Software helps deliver the right goods

“If they need it, we will do it.” That’s Margaret Adat’s simple statement about meeting customers’ demands and it possibly sums up the key reason for the success of Toronto-based Gentec International, an importer and distributor of optical, imaging, wireless and electronic accessory products.

As owner, executive vice-president and chief financial officer, Adat claims the 14-year-old Gentec is the leading accessory product supplier in Canada, importing from the far east, Europe and the U.S. to provide the largest retail organizations and the smaller independent retailers products from brand name manufacturers that include Sony, Roots, Planet Wireless and Optex. While the company tries to get all customer orders filled and shipped within 24 hours, Gentec competitively guarantees that an order will leave the 57,000 sq. ft. warehouse within 48 hours.

Adat keeps current with technology to help meet these delivery promises. Gentec runs a warehouse management system (WMS) for Microsoft SQL Server from Radio Beacon Inc. Integrated with a WinSol ERP system from TecSys, Gentec electronically processes purchase orders in the WMS which eliminates the need for data entry and helps ensure the delivery of the right product for the right order at the right time.

When goods arrive at the warehouse, staff uses handheld Intermec radio frequency scanners to read the bar-coded contents label on each carton. This prompts an outstanding purchase order matching the labels to be displayed on the handheld scanner. When the receiving staff opens each carton and keys into the handheld device the quantity of products received — be it a lens for $500 or a 99-cent camera cord — that information is automatically posted into Gentec’s accounting system as received stock ready for sale. When the product is stored, the handheld scanner is again used to identify the product’s location. To find a product, warehouse staff only need to key in the product on their handheld to reveal all its locations in the building.

Gentec has four people picking about 200 orders a day. A four-lane carousel, similar to a dry cleaner’s moving clothing racks, has 960 product bins that bring products within a three metre range so one picker can efficiently pack eight orders at a time.

About 70 per cent of the picker’s time can be spent walking, so Gentec keeps products needed for the upcoming orders as close as possible. The WMS helps by alerting the afternoon shift staff to bring to nearby shelving or the picking carousel the required number of units per item per order from the overstock area for the pickers to pack the next morning.

A Radio Beacon demand forecasting module added to the WMS captures the order and delivery history of Gentec customers and suppliers, revealing the optimal safety stock, reorder points and reorder quantities for each of the 3,000 unique products the company distributes. This helps Gentec schedule purchase orders to suppliers and manage inventory budgets to eliminate back orders and avoid a customer levying a penalty for an order not filled on time.

“Sales orders received by fax, EDI, over the Internet or via a salesperson are consolidated, prioritized, sorted and selected better than in the paper world,” says Dale Jeffries, Radio Beacon president and COO.

Another business problem common to distribution centres is ensuring — and proving — order accuracy. Adat boasts an accuracy rate of more than 99 per cent, even though two full-time employees checking outgoing orders have been reassigned other duties and the volume of orders filled had by March 2004 increased 58 per cent over the previous year.

During that same time, the volume of the lines of product picked rose 51 per cent — all with the same staff of 17. “It’s all about matching physical goods to data,” Jeffries stresses. “As soon as they scan an item, it is ready for sale.”

“The big advantage is that we don’t double handle the product and we know what’s coming,” says Garry Toon, vice-president of operations. From the time the product hits the door, it is tracked.

“Once customers know you can track it, claims for false shorts go down,” reports a pleased Adat. She also appreciates the system’s flexibility in reporting. Information such as the number of units and the dollar value of orders would have been buried in a stack of paper.

So far, reporting, productivity and forecasting tools have enabled this distributor to better utilize space with less of the wrong inventory, minimize the amount of stock outs and back orders, improve accuracy and increase productivity. What is the next step? Would it be RFID-tagged cases?

In January, Radio Beacon announced its plans to integrate its WMS with the TraxWare RFID software products from System Concepts Inc. Even so, Jeffries admits that RFID applications need better filtering technology than what is available in general today.

For Adat’s part, she is watching while being careful “not to get too proactive” with using techno-logy lest they “get ahead of customers.” But, one can be sure that if customers ask for RFID- labelled products, she will have Gentec ready to oblige.

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