Baillie Lumber Streamlines Movement and Tracking of Materials in Lumberyard with MobileDemand Forklift Mounted Rugged Tablets
Tracking the movement of material across huge lumberyards is a complex mixture involving dozens of drivers, hundreds of work orders, and constant forklift movement with tremendous room for error — especially if the data is captured manually. Multiply that by 30 lumberyards and you have the herculean task that Baillie Lumber faces every workday.
Baillie Lumber is one of North America's largest hardwood lumber manufacturers, distributors, and exporters. It provides hardwood logs, hardwood lumber, and proprietary grade hardwood lumber products. Founded in 1923, the company has grown from a regional supplier of domestic hardwoods to an international hardwood manufacturer shipping hardwood lumber to any region of the world.
After implementing System Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP) to manage business operations, Baillie Lumber needed to automate the flow of information from the yard to the new management system. They saw an opportunity to mount rugged tablets to forklifts for two reasons: achieve an automated data capture process, and a proven rugged device can withstand the continuous vibration of the forklift – a must for the conditions of a lumberyard.
“We rolled out tablets to eight facilities during our SAP deployment,” said Jeff Dominiak, infrastructure project manager for Baillie Lumber who led the project. “We were looking to improve the process and movement of materials in the lumberyards as well as better track work orders.”
“Some yards were still using paper and pencil while others were using alternative technologies to track material movements. We turned to Avalon Integration, our technology solutions provider, to develop the software interface with the SAP system and MobileDemand to mount ruggedized tablets on our forklifts. The goal was to track in real time — or near real time — the movement of material as it traveled throughout the yard.”
The Challenges of Mounting Tablets
Mounting a tablet on a forklift requires a great deal of planning and expertise. The tremendous vibration a forklift generates as it speeds across the yard requires very rugged tablets as well as strong mounts. The placement of the tablet on the forklift is also critical because it needs to be accessible and not block sightlines for safe navigation around the yard. There are also environmental considerations.
“There is a lot of sawdust and dirt in the yards,” said Dominiak. “It can also be very cold and moist or insanely humid inside pre-dryers. The tablets must operate in all those conditions. If the operator is wearing gloves you also want to minimize the number of times he must take them off and on. The larger tablet screen and simplified user interface help reduce that.”
Wi-Fi coverage in the large, open air presented its own set of challenges. In some locations the Wi-Fi signal was strong; in others there was none. It required a hybrid system where the tablet would automatically sense when there was connectivity and could transmit data in real time, or when there was no connectivity, so the tablet would collect and store the data until it was within Wi-Fi range and could be downloaded.
“With the Avalon Integration Mobility application and SAP, we can track and process material and production orders with labels affixed to the material,” said Dominiak. “This can be done instantly where Wi-Fi is available or delayed until the driver reaches an area with Wi-Fi. The data is then transmitted automatically to SAP, enabling faster and accurate workflows and visibility.”
Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution
Before implementing the system, Baillie’s team conducted an assessment at each yard. Each driver provided input as to where to position the tablet within the cab. The system includes barcode scanners tethered to the tablets and powered dock vehicle mounts to provide power to the tablet and scanner — all requiring secure cable management to maintain safety on the forklift. Meeting driver and vehicle specifications required a wide variety of custom mounting solutions be used — not a one-size-fits-all approach.
“We first had to prove that we could successfully mount the tablets to the forklifts and ensure the mounted tablet was easy to use,” said Dominiak. “Once we got acceptance, it was an easily repeatable process to get them deployed in the field. We don’t have technical people at every site, so we had to give them the most bullet-proof solution. Also, the workers had a varied range of experience with technology. Not only did the teams who previously used scanners adapt to the system quickly, but the paper and clipboard groups picked it up easily as well.”
Scan, Move, Repeat
The new system streamlined workflow for the operators and improved the reliability of the data entered. Drivers simply login to their tablets and start their normal workflows. Each lumber bundle has a barcode label and a location QR code to scan, tracking where a bundle was picked up and moved to. The process is as simple as scan the location code, scan the bundle label, and it is done. Go to the next location as instructed on the tablet and repeat.
“Our efficiency and accuracy improved exponentially, providing substantial dividends,” said Dominiak. “The system will enable us to take it to the next level in the workflow where the SAP system will kick out entry errors in real time, making the process much more efficient.”
Reliability and Results
The tablets run on the same Windows 10 operating system as Baillie’s desktop computers, standardizing programming and simplifying support. The reliability of the rugged tablets also minimizes downtime for the operators.
With the return on investment of the systems in the first eight yards, Baillie Lumber plans to deploy in more yards, and will take advantage of the tablets’ capability to add applications that will streamline more processes. The success is a result of the project’s three-way partnership.
“As the IT project manager and application owner, working with the MobileDemand and Avalon Integration teams and our service desk team, the support to my users has been responsive and efficient,” said Dominiak. "We standardized on the image, rolled it out, and that made supporting the devices very efficient. Utilizing MobileDemand’s technical support staff is a great partnership and keeps devices operational in the field for my customers.”