Radio-chipped Yogurt Pots

The prerequisite for efficient workflows in the recording and tracing of batches is the goods identification system required by EU Regulation 178/2002. In future, standardized identification systems such as RFID or EAN (European Article Number) will play a particularly important role in this field. When attached to pallets and transport packaging, RFID labels, tiny computer chips with an antenna, enable products to be located precisely from production right through to the warehouse shelf.

Integrated order-picking

Midmarket food businesses and cold storage facilities (for example, for chilled ready meals) with their own storage management system who carry out order-picking operations for goods or materials, i.e. collecting and preparing these for subsequent dispatch, need a quick and transparent system for determining stock levels. This can only really be achieved by means of integrated processes which combine materials management and goods management. “Many smaller SMBs are already looking for solutions that will enable them to integrate their order-picking processes directly into their business software,” explains Riccardo Sachse, CEO of the Ehrenfriedersdorf-based (Saxony, Germany) SAP Business Partners Artefact4you. According to Sachse, the SAP standard software offered Artefact4you an ideal platform for developing an integrated RFID add-on solution for order-picking because “it is future-focused and represents a safe investment.”

The add-on solution from Artefact4you has a modular design and supports both EAN and RFID. An RFID scanner integrated in a PDA is used to read the electronically stored data for a product on an RFID label. The central interface between SAP Business One and the processes in the warehouse is the QS.b1.WarehouseManagement module. This makes it easy for the warehouse manager to generate and coordinate a range of tasks for the warehouse employees logged onto the system. This might include, for example, “processing lists” which identify items for storage, relocation and order-picking which are then assigned to the individual warehouse employees. A separate user interface visualizes the warehouse and supports the manager in coordinating warehouse movements and distributing jobs. Additional functions can be used to easily identify and display free storage locations which meet a specific filter criterion (for example, article number, quantity stored, etc.).

Covering the entire added-value chain

The WarehouseManagement module enables access to the order-picking jobs generated for a delivery in SAP Business One. The individual order-picking items are assigned to the processing lists of the relevant employees and their responses are then automatically reconciled with a corresponding document in SAP Business One. Once an item has been entered into the system and distributed in the warehouse according to the processing list, SAP Business One automatically creates an incoming goods document relating to the relevant items. “SAP Business One and the RFID add-on solution comprehensively and transparently cover the entire added-value chain from the goods coming into the warehouse right through to order-picking,” explains Riccardo Sachse.
Expanded search functions in SAP Business One can be used to search for individual products by article number, article name, article key and manufacturer catalog number. It is also possible to only search for articles purchased from the main supplier or whose inventory level is larger than zero. The relevant search results are output in a table.
It is also possible to link up to the document management module QS.b1.DocuScan, a solution developed in cooperation with Kodak. Documents which have been scanned in can then be assigned to a wide range of documents and the master data of business partners and articles. Artefact4you is continuing to optimize the RFID add-on solution. In future, the solution will feature an integrated tour function, currently being developed in cooperation with partner company Map&Guide.

Hands-free with “Pick by Voice”

One of the key components and real highlights of the Artefact4you add-on solution is the voice-supported order-picking function which uses the “Pick-by-Voice” method. This process involves using a voice-based system to inform warehouse staff via headphones of the tasks to be performed. These confirm the individual tasks from a pool of predefined commands using spoken commands. The advantages are clear to Riccardo Sachse: “Particularly in cases where RFID tags are attached to pallets instead of individual articles, Pick by Voice enables high-precision article-picking with virtually no errors. A further benefit is that employees traveling around the warehouse on stacker trucks or forklift trucks can be contacted at any time and have both hands free while they are working. This is particularly important in cold storage facilities with temperatures below minus 20 degrees Celsius where warehouse operations must be performed quickly due to the low temperatures.”
Moreover, Pick by Voice reduces the number of steps involved in eliminating problems, e.g. if an item cannot be picked due to the fact that a storage location is empty, from the previous twelve to only five. Parameters such as route optimization are automatically taken into account and warehouse employees are instructed using spoken commands. “Long and complex search operations and the unnecessary distances involved will now be a thing of the past. This speeds up workflows,” adds Riccardo Sachse.

Rapid ROI, low price

According to Riccardo Sachse, companies which use the RFID add-on solution to SAP Business One with Pick by Voice will be able to achieve significant cost-savings thanks to the almost error-free order-picking process. He describes this using a sample calculation. In the case of a company with a total of 900,000 order items a year, around 4500 items are picked incorrectly (0.5 percent) despite the use of an RFID scanner. The Pick-by-Voice method reduces the level of errors to 0.1 percent (= 900 order items). This reduces the number of customer complaints by 3600 order items, resulting in a significant fall in administrative costs, e.g. for credit notes or replacement deliveries. If each complaint were to cost Euro 10, the annual Return on Investment (ROI) would be Euro 36,000.
Due to the fact that Artefact4you has priced the RFID add-on solution at an attractive level, Riccardo Sachse emphasizes that “this investment will provide SMBs with a relatively fast ROI.” For three users under SAP Business One, the solution starts at Euro 15,000. The preconfigured hardware, an FSC LOOX 710 PDA from Fujitsu Siemens with a palm case and RFID scanner, starts from Euro 1,999. “The RFID order-picking solution and SAP Business One enable SMBs to seamlessly trace each individual yogurt carton at all times and also provide them with an integrated solution package combining goods management and warehousing,” concludes Sachse. “This ensures transparent, flexible and efficient processes, cuts costs and yields competitive advantages.”

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Dr. Andreas Schaffry
Dr. Andreas Schaffry