In the mid-'90s, ECHO implemented barcode printing in every step of its process, from manufacturing to receiving to labelling to picking and shipping. Later, the move to a wireless mobile barcode solution transformed its distribution centre.
The company brought in Zebra® QL 420 Plus™ direct thermal mobile printers, which work wirelessly with Zebra MC9090 handheld computers. The QL 420 Plus printer is specifically designed for complex mobile printing applications and built to handle increased levels of wireless security and to process complex labels.
With the printers and handheld computers, ECHO employees drive the aisles of the distribution centre on forklifts with everything they need to pick and label products for shipping. ECHO employees use the handheld units and printers to generate the appropriate labels for each item, printing them on demand instead of from desktops before they go out onto the floor. Plus with wireless, printers are no longer tethered to scanners, giving them even greater flexibility.
Operators may be filling orders for multiple customers and products at once, so a forklift may have several containers for each order. Each container and picked product is scanned from the forklift to ensure that every item is accurately placed with the correct customer's order. Operators can also easily print a pack list to go into the shipment.
"Forklift labelling and scanning has improved our pick accuracy and also allowed us to fulfil multiple orders at the same time," said Tim Dorsey, vice president of systems and logistics at ECHO Inc.
Packing lists and clear external labelling ease the process for customers on the receiving end. With descriptive labelling on the outside, customers immediately know the contents of an incoming shipment.
To optimise its entire system, ECHO enlisted the help of barcode Integrators (BCI), a Zebra PartnersFirst programme member. BCI surveyed the wireless network and helped ECHO maximise coverage throughout the warehouse. BCI also regularly reviews, tests and makes recommendations on the printers to improve barcode readability. That guidance, especially as ECHO has added to its system over the years, resulted in a cohesive, efficient process in the distribution centre.
"Although our system was designed for integration from the beginning, over the years we added components add-hoc" said Bryan Burns, ECHO's IBM® iSeries® specialist. "BCI has made sure that everything integrates and operates the way it was designed so we could achieve better quality label printing."