Working Gear

Mar 01, 2001 10:30 PM  By

Material handling problems got you down? This Web site could give you a lift. Salt Lake City-based ESKAY Corporation developed its www.mhinfo.com portal specifically “to educate the world on what’s going on in material handling,” explains Kevin Thuet, director of advanced applications. The educational site — helping to identify and solve material handling problems in distribution, order fulfillment, and manufacturing — began operating in October 2000 and is, thus far, the only one of its kind in cyberspace.

ESKAY’s Web site offers case studies of which technologies best-in-class companies are using to solve material handling problems. The site has an “Ask the Expert” section that answers people’s questions via e-mail within 48 hours. Users can even view QuickTime™ or RealPlayer® movies of systems in action.

Retailers can use the site’s interactive worksheets, which offer suggested technologies based on specific material handling requirements. Common issues concern floor space, productivity, errors, inventory, ergonomics, and disjointed operation. Thuet explains the latter as “blindness” problems arising when a 3PL provider does not have access to what is happening at the factory, for example. The site, www.eskay.com, is constantly upgraded.

Brick and Mortar Meets Click and Order

One of the most challenging problems facing retailers in this brave new world of commerce is integrating virtual e-storefronts with Main Street storefront operations. “The infrastructures are completely disparate,” notes Dave Clare, executive vice president of Chandler, AZ-based Evergreen Internet Inc.

Helping resolve that disparity is Evergreen’s eCential™ for Retail, the first 100 percent open-standards-based Java™ and XML pricing and inventory solution integrating transactions between traditional retail POS systems and e-commerce storefronts.

Customers can purchase products online, selecting pricing and inventory based on the local retail store from which they choose to retrieve the product. One of the advantages of eCential, according to Clare, is its non-proprietary nature.

“We give retailers the tools to build retail storefronts online. The open interfaces tie into existing POS inventory systems on the back end,” he says. “Retailers have more control of their destiny by sticking with Java and XML as core technologies.”

Returning products purchased online created problems in the past. Once products were taken back at the local level, they might have been placed on a shelf and never entered properly into the local system. “Integration between a merchant’s existing catalog applications and the Web has been the biggest unknown, and with eCential we offer an open tool kit to enable that adaptability,” Clare says. Visit Evergreen at www.ever green.com.

It’s a Wrap

The Geämi Protector is a protective packaging system that combines die-cut Kraft paper and an interleaf tissue. Together, these components create a three-dimensional, resilient, and lightweight protective packaging that can protect items from the most fragile high-end collectibles to automotive parts.

The interleaf tissue offers multi-channel merchants a platform for creativity, as Geämi will custom-print company logos, Web addresses, or messages on the interleaf paper, which can also be custom-colored. “Our interleaf tissue paper gives retailers the opportunity to brand their products to consumers when they open the box,” says Mike Suthard, vice president of sales and marketing for Morrisville, NC-based Geämi Ltd.

“Our product is used for wrapping, cushioning, blocking, and bracing items,” says Suthard. The Protector’s advantage over bubble wrap and loose-fill peanut products is cost on several fronts. First, the cost of the product itself is less than a combination of other packaging products. Second, the product comes in compact rolls, requiring about 40% less space for storage.

Shipping costs of merchandise wrapped in the Geämi Protector system are reduced because it takes less space to wrap similar items. “We can reduce the size of the outbound secondary container by as much as 40%,” says Suthard. “In fact, Geämi offers a ‘Packaging Challenge’ on its Web site. Retailers are encouraged to send a sample packaged item for evaluation. Geämi will re-package it using the Protector system and send it back to the retailer. “This is a great way to start a dialog with potential clients,” Suthard says.

Geämi offers two types of delivery systems: an automatic dispenser or a pre-expanding machine. The company also offers training and support to retailers using the Protector system. Visit the company at www.geami.com.

A Beacon to Merchants

Toronto-based Radio Beacon, Inc. (formerly Data Technology Software Integration Ltd.) targets its RADIO BEACON 4.0 program to small through medium-sized businesses with $25 million to $250 million in annual sales. It offers small-order picking applications, directed putaways, and special third-party warehouse features allowing upgrades to support multi-company and multi-client warehouses. The product also provides a module for self-service return authorizations and predictive replenishment of next-day projections, based on velocity.

“We provide a complete solution, beginning from the time a consumer clicks onto a retailer’s Web site, through confirming the order, labeling the package, and shipping the goods,” says president Dale Jeffries. RADIO BEACON can manage carousels and conveyors and integrate material handling equipment. “Imagine an Internet order coming into the warehouse,” explains Jeffries. “Credit cards are validated, carousels spin, labels are printed, and pickers take items from carousels, dropping them into an envelope with a pre-printed label for UPS, FedEx, or U.S. mail.” The customer receives an order confirmation within about five minutes of the order.

Returns are easy as well. “In the click business, returns are normally a major problem,” notes Jeffries. With RADIO BEACON, consumers can click on the line item they want to return and they will receive a printed shipping label on their personal printer. The courier will be notified automatically to collect the product, and the warehouse is notified to expect the returned product. A credit is then issued to the consumer’s credit card account. Visit the company at www.radiobeacon.com.

Working It Through

Universal Workstation is a system integrated by Remstar International Inc. of Westbrook, ME. It is designed for highly efficient and accurate throughputs while maximizing space. “The primary system uses horizontal carousels,” says Ed Romaine, director of marketing and e-commerce business development, who reports throughputs of up to 750 lines per hour per operator with the Universal Workstation.

Romaine says that Universal Workstation users report 200% to 500% increases in throughputs, depending on the application. The Workstation combines automated storage and retrieval technologies, including horizontal carousels, vertical carousels, vertical lift modules (VLMs), and manual systems, including pick-to-light flow racks and shelves, all controlled by inventory management software.

“The trick to using a Universal Workstation is to evaluate your product mix to create the system that’s right for you,” says Romaine. This is determined by SKU size, quantity, order velocity, and stocking levels. One operator can work a cluster of carousels and a vertical carousel and then pick from a pick-to-light flow rack, for example.

“One of the major advantages of the Universal Workstation is that it matches high-density requirements based on Pareto’s Law of 80/20,” says Romaine, noting that 20% of the picking of the faster-moving SKUs is being done from carousels and flow racks. The system is designed to be ergonomically efficient. Visit the company at www.remstar.com.