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Date Posted: 5/20/2009

Unifying Information Technology - Welch’s Improves Operations

 
 

By Thomas R. Cutler

Welch's, the world's leading marketer of Concord and Niagara-based grape products, got its start in 1869 in, appropriately, Vineland, NJ. Today Welch’s is owned by The National Grape Cooperative Association, Inc., an agricultural cooperative. National Grape grows the grapes, and Welch’s converts them into a broad array of products, from juice to jam to fruit snacks, at its three processing facilities in Lawton, Michigan; North East, Pennsylvania; and Westfield, New York; and at a receiving, pressing and storage plant in Grandview, Washington. Concord, Mass.-based Welch’s also blends its grapes with berries, pomegranate, pineapple and other fruits to create an array of refreshing, healthy drinks.

 

About four years ago Welch’s began unifying its information technology on the Oracle E-Business Suite in order to connect business processes and enhance visibility and performance.  To maximize the benefit of that platform, Welch’s chose to simultaneously deploy an automated data collection system for its processing and warehouse facilities, with the goal of tracking product movement in real time through production and distribution. The company also implemented an internal bar coding system and a wireless network, along with ClearOrbit’s Gemini mobile software. To round out the solution, Welch’s sought data collection hardware that offered ease of use and flexibility in both platform and form factor, to suit a variety of current and future manufacturing and warehouse applications.

 

According to Wayne Baxter, founder of BaxTek Solutions in Snellville, GA, a leading systems integrator for the food industry specializing in food traceability, “We have certainly found that many food companies like Welch’s require rugged and reliable hardware as a central part of their solution.”

 

To transform unprocessed fruit into its delicious finished product, Welch’s must transfer its grapes, berries and other produce into and out of storage areas, pressing equipment, packaging lines and storage warehouses. That sometimes means quickly moving lots via forklift from sub-zero freezers to areas with temperatures of as high as 80 to 90 degrees.  Those swings in temperature can be hard on mobile computers, which can develop condensation on screens if not properly designed with an internal heater for such a move.

 

Welch’s also needed mobile terminals that were rugged enough for a food production environment and easy to use, whether a worker is standing along a processing line or navigating a forklift through the aisles of a massive refrigerated storage area.

 

Welch’s data collection project manager Gordon Conkling and his colleagues considered a variety of premium mobile terminals to meet these exacting conditions, conducting testing with plant workers to ensure the right selection. The group ultimately chose LXE’s MX3X vehicle-mount terminals for its forklifts. They also selected LXE VX5s to install as stationary terminals throughout the processing floor.

 

Baxter, suggested, “It’s about improving the supply chain performance wireless products and solutions. From wireless computers, advanced auto-ID technologies, and wireless network infrastructure, the food manufacturing and processing sector mandates easy-to-use products are as reliable as the people who install and support them.” 

 

 

Baxter went on to note that food manufacturers, like Welch’s often require distinguished design features that can be used a mobile terminals.  Conkling agreed explaining, “The flexibility of the forklift units was a big selling point…we liked the fact that they were removable to use as mobile terminals.” Workers occasionally use the MX3X mobile terminals for functions such as inventory and transfers. While the key sizes on other units the team considered were on the small side, Welch’s liked the large buttons on the MX3X, which must sometimes be used on gloved hands, as well as the traditional QWERTY layout.

 

Most food manufacturing and distribution firms find the size of the screen is critical with forklifts because the size of the MX3X’s screen is not so big that it blocks the user’s view of the area, yet is large enough to display all the required information.  Welch’s wanted fixed-position terminals throughout its processing area for batch inputs. Due to the challenging environment of juice production, the units needed to be water resistant. The project team priced out installation of PCs housed within stainless cabinets, and discovered it was more economical to deploy sealed VX5 terminals in a stationary setup.

 

The project expanded since Spring 2007 and now has 85 MX3X vehicle-mount mobile computers and 30 installed in three of Welch’s processing plants, in shipping, receiving and packaging areas. Next, the terminals will be deployed in processing, then in mixing and blending areas. The plant management has been very pleased and according to Conkling, “We’ve been able to move a lot of data collection from the front office to the floor level…we’re able to get real-time information. “

 

  

 




Author Contact:
Thomas R. Cutler
TR Cutler, Inc
Email: trcutler@trcutlerinc.com
Website: www.trcutlerinc.com


About Author
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc, (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of three thousand five hundred journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 300 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com.

 


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