If you're a computer game enthusiast, you already know the meaning of Wolfenstein 3-D, Duke Nukem, and Doom II. These are just three of the best-selling game titles manufactured by G. T. Interactive Software (GTIS). The company's Edison, NJ, plant generates these among other titles on four assembly lines over two shifts, at a rate of about 40,000 units per day. Within the plant, 75,000 square feet of warehouse space is used to store production components that include CD-ROM discs, insert booklets, instructions, sell sheets, rebate stickers, and UPC Code stickers used for post production packaging. Finished goods are shipped to GTIS' main distribution center five miles down the road from the plant.
Inventory Control Supervisor Y. Ramsaroop in charge of tracking and managing the plant's raw materials, which — before June of last year — was a "three-Excedrin" job. According to Ramsaroop, "We carry thousands of little items, from rolls of tape to rebate stickers, and they weren't always easy to find. We were using an older computer-based stock locator system that was completely manual. To pull stock, I sat in the office with a computer screen and keyed in stock numbers, printed a list of locations, and then assigned an operator to go out and pull items. The printed pull sheets were marked and key-entered at the central office for system updates sometime later."
Ramsaroop explained that all move updates were also done manually by way of pallet tags that were copied and also submitted to the central office for a key-entry. "There was a lot of room for human error," he explained. "Pull sheets got lost, even with controls in place to prevent it, and consequently no updates were keyed in for those sheets. We couldn't be assured of what was in stock, and we often had to go out into the warehouse to physical look for items. This resulted into production line slow-downs due to misplaced inventory. The older system clearly had its limitations.
GTIS wanted to maintain its inventory tracking system, which is tightly integrated with the company's mainframe-based order processing and financials package, but a more accurate means of tracking raw materials was needed. The company began looking at alternative solutions for raw materials alone. After a careful features and cost analysis, it selected the WinWhere® Warehouse Management System (WMS) by Montego Systems (Fairport, NY). A full-featured, real-time WMS, WinWhere uses bar-code import and RF (radio frequency) mobile data collection terminals for tracking inventory from raw materials receiving, through production, put away, pick/pack, and shipping.
"We knew we wanted a scanner-based system and this one was cost-efficient and met our requirements for accurate stock location tracking," Mr. Ramsaroop said. Montego Systems supplies all the necessary hardware and software for either standalone or networked systems, depending upon user requirements. For this configuration, which was limited to raw-materials inventory only, it provided a Compaq DeskPro PC with an Access 97 database, interfaced to a laser printer (Zebra 105S thermal transfer printer), and Symbol Technologies Spread Spectrum 900 MHz RF network supporting two transceivers and eight Symbol LRT 3800 handheld laser scanner/terminals. The system, which can function in standalone mode, or front-end accounting or MRP packages, uses a Windows GUI that enables highly intuitive receiving, bar coded pallet tagging, inventory tracing, picking, and on-line verification in real time.
As part of its turnkey services, Montego Systems implemented the system in June 1998. Employing a "Train the Trainer" approach, Montego Systems trained Ramsaroop, who later trained GTIS' five warehouse operators. "The system is very user-friendly, allowing anyone to be trained and functional in a very short time," he said. "We wanted to make our operators responsible for inventory movements via real-time updating with the scanner as opposed to the delayed updates performed at the central office. We gave them an increase in salary as an incentive to learn the system and to take responsibility for making it work correctly. In the beginning, we checked on their work to the point out errors, and then we turned it over to them. They were very enthusiastic about taking on the project."
The system changeover took three months in all — from June through August — chiefly because of the time required for bar code labeling 4000 pallet locations as well as 4000 pallets, using a 4- by 6-inch six-digit Code 39 serialized ID that was generated on the Zebra 105. According to Ramsaroop, "We had to reference both systems until we got all locations and pallets labeled. But it took place during a fairly slow period for us. In September, production increases about 10 to 40 percent to meet seasonal demand."
WinWhere at Work
Because at this writing the WinWhere® system has not yet been in operation for a full year, GTIS has not quantified benefits, but out on the floor the benefits are readily apparent to the inventory supervisor. "The Montego system gives us greater and more accurate inventory visibility and has significantly cut labor time and inventory movements to a minimum," Ramsaroop said. Stock levels are also visible via e-mail to management salespeople, and buyers — as many participants as GTIS may choose. Ramsaroop used to do much of the key punching himself, but the system has now freed up his time for more staff supervision and other activities such as receiving, shipping, quality checks, and working with vendors.
Physical inventory activities have been cut from two weeks to less than a day, with greater accuracy. "With the manual system we used to do an inventory count twice a year," he said. "We have 22 aisles, and it used to require taking a cherry picker to open cartons on high racks and physically count the contents. Inventory counts sometimes took two weeks to complete. Now, I can run a report and see results on the screen. With scanning, we no longer need a cherry picker, and we can find out the same information in a day that used to take us 14. We're getting 99.5 percent accuracy rates, or better. Because of the system's accuracy, we probably will eliminate the six-month count all together. We used to have to do a lot of looking for products, we don't do that at all anymore."
"Most important," Ramsaroop concluded, the enhanced level of inventory control has allowed improved productivity across the board. As for individual operator productivity, "we had no way of monitoring it before. Now, I can go into the transaction system and see each operator's activity log. We've also increased productivity and operational support such as receiving and picking, resulting in improved productivity on the floor. We've had very little or no time lost in the last six months due to missing stock. Our whole business has improved tremendously."