In the 1920s, the forebears of today’s D.H. Pace Company invented and took to market the first overhead garage doors.
Much has changed in the intervening years, but some things remain essentially the same. Springs and hinges and locks, all come out of the warehouse and go out into the field, where some 350 field workers have to track materials, manage work orders and process payments.
Just like in the early days, all the work is still done by hand, on paper. But not for much longer. Technology executives at D.H. Pace are busy putting in place a system that combines wireless with other technologies to automate inventory management and make field work more efficient.
As things stand now, paperwork is putting significant lag time in the inventory system. “We are ordering parts today for something that was used almost two weeks ago,” said Chris Mann, senior vice president of business systems at D.H. Pace. Under the new system “the parts we order today will be for something used yesterday.”
The scheme will deploy Motorola’s Enterprise Wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure in D.H. Pace warehouses and will deploy rugged enterprise digital assistants (EDAs) to field workers.
D.H. Pace will roll out enterprise-class Motorola WS5100 wireless switches with the Wireless Next-Generation (Wi-NG) architecture at its headquarters. Warehouse workers will have consistent wireless access to the corporate network, enabling them to roam through the warehouse updating inventory information in real time.
“Our people in the field have to be supplied with parts and products so they can go out and do their jobs, and this allows us to be more efficient by allowing us to know where it’s at, where it is going,” Mann said.
The network also will allow IT staff at headquarters in Kansas City to manage access ports and other technology at 24 remote warehouse locations. If a device is having problems, a red flag will go up at headquarters, where technicians can take over the device and repair the problem remotely. “So you don’t have to have a technician there on the ground,” said Mann, who anticipates the system will eliminate the need to hire additional IT staff in seven cities.
This centralized management also could play a role in keeping security protocol consistent throughout the organization. “If there are patches or if we have to do bug fixes, we can push updates to the device without having to physically touch the device,” Mann said. “It makes it easier for us to manage.”
D.H. Pace will spend about $3 million on its system upgrades, Mann said, including $600,000 on GPS devices to make dispatch more efficient; $500,000 on warehouse management, including the new Wi-Fi backbone; and $1.8 million to automate the work of technicians in the field. The company expects to see ROI in two years.
Technology reseller DCT Solutions Group will help to implement the project and provide on-going training and support.
By getting rid of paper, D.H. Pace is betting it can significantly improve its operational efficiencies. In addition to the rapid-fire updating of warehousing information, field workers will have consistent wireless access to the corporate network. This should allow them the real-time ability to process orders, not to mention payments.
The recent wireless implementations come on the heels of a 2005 announcement by D.H. Pace that it would be looking to streamline business processes and adopt new technologies to improve customer service and operational efficiencies.
To that end the company explored numerous vendors before deciding on Motorola. “Motorola could meet all the needs we had for our projects. The Wi-Fi backbone, the ruggedized devices. They have a good reputation in the marketplace and they were priced competitively compared to other products.”
More to the point, Mann said, Motorola could deliver a one-stop solution. “Should something go wrong you don’t want to have two or three people pointing the finger at each other saying it is the other person’s problem.”
Still, Mann is going into this project with his eyes wide open.
“Obviously we are concerned about keeping that Wi-Fi connection no matter where you are in the warehouse. We are a growing company, so we want to know if we need to reconfigure our warehouses, what will we need to do to maintain that connection?” Mann said.
In addition, with five different lines of business each requiring its own software customization, Mann says it was only prudent to begin the project with a limited rollout in Kansas City. “We didn’t want to try and be everything to everyone on the first shot.”
The full company-wide deployment should be complete by the end of the summer, Mann said.