FoxFire Tests Bluetooth PDAs for Order Management

The new FoxFetch wireless system will light the way to supply chain savings, according to its inventor, who formerly headed up Clemson University's Computer Science Department.

A multibillion-dollar corporation is about to start testing FoxFetch, a recently patented PDA-based technology that brings together Bluetooth and radio frequency wireless capabilities with an embedded SQL Server database in an effort to cut order management costs.

Running on the Intermec 650 and other PocketPC devices, FoxFetch is now under development by WMS (warehouse management system) vendor FoxFire Technologies Corp., said Dr. Jack Peck, inventor of the system and retired director of Clemson Universitys Computer Science Department.

The new wireless system is aimed at providing a 50 percent savings over the hard-wired PTL ("put-to-light") methods traditionally used by distributors, retailers and manufacturers for "picking" products from warehouses, "putting" (or filling) orders and replenishing shelves.

"Ive seen the [traditional] light-putting systems in use at Wal-Mart [Stores Inc.], Sears-Roebuck and Co., and other big companies. Id say that FoxFetch is the best new technology to come along in warehouse management over the past 10 or 15 years, because its so versatile and configurable. It takes the latest technologies and combines them," said Dan Castiglione, an independent consultant in Atlanta who has seen FoxFetch is action.

Conventional PTL systems typically rely on a big central server that is hard-wired to large lighting modules throughout the warehouse.

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In contrast, FoxFetch can be run on a stand-alone basis, solely on PocketPCs. Alternatively, the system can use order data input as text files from WMS running on smaller PCs, including systems from Foxfire as well as from Manugistics Inc., Manhattan Associates, Red Prairie Corp. and other supply chain software vendors, Castiglione said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet.

Customers can input the WMS data either through 802.11 RF wireless LANs that are increasingly common in warehouse settings or by connecting a USB cable from the PDA to the PC, Peck said in another interview.

Although Bluetooth can be used for that purpose, too, Bluetooth comes into play mostly for communications between the PDA and small FoxFetch-enabled lighting modules on the warehouse cart and shelf racks.

"The device [wirelessly] recognizes the controller on the picking bay [racks] and then lights up the bays needed for picking the order," Castiglione said.

The PDA slides into a pocket on the cart. When warehouse materials handlers glance at the PocketPC screen, they can tell how many items to pick from each product SKU, as well as how many of each SKU to put in each carton.

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