McNairn wraps up data management with wireless system

Life at McNairn Packaging has been much easier since the company converted to a new wireless data collection system.

Founded in 1882, the Whitby, Ontario-based food packaging and distribution firm needed something with better reliability and speed, because its previous RF system was outdated. It was difficult to maintain and even got to the point where McNairn could not use it. As far as this company was concerned, it had no wireless data collection system.

McNairn turned to Application Solution Inc. (ASI) for help. The IT integrator recommended Psion Teklogix Inc.’s 7035 handheld terminals and its 9150 Wireless Gateway. The 7035 handheld terminals would let workers in McNairn’s warehouse scan item bar codes for better inventory management. The information scanned on the 7035 gets sent to the 9150 gateway that then drops the information onto the network.

McNairn makes french fry bags, submarine wrappers and other food packaging items for certain fast-food chains, said Larry Coe, the firm’s manager of information systems. He declined to name specific McNairn customers, but was perfectly willing to talk about the new wireless gear his company purchased. Coe said he particularly liked the ruggedness of the handheld terminals, and that Psion designed the devices for warehouse environments.

According to Sheldon Sacks, vice-president of ASI, Psion Teklogix trumped its competitors in other ways. “One of the things Teklogix has going for it is it is right here in Canada,” he said. “If we ever got into a service issue, we could really work with Teklogix closely and rectify their problems really fast.”

McNairn has two plants: one in Whitby and the other in Westfield, Mass. McNairn outfitted the latter plant with the new wireless data collection first as the Westfield operation did not have anything like it in place. ASI was responsible for implementing the technology. McNairn uses the system to track the flow of raw materials such as rolls of paper, foil, and corrugated packaging material in its warehouse to the point where finished products reach the customer.

When asked if there were any difficulties in implementing the Psion system in its U.S. plant, Coe said, “It actually went very smoothly. We were there for about a week. The first couple of days were spent setting up the new equipment and the balance of the week was training people.”

A year later, McNairn’s Whitby plant adopted the Psion solution but employees there required a shorter training period. They were already familiar with RF technology, having used the previous outdated and inadequate system.

Sacks attributed the smooth transition to smart planning. ASI got the handheld devices and the gateway from Psion prior to installation to “circumvent the client from seeing any out-of-box failures” with the equipment. Sacks said the preview thwarted unexpected problems that otherwise might have affected McNairn in the installation process. “No surprises” was the goal, he said.

McNairn’s computer system is based on IBM Corp.’s AS/400 and its terminals run on a 5251 emulation.

Prior to implementing any RF technology, workers in both plants would survey the inventory at their desks, entering the data into their PCs. They would use pens and paper to note the warehouse stock and march back to their desks to “download” the information.

Now workers scan bar-coded items with the Psion devices, which connect to the wireless gateway and, in turn, to McNairn’s data network. The new process eliminates not only manual typing and the inevitable inaccuracies associated with that task, but also the need for paper. Everything is electronic today.

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