Paint distributor coats warehouse operations in wireless

A Canadian paint distributor has improved the accuracy of its warehouse inventory to 99.9 per cent by using a wireless warehouse management system from Radio Beacon.

Dynamic Paint Products distributes 1,500 different paint products – including paint, primer, stain, brushes and applicators – to some 6,000 retailers, from small independent shops to large retail chains like Home Depot and Canadian Tire.

“The only way we can keep up with their business is to do something like this,” said Greg Wadsworth, Mississauga distribution centre manager for Dynamic Paint Products. While most of its customers are based in Canada, about eight per cent of its business is in the U.S. and Poland.

Dynamic Paint is using Radio Beacon WMS, which is integrated into Microsoft Dynamics SL (its Solomon product line). Last winter the company rolled out Dynamics SL and MaxQ’s supply chain and analytical tools, which were implemented by reseller Cansys Inc.

Once a transaction is completed, it takes about three seconds to upload the information to the Dynamics SL host system; Radio Beacon takes over from there. The system connects Dynamic Paint’s Mississauga headquarters and warehouse with another warehouse located in Burnaby, B.C. Employees in Mississauga can see inventory in the Burnaby warehouse live on their handheld scanners.

This provides more visibility into material handling, order fulfilment and shipping processes. By creating “pick zones,” they can move high-demand products into a separate zone to expedite orders. As a result, they’ve increased lines picked per day by 20 per cent.

Prior to this, the company was using a paper-based system to manage its warehouse, which made it difficult to keep accurate records of its inventory or meet same-day shipping requirements.

“(Now) you’re not scrambling around and worrying about voice communication between the front office and the warehouse,” said Wadsworth. “A customer’s not waiting around for four hours at the pick-up counter saying, ‘I put this order in a couple of hours ago,’ so it stops that from happening.”

This has also allowed the company to cut back on staff required for manual processes. “Before we were using Radio Beacon, we were running a shift 24-by-seven with 40-45 employees,” he said. “Now we’re down to half that staff.”

It’s also able to customize pack sizes for different customers, making it “chain store friendly,” he said. “Without that we would probably not have the business of the Home Depots, and they’re a huge part of our business.”

The paint business is seasonal, so there are spikes in sales at certain times of the year. The company can store product off-site if needed, while still keeping track of it in the system. “We don’t have to rely on other logistics companies to keep inventory,” he said. “We can have it binned in their warehouse and monitored through our system.” It can also be set up so certain products – such as explosive products – are stored in specific areas of the warehouse.

While there are benefits to automating warehouse management, a lot of companies don’t do it until they’re in desperate need of it – and in some cases go out and buy the first product they see off the shelf, said Dale Jeffries, president of Radio Beacon Inc. in Toronto. “Until I started thinning out, I never started looking for hair care products for baldness,” he said.

Radio Beacon specializes in the SMB market, aiming its warehouse management system at companies with 25-100 users. Typical ROI is 12 months, said Jeffries. An emerging market is RFID, though most customers are waiting for prices to come down. Eventually the goal will be to have RFID tags on each item, or unit-level tagging, as opposed to using tags on boxes or cartons. Some companies are reusing boxes and reprogramming the tags, but this system doesn’t work for everyone, he said.

After all, Jeffries is still teaching some customers how to use bar codes. “It’s still new – even for something that’s 20 years old.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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