Inventory Management Helping Save Lives
A company's move to automate its inventory management process has resulted in timely deliveries of healthcare products.
|The Zebra 105Se printer met the on-demand printing requirements of Allegiance Healthcare Corp.|
Whether it's cotton balls or surgical tools, the receiving, picking, and shipping operations for such products need to come together in a streamlined process. The manually driven warehouse management systems (WMS) traditionally used by medical device manufacturers and distributors have been known to leave companies vulnerable to data-entry errors and inefficiencies.
Employees at Allegiance Healthcare Corp. (McGaw Park, IL), a supplier of medical products, used to use paper sheets to record item quantities and locations. Cases were labeled with stencils that were often messy and hard to read. "Our goal was to implement a consistent system across our network that would allow us to accurately track inventory and provide process measurement tools," says Greg Volpentesta, manager of distribution systems.
To automate this process, Allegiance used a basic WMS with bar code technology to print shipping labels. After seeing improvements, the company added an automated storage and retrieval system and implemented a complete bar code scanning system throughout its enterprise on its NT client based–WMS, the Allegiance inventory management system (AIMS).
The company also instituted a compliance-labeling program called "Replenishment 2000" to automate the payment process with its suppliers and to streamline inbound processes by eliminating manual entry and promoting the use of the Serial Shipping Container Bar Code (SSCC-18) labels and Advanced Shipment Notice (EDI856) unitized messaging.
Today, suppliers are beginning to ship packages to Allegiance with SSCC-18 bar code labels using UCC/EAN128 symbology. This allows for goods to be scanned as they arrive on the dock using handheld radio-frequency (RF) units linked to a Windows NT–based system, providing real-time updates and tracking of inventory. Incoming supply information is automatically entered into the AIMS, updating stock levels on the spot.
The received and scanned packages are labeled with license-plate labels containing bar codes that aid in warehouse placement. These labels are either preprinted or created by the Zebra 105Se printer from Zebra Technologies Corp. (Vernon Hills, IL). "We chose Zebra printers for the warehouse because we saw how durable and reliable they were in other applications," says Volpentesta. "We needed easy-to-load printers that could handle long duty cycles and on-demand printing requirements."
Labeled supplies are then moved into the warehouse to be stocked, where both the package and the warehouse location labels are scanned, recording the placement of all supplies. This system allows warehouse employees to easily generate a pick list with exact directions and location information. The RF unit presents picks using travel sequence logic, which directs the picker. Employees follow the radio directive and collect the goods for shipment, scanning the product locations within the warehouse as they go.
"The new system has provided a tool to help our pickers become more time efficient and cost-effective," says Volpentesta. Using scanning technology and AIMS, the company has watched worker productivity increase as pick rates have doubled; put-away and picking errors have also been reduced by 50%. With the information generated by the system, managers can track employee productivity, set standards, and investigate the root cause for an error.
After supplies are gathered, pickers transfer them to shipping stations for packaging. There, employees can access orders in the system by scanning the label that contains the customer's purchase order number. Contents are verified one last time before the package is sealed and ready for shipping.
"When dealing with shipments that have a direct effect on the patient, accuracy is extremely critical," says Volpentesta. And in the healthcare industry, delivering products on time can be a matter of life or death.