Inventory and vehicle tracking technology bears fruit

EastPack, one of the largest Kiwi Fruit pack houses in New Zealand, has implemented a revolutionary new RFID and indoor vehicle management supply chain solution. Combining RFID, indoor vehicle tracking, mobile data capture and inventory management software, the system has already achieved an ROI for EastPak just months after its deployment.

The new approach was designed, developed and deployed by Peacock Bros. for EastPack who needed more than just ‘point of activity’ tracking of RFID pallets to fulfill their supply chain  visibility requirements. The resultant supply chain management system now tracks the movement of all of the forklifts and pallets within centimeters, every second of the day in every facility.  Continuous monitoring of activities allows for full inventory reporting on where the stock is located, quantity, expiry date and much more, as well as analysing the performance of indoor vehicles such as forklifts to ensure optimal efficiencies within the warehouses.

This is made possible by the forklifts being fitted with Sky-trax optical cameras that identify the relative location of position markers suspended from the warehouse ceiling.  The location information is fed to a vehicle mounted mobile computer that continuously relays data such as location, speed and direction to the main warehouse management system. By adding automated RFID pallet tag readers and height sensors to the forklift, the warehouse system now knows the location and height of the tagged pallets even if they are in motion onboard the forklift.

EastPack maintains three warehouses containing 42 refrigerated storage rooms, receiving, storing and dispatching as orders are placed. The system was deployed throughout their entire operation incorporating 25 forklifts, which last year moved over 13.5 million trays of Kiwi fruit.  Donna Smit, EastPak’s company administrator said, “We have already moved over 2 million more trays than this time last year due to the new system.

“Knowing the exact location of a pallet at any given time is vital”, she said. “Because Kiwi fruit is a perishable product, we have to be sure that the pallet taken by the forklift is the right one every time.

“Previously warehouse staff read a barcode with a scanner and manually typed in the pallets location, the problem was we could not depend on the accuracy of the information being entered and interpreted.”

Warehouse operational efficiency has improved dramatically thanks to the Sky-trax OPSMan monitoring program integrated into EastPack’s own warehouse management system, which provides the warehouse manager a real-time view of the vehicles’ movements and stock locations.  Because all activities are now being monitored to an accuracy of 5sq cm, the system can provide reports on vehicle use effectiveness, stock status and warehouse layout practicality, greatly assisting in the day to day operations of a high activity environment.

Additional OH&S benefits can be retrieved from this solution, including the ‘breadcrumb trail’ function that will identify the heavily congested sections within a warehouse. Proximity alerts can be added when approaching a pedestrian area, and even an optional speed limiter fitted to reduce accidents with pedestrians or other forklifts.

The system is scalable and will fit into any warehouse or distribution centre that requires around-the-clock inventory accuracy and above the norm return on investment.

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