For Construction Metal Products Inc., losing hard-copy inventory records wasnt a random event; it was routine. Thats why moving to an electronic inventory system became an imperative for the maker of metal roofing sheets and fasteners.
But exactly where to place a new computer-based system in the companys 45,000-square-foot manufacturing warehouse, where large sheets of metal are constantly being moved, was not so obvious.
"We wanted the workstations near the key areas in the plant, but we werent real sure where to put them," said Mike Morton, president of CMP, in Statesville, N.C. "We were worried that [the computers] would be in the wrong place or get hit. It was more than likely that wherever wed put them, they wouldnt be in the right place. Plus we didnt want 10 miles of wire running on top of the building."
After researching the issue, Morton decided a portable environment that involved mobile workstations and a WLAN (wireless LAN) would allow him to keep his plant floor options open.
To help him accomplish this goal, Morton turned to North Carolina neighbor and systems integrator Sypherdata Inc., in Davidson, which specializes in mobile computing deployments. Sypherdatas solutions often include "portable data centers," or workstations encased in a protective cabinet on wheels.
For management software, Sypherdata set up CMP with a series of shop management, materials management and financial management tools from Global Shop Solutions Inc., a company in The Woodlands, Texas, that caters to manufacturers.
The software replaced CMPs previous system, which required employees to scribble information on paper forms. Too often, however, the information never made it into the computer in the office next door.
"They were shuffling a lot of paper," said Kevin Shank, vice president of Sypherdata. "Everything with their manufacturing was done with paper forms. The inventory wasnt tracked properly. There was inventory in-house that they didnt even know they had."
Morton said that operations are much more streamlined, now that the employees dont have to be couriers.
"We can take these computers right to the work centers where were doing the work without having to write it on a piece of paper and bring the paper to a computer," Morton said.
In addition to eight workstations, Sypherdata deployed a mix of Windows-based notebooks and Tablet PCs, as well as Palm OS-based handhelds from Symbol Technologies Inc. The handhelds are equipped with bar-code readers that send inventory information to a central server in the office adjacent to the manufacturing shop.
"We can shoot a little wireless gun, which instantly goes into our inventory," Morton said.