DB Schenker - Scanning solution offers DB Schenker solid registration base for efficient food logistics
Being able to call upon accurate and real-time data is unquestionably an absolute necessity for DB Schenker in Willebroek. Inside the imposing distribution centre covering some 100,000 m2 and with room to accommodate 90,000 pallets, Geert Vanderoy, Willebroek Branch Manager, is overseeing the progress of two ongoing projects. “Following the SAP WM implementation, we are purposefully proceeding towards the realisation of six mobile solutions by PHI DATA and Honeywell. The complexity within the food chain is so great that we depend on well-functioning, reliable scanners.”
The enormous storage facility in Willebroek is fully organized and equipped as a food warehouse from where DB Schenker conducts the Benelux product distribution for several clients. And precisely because it pertains to the logistics of food products, the accurate and efficient tracking and tracing of goods is of paramount importance.
But where companies ever since 2004 have been required within the framework of the General Food Law to be able to pinpoint quickly where articles can be located along the food chain, today, it is the clients themselves that are imposing strict demands.
Stringent traceability demands
The traceability demands are becoming more stringent, together with a growing complexity. Vanderoy explains what this means for DB Schenker: “All items have SSCC labels affixed, according to our clients’ guidelines. The proper processing of these products must be conducted very accurately. Even in the case of a standard supermarket product, we need to pick the pallet that holds the correct product, has the correct product date and the correct ‘best before date’. The system determines whether we pick the products that are still good for 120 days or 90 days; this can vary from client to client. Without scanning, we can no longer do this.”
By ‘the system’, Vanderoy means the combination of the handheld terminals, the ring scanners, and the screens fixed on the order picker trucks, on the one hand, and the SAP warehouse management system (WMS), on the other. According to Vanderoy[M1] , the Honeywell scanning solutions provided by PHI DATA fit seamlessly into the WMS that is currently being rolled out in Willebroek. Putting the scanning equipment into service and implementing the new system used by DB Schenker to manage the warehousing operations happens in stages. Vanderoy[M2] expects both implementations to be completed during the first quarter in 2015.
‘Scanners determine delivery quality’
It is the logistics operations for large supermarkets that place the highest demands on the scanning solutions and the warehousing system. “Picking is indispensable whenever a major supermarket chain is running special promotional campaigns. Products can look identical on the outside but, possibly, a promotional product may be included inside the packaging. In that case, it is the information which the scanner provides to the order picker that determines our delivery quality.”
In the continuous pursuit of higher delivery quality and product availability, the combination of the Honeywell scanning equipment and SAP is the absolute guiding factor. Where, in the past, great confidence was placed in the warehouse workers’ insight and experience in order-picking activities, today, this knowledge has become digitalized. “The work had simply become too complex. By conducting our activities via a scanner, we are able to collect more information which, in addition, is being stored in our system.” In this way, specific client demands can be monitored by all collaborators at the DC in Willebroek. “We enter these demands and they are displayed on the scanners: for instance, the demand that a pallet for client X may only be 1m20 high”, Vanderoy explains further. “But scanning is also important for product recalls at the producer’s request.”
Selecting PHI DATA
“The search for reliable scanning equipment didn’t last long,” the Willebroek Branch Manager confides. “The quality of the Honeywell products and the service offered by PHI DATA are excellent and much appreciated by us. Moreover, we receive solid support and advice when making decisions about the best and most productive way of order picking.” Furthermore, DB Schenker likewise polled the opinions of its collaborators in the selection of the scanning devices. “One of the picking methods we considered was voice-picking. But there we ran into heavy opposition from our people. They work in teams and wanted to keep communicating with one another as they had always done.” One necessity was to have the hands free while picking orders. “PHI DATA advised us to use a ring scanner. This is a scanner connected via Bluetooth to a small module strapped to the wrist and provided with buttons to confirm picks. The question path for the order pickers originates from the WMS.” Forklift operators use a Portable Data Assistant (PDA) as well to scan each individual pallet when loading trucks.
Vanderoy is impressed by the fast response displayed by PHI DATA at the start of the implementation process. “At the start-up of the system we noticed that some scanners malfunctioned. I pressed the panic button and they were right on the spot. It appeared to be some small malfunction in the settings, and since the correction everything has been working to perfection. It sure was a treat to see this fast a response.”
‘Establishing client-oriented processes’
In the meantime, DB Schenker has taken some 50 Honeywell scanners into service in Willebroek, including the screens that are fixed to the order pickers. In combination with the WMS, they have already ensured a more efficient operation. Vanderoy does, however, wish to emphasize that DB Schenker is primarily concerned about improving the quality of the logistics operations. “We have certainly been able to save some time but more important to us is the improvement in delivery quality. We have better insight into what we are taking in, storing, picking, and sending out. That is helpful to our order pickers who, in any case, have always been very much client-oriented.” According to the Willebroek Branch Manager, this client-orientation is evident from the spontaneous initiatives on the part of the warehousing staff. If a box happens to be affixed with a barely legible or illegible label, it is being replaced. “Thanks to the scanning solution, we were able to switch label replacement to being part of the registration process. Yet, more importantly, we now have made it easier to get a transparent view of all steps along the chain, together with accompanying data.” Smiling, he says he doesn’t have to worry about the scanners not working. “This is something I don’t see happening soon. This digitisation system offers us some real advantages; forgetting an order line is a thing of the past.” When a client reports not having received five boxes, DB Schenker can show what steps have been taken and what scanning processes support the evidence for such actions.
According to Vanderoy, the use of the equipment installed by PHI DATA has, in practice, proved to be very simple. “Obviously, we train our order pickers before having them use the scanners. But gaining an understanding of SAP’s WMS structure demands more concentration than working with the handheld terminals, finger scanners, or truck terminals. The correction of errors and what steps are required in the process demands the greatest attention. Users can carry out some operations themselves; others we have blocked deliberately. What we absolutely want to avoid is endangering the process approach of the WMS.” The human factor can never be entirely eliminated, as the Willebroek Branch Manager is well aware. “But, on balance, this investment means that we have a better grasp on the follow-up process. And in practice, the use of the ring scanners works really quite smoothly and pleasantly.”
DB Schenker is fully dedicated to achieving the highest possible data quality. The scanners offer certainty and data to the logistics provider, and to the clients. The intensive implementation process, during which a WMS as well as the Honeywell scanning solution are being rolled out simultaneously, is proceeding in stages.
The equipment that DB Schenker will be using consists of the following Honeywell solutions: forklift truck screen Thor, ring scanner, mobile computer Marathon, mobile handheld terminal Tecton, Dolphin PDAs, and label printers.