Netherlands Company Saves Time and Money with Zebra Mobile Printers
By switching to a wireless mobile system, TNT Express has achieved significant time savings, productivity gains, flexibility and error reduction. With these mobile solutions, the process is much more efficient and effective, we can now not only serve the customer much better, but are also providing our employees with a much friendlier working environment.
Every day, TNT Express transports tens of thousands of shipments all over the world on behalf of their customers. The majority of items pass through the system trouble free. However, about a quarter of items are unlabelled when TNT collect them, and have to be labelled on arrival at the local TNT Express depot.
Until recently, this process was carried out using conventional desktop label printers located at workstations around the depot, causing several problems:
- bulky workstations put extra pressure on limited space resources
- made the labelling process was inflexible as the workstations were in fixed locations
- trips backwards and forwards to collect labels were time consuming because most of the workstations were located a long way from where the operators were working.
Now, though, TNT Express in The Netherlands has equipped its workers with Zebra QL 420 mobile printers, meaning that barcode scanning and label printing can be carried out 'on-demand' at the point of application ('from the operator's belt'), eliminating the need for workstations.
Early indications are that the TNT operators work faster, with higher levels of accuracy, and without wasting time walking back and forth to the nearest workstation. By reducing the number of man hours required to label a set number of items, this last factor alone has meant that the Zebra mobile printers have paid for themselves in less than 4 months.
Around 25% of the packages arriving at the TNT Express hubs are not labelled with the vital barcoded destination information required for them to reach the right place. These items have to be put to one side and verified with the data on the consignment note.
Theo van Alst, ICS Service Manager of TNT in The Netherlands, explains: "Under the old system, the information needed to print the destination labels was then sent from the central administration system to the desktop label printer at the nearest workstation. The operator handling these incoming items then had to walk to the workstation, collect the labels, walk back to the incoming items, and carefully match each item to its corresponding destination label. Often an operator would walk to the workstation, only to find that the system had yet to send the data to the printer, meaning that the labels had not been printed."
Not only was this slow and time consuming, but errors were caused by the mismatching of packages and labels – resulting in shipments going to the wrong destination. And, as anybody that works in logistics knows, it's a difficult and expensive process bringing packages back to the depot. The process can also hamper customer relationships.
When it came to designing a new system, TNT Express was keen to:
- Combine the 2 key operator processes of scanning and printing into one single transaction in order to raise efficiency levels
- Minimise "walk time" – i.e. the time operators spent walking to and from workstations to collect labels
- Eliminate all possibility of costly labelling errors By giving staff their own portable label printer and barcode scanner, each operator effectively became a mobile goods receiving centre, and the business improvement goals they had set became immediately attainable.
Zebra partner, CaptureTech, a specialist auto-ID integrator, was selected to help with the implementation of the new system.
The problematic workstations have been removed, and in their place, each operator is equipped with a Zebra QL420 mobile printer and a Symbol WSS1040 wrist scanner. Both devices are directly connected to the TNT Express central administration system by an 802.11 (2MB) wireless network connection, eliminating the need for cables. Both the printer and scanner are ergonomically designed to be light and easy to carry. The scanners are worn on the forearm, while the printers offer a choice of belt clip or shoulder strap.
Under the new system, the operator uses the Symbol wrist scanner to send information directly to the central administration system. The system then sends label data directly to the Zebra mobile printer the operator is carrying, and the label is printed immediately.
Van Alst said: "This new method of working is much faster and more efficient, since the operators have no need to move away from the packages they are handling, eliminating walk time. Also, errors are almost non-existent as operators produce a label for each package as they need them, labelling items correctly before moving on to the next one."
By switching to a wireless mobile system, TNT Express has achieved significant time savings, productivity gains, flexibility and error reduction.
"Walk-time" is no longer an issue. Pallets are scanned, entered onto the central administration system and labelled – instantly, and all within the goods receiving area. According to TNT Express's own calculations, the gains are so substantial that the costs associated with deploying this new system took less than four months to recover. This only takes into account the savings made from the elimination of "walk time."
Error reduction, improved flexibility, increased customer satisfaction levels and fewer returns are more difficult to translate into figures, but add to the overall ROI (return on investment).
For example, previously incoming packages needed to be unloaded at specific docks. Now, thanks to the new Zebra and Symbol based system, trucks can unload at the most convenient dock – whichever that may be. Furthermore, shipments containing hazardous or fragile items can be labelled at a time that suits TNT – perhaps directly after inspection or prior to going into quarantine.
"With these mobile solutions, the process is much more efficient and effective", concludes Van Alst. "We can now not only serve the customer much better, but are also providing our employees with a much friendlier working environment."