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Fruit company enhances traceability with distribution centre upgrades

Supplier: Intermec
20 September, 2012

For Washington Fruit and Produce, Co., one of Washington state's largest shippers of apples, maintaining the most effective technology possible for distribution center (DC) operations is a constant requirement.

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For Washington Fruit and Produce, Co., one of Washington state's largest shippers of apples, maintaining the most effective technology possible for distribution centre (DC) operations is a constant requirement.

The company, which recently moved into a brand new state-of-the-art packaging and storage facility in Yakima, Wash., identified a need for a more streamlined pallet tagging and inventory management system that would not only help streamline daily operations, but also provide them with compliance to new food traceability initiatives required by the U.S. Government.

They engaged with Pacific iD, a technology solution provider, to recommend and install a completely new hardware system for their DC operations that would offer improved inventory management and accuracy, increase operational efficiency and increase throughput.

Their ultimate solution: a complete range of Intermec products including CK3 mobile computers, CV60 vehicle mount computers, SR61ex scanners and PM4i printers, immediately seeing improved efficiency as a result.

Enhancing operations

"On a daily basis, we package fruit from orchard bins to size, shape, color, and quality-graded boxes for worldwide sales," Mikey Hanks, Washington Fruit & Produce, Co. Systems Operator, said.

"We operate year-round and ship both domestically and export to Europe, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, Mexico and South America, so we not only require extremely efficient operations, but we rely on accuracy for all of our shipments."

However, Hanks noted the company was severely lacking a pallet tagging and inventory management system, which often resulted in the wrong pallets being shipped.

Additionally, of the 250,000 boxes of apples the company usually has on hand, there was often a discrepancy in tracking what they actually had in the warehouse. This resulted in daily "house counts" to ensure inventory control, which proved timely and an ill use of employee time.

"Before deploying the Intermec products we relied heavily on a manual inventory system," said Hanks. "We had handwritten sheets used on the loading dock for loading trucks that can be hard to read or many times were inaccurate as to what was actually loaded onto the truck."

Integrating new technology

After testing the Intermec products directly against those of a leading competitor, they ultimately chose the Intermec CK3s to aid in their pallet tagging operations. This new technology also helped Washington Fruit become one of the first in the region to comply with the new food traceability compliance laws.

"Our inventory at the our new facility is tracked at the box level with all information about the fruit inside each box – all the way down to what part of which orchard the fruit was picked from," Hanks said.

"This is done with serial numbers printed on each box, and we are the first to deploy this traceability to apples in our entire region. In case of a recall, we know exactly where every box was shipped and which orchard's fruit it came from in case the problem was rooted there."

Additionally, Washington Fruit chose to deploy CV60 terminals and keyboards on each of their forklifts, as well as SR61ex scanners for their main means of inventory control. The new technology allows the forklift drivers to stay on their trucks when scanning pallets.

With the new system, apples come into the DC in large wooden crates. A forklift picks them up and puts them on a conveyor belt. The entire crate is then submerged into water, where the apples float to the top.

There, the apples are sanitised, washed and waxed and then graded and sorted. From there, they are sent to a packing station where workers put the apples into boxes and full boxes are stamped with all the necessary information in human readable form as well as with two barcodes. One is a Global Tracking and Identification Number (GTIN), for food traceability compliance, and the other is the in-house serial number.

Down the line after the boxes are full, they are auto taped and sent to a pallet station manned by robots. The conveyor system sorts the boxes out by the size and grade of apples and sends them to the correct robot line. The robots pick up the boxes and build the pallets before finally shrink wrapping them. Intermec CK3 scanners are then used to scan the serial numbers on a pallet and generate a pallet tag for inventory management.

The Intermec PM4i printer prints out custom labels with a barcode to be scanned by the forklift driver. The pallet tag stores all the serial numbers of each box on each individual pallet. The forklifts then grab the pallets and place them in the warehouse while they wait to be shipped. In shipping, the PM4i printer network and custom labels are used to print labels for each pallet, and the CV60s and SR61s are again used to put the pallets onto the trucks to fulfil orders.

Streamlining success

Since deploying, Hanks said they have already begun to see their overall efficiency improve, simply due to the ease of use: "The CK3 has a lot of buttons that can be utilised without needing to press the function key first, so overall it's just faster and more efficient.

"Plus, we've also seen vast improvements with the printer speed on the PM4i – we're able to generate in the neighborhood of 40 pallet tags an hour now using customised Intermec labels."

In fact, Justin Long, President of Pacific iD, said Washington Fruit has been breaking their own daily packing records without adding any staff, something Hanks attributes to the seamless integration of both their new hardware and software to their new state-of-the-art facility.

"Since deployment at our new facility, we have not had any instances of the wrong products shipping to customers," Hanks said.

"This is something we wouldn't have accomplished without our new software and hardware implementation."

For the future

Hanks said the company still has a long way to go in terms of deploying a full WMS system to completely manage their new 228,000 sq ft. warehouse. However, for now, the company's newfound system is offering them accuracy and capability for food traceability that would have not been possible before.

"We look forward to where this system can take us in the future," Hanks said.

"Our new warehouse has the capabilities to do a lot more in terms of increasing our throughput, etc. so we're excited continually monitor our processes and implement continued upgrades as we're ready."

Washington Fruit Enhances Food Traceability with Intermec and Pacific-iD