zebra technology's cost, Meekma estimates that had the system been purchased, the warehouse would have seen a return on investment (ROI) in about six months, thanks to a reduction in man-hours. Until July of this year, the RTLS data was displayed on a monitor within the staging area, he says. Now that the RTLS solution has been integrated with the Oracle software, however, the facility has been able to display that data on the Symbol scanners, thereby saving several more seconds per load drop, by sparing the staff from having to go to the monitor in order to search for each order.

To design the system, Onigbanjo says, Zebra's installation team used the company's new System Builder tool. First, Meekma provided details regarding how the staging area was configured, as well as the type of data he required. "When we got input from Gary, we could go into the [System Builder] tool," Onigbanjo says, and begin entering additional details as well—such as where metal racks or other obstacles could affect the RFID tags' signal strength—and began mapping out the system. In so doing, he explains, the development of the system for this location was much faster, since it was not necessary to move sensor antennas around through a process of trial and error to create the proper read environment. In addition, Zebra's customers can purchase the System Builder software for their own deployments.

With the RTLS solution, Onigbanjo says, the tagged cones' locations can be pinpointed within about a foot. The system was so successful, Meekma adds, that it was also installed at Zebra's warehouse in the Netherlands this past June.

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