Coca-Cola Bottling deploys Pocket PCs to technicians

Technicians at Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated handle about a quarter of a million repair calls a year for coolers, vending machines and fountain syrup dispensers spread throughout the company’s service territory in the Southeastern U.S. and had grown increasingly frustrated with their old, DOS-based handheld computers with hard-to-read black-and-white screens.

The technicians found it hard to read the screens in the glare of the summer sun, and heat degraded performance to the extent that the technicians had to put the devices in front of air-conditioner vents in their trucks before they could read them, said David Myers, a project manager at the Charlotte, N.C.-based bottling company. The technicians “were not happy” with their old equipment, which frustrated and slowed them down during the company’s peak summer sales season, Myers said.

To resolve this problem, Coca-Cola Bottling has completed a rollout of 240 rugged PDT 8100 computers with glare-proof colour screens from Symbol Technologies Inc. in Holtsville, N.Y. Coca-Cola Bottling ported an old DOS program developed in-house to the PDT 8100s’ Microsoft Pocket PC operating system and added hooks to take advantage of the built-in bar-code scanner, which the older computer lacked. The bar-code scanner allows the technicians to easily track the machine they are working on, as well as parts used for a repair, Myers said.

Since part of the company’s territory includes mountainous areas in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, Myers said the company has relied on a wireless satellite communications system from the OmniTracs division of San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. Myers said the OmniTracs service, which is used widely in the long-haul trucking industry, also automatically provided Coca-Cola Bottling with location and position information on each technician’s truck.

While the company will probably continue to use OmniTracs to provide connectivity for technicians working in rural or mountainous areas lacking cellular coverage, Myers said he’s looking to replace that costly satellite service in metropolitan areas such as Charlotte with cheaper cellular data service. But not until after the company’s peak summer season passes. “We’re not going to do that until the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of next,” Meyer said, explaining the company doesn’t want to change communications suppliers in the prime time for Coke.