A forklift driver makes use of Laufen's new wireless data entry system.

EVERETT, Wash. -- Tile manufacturer Laufen USA began to rethink the functions of its internal procedures when the company’s paper-based system of tracking finished tile goods began to bind.

Laufen ships about 280 truckloads, or 5,600 pallets, of tile monthly. Facing such logistics, management realized the company needed a system capable of supporting its product volume as well as its 193,000-square-foot facility.

For a solution, Laufen turned to Intermec handheld and vehicle-mounted computers to replace the handwritten log sheets previously used in the warehouse. All of the units were linked together via an Intermec 2.4 GHz wireless backbone.

Laufen began to see results almost immediately. The system’s payback period was 12 to 18 months, made possible in part by a finished project cost that came in 16% under budget.

“We have better visibility of our product,” explained Nick Rovenko, Laufen’s director of information technology. “The system allows us to operate more efficient and make better use of our people. We had a lot of inventory errors under the old system, and we’ve seen a significant reduction in those.”

Today, as pallets of boxed tiles arrive at the warehouse, a worker merely scans the bar-code labels affixed to each. This simple procedure updates the data-capture system on the pallets’ status and automatically provides an audit trail to verify the truck’s contents.

From there, a forklift driver takes the pallets to randomly chosen storage slots within the warehouse aisles. Each of the slots also is identified with a bar-code label. The driver scans the bar code labels on both the pallet and the intended slot. This prompts the system to link the product with its location. It also notes the production date, which allows the system to track product by age.

When it comes time to retrieve product for shipment to customers, each forklift driver’s mobile computer supplies a pick list sent from the Laufen sales order desk. The list contains orders matched automatically by product weight to fill a truck. The system does the calculating so that no one has to worry about shuffling orders to avoid over- or under-loaded trucks.

Once a full load of product is picked, shipping workers take the pallets from a staging area to a waiting truck. As they load the truck, they scan each item. This links the product to its truck and generates a packing slip. One copy of the slip goes with the shipment, the other to the driver as a bill of lading.