Right the first time: For Finland’s Kemira, a warehouse scanning trial triggers global rollout
At Helsinki, Finland-based Kemira —a global chemicals company employing 9,000 people in 40 countries—a Netherlands-based pilot program has successfully deployed a long-range omnidirectional bar-code scanning solution claimed by auto-ID vendor Intermec to be the world’s first long-range autofocus imager.
With successful implementation at Kemira’s finished goods warehouse in Tiel, The Netherlands, now concluded, a global rollout is under way, commencing with a Kemira facility in Marietta, Georgia, and ultimately including more than 40 warehouses in 17 countries.
“It is an important project for the company, and we’re eager to see the benefits of it as soon as possible,” says Todd King, bar-code process owner at Kemira.
Kemira’s challenge, explains Toulouse, France-based Christophe Lopez, Intermec’s senior product strategist for scan engines and decoders, is that its warehouse personnel must be able to quickly and accurately scan bar codes on products, bar codes on pallets, and then location points—all, ideally, without leaving the seat of the forklift truck that they are driving.
The bar codes in question, Lopez adds, can typically be anything from two to three metres away, and be in almost any orientation. In addition to bar codes, the facility to capture text and picture images also was a requirement.
Compared to Kemira’s previous solution, notes Lopez, the potential productivity gains were to come from being able to do this on a “first time right” basis, without dismounting from the forklift truck to undertake rereads or scan misaligned bar-code labels, and—critically—with a single handheld scanner, rather than two or three.
The stakes were high. For in parallel, explains Kemira’s King, the chemicals giant’s OneKem initiative had brought together its previously disparate instances of ERP into a single businesswide SAP system, facilitating shared data access, and enabling its various businesses around the world to better interact with each other.
But data accuracy was paramount. With several thousand tonnes of raw materials and manufactured goods moving in and out of each plant on a daily basis, Kemira’s global network required accurate logistical alignment to avoid costly and potentially dangerous mistakes.
After thorough research of the market, Kemira selected Intermec’s CK31ex mobile computer unit, coupled to the company’s EX25 scan engine. Whereas past experience with older scanners had left Kemira employees with the problem of having to undertake multiple scans before information was correctly captured—often due to focus problems, rather than bar-code quality—the EX25 was designed from the outset to eliminate failed readings through the use of inbuilt autofocus technology, explains Lopez.
What’s more, the ability to capture 1D and 2D bar codes from as close up as 15 centimetres, and as far away as 15 metres—roughly six inches to 50 feet—meant that warehouse operatives and forklift drivers could in theory scan product in almost any location and orientation, without having to reposition the scanner or twist their wrists to capture the data—thus saving valuable time, and reducing fatigue and injury.
The pilot program soon showed that these gains were attainable in practice, and not just theoretical possibilities, explains King. Taken together, the ability to scan from any distance up to 15 metres, coupled with easier and faster operation, delivered both reliable data capture and improved productivity—with the productivity gains amounting to as much as an hour per forklift driver per day, says King.
In short, he says, “We found the ability to read bar codes from any distance, combined with the capacity to read them from many different angles, had the effect of rapidly speeding up our processes—which can prove crucial in a warehouse environment where the main aim is to get things out the door as soon as possible.”
Global rollout is now under way. When complete, says Lopez, internal Kemira estimates put the overall impact on warehouse productivity at a 10-percent increase from the initial baseline.
“Just being able to read almost anything, at almost any angle—and without dismounting from the forklift truck—has an enormous effect on operations,” says Lopez. “Quite simply, it’s allowing Kemira operatives to work in ways that just weren’t possible in the past.”