Running a distribution network of this size efficiently demands a heavy reliance on technology. Each publication has an EAN code and a two digit supplement code that holds important information on the publication issue and needs to be captured on arrival at the Menzies branch. This information then needs to be relayed in real time back to “Continuum”, Menzies in-house system.
Menzies had been running a legacy narrow band wireless system that had served its purpose over 10 years but was reaching the end of its life. Older RF hand-held terminals were used to scan goods into its 25 warehouses and distribution centres and these were becoming unreliable. Failure rates and maintenance costs were increasing. Wireless coverage was patchy in places and access points often had to be moved to gain coverage.
Matthew Stoner, senior computer operations supervisor at Menzies, says: “The old hand-held terminals had very poor battery life and an increasingly high failure rate. This was costing us a lot of money in maintenance and repair, and also put pressure on our IT help desk.”
When Menzies’ existing supplier said that it was struggling to support the old units Menzies knew that it needed to make changes. A steering committee was set up to look at the best way of controlling stock. The committee came up with two options; replace the old terminals with new RF devices to enable the users to take the terminals to the product, or replace them with fixed position scanners that the users would have to take the product to for scanning.
Menzies spoke to Sandpiper, the systems integrator of wireless, Auto ID and data capture technologies, which recommended the Datalogic Viper-Net, a rugged handheld terminal that would integrate with the Cisco 802.11b wireless network that was already in place in the depots.
Alternative hand-held terminals and fixed scanners were also selected from a different supplier and all three products were piloted to see which was most suitable.
Menzies decided upon the Datalogic Viper-Net as it worked on the existing Cisco RF network and was rugged and suited to the demands of a fast moving warehouse. The unit was also preferred by the users because they felt it was more user friendly – having a larger screen and a better key layout than the other RF option. There was also a preference for a mobile rather than fixed unit.
Following the decision on hardware, both suppliers were asked to quote and Menzies selected Sandpiper to supply units to each of its 25 hubs.
Matthew Stoner says: “We chose Sandpiper based on their competitive pricing, and the amount and quality of support they provided in the pilot stage. They were extremely helpful and deserved to win the business.”
Sandpiper helped Menzies throughout the roll out, providing support for coverage issues caused by large packing machines and attended site throughout the pilot and rollout. As part of the solution, Sandpiper is also providing next day emergency exchange support, giving Menzies a guaranteed next day replacement unit from a pool of pre-configured terminals should a terminal get damaged or fail for any reason. Stoner says: “Since changing to the Datalogic Viper-Net we have managed to reduce our maintenance costs . . . and we have virtually eliminated misreads and errors.”