May 1, 2008

More news from NA08

By DC Velocity Staff

There's more to a global strategy than China

It's not news to anyone that China is the world's fastest growing economy. The Asian giant has made unprecedented strides in economic development over the past decade, and the implications are profound. Many companies, though, fail to recognize that their global supply chain and business development strategy must go beyond China.

According to Jim Tompkins, CEO of Tompkins Associates, in the scramble to establish a presence in China, some companies are failing to recognize the need to develop a genuine global strategy, with China as just one of the component parts. At a press conference at NA08, Tompkins noted, "The smartest move that material handling and related companies can make is to adopt a dual strategy. Now, it is all about 'globalization' instead of 'China-fication.'"

For greater insight on the topic, Tompkins recommended checking out the book The China Ready Company written by two executives at the consulting firm Technomic Asia, which Tompkins Associates recently acquired.

For more information, visit www.chinareadycompany.com.

Class act: Exhibitors host college students at NA08

Ten specially-selected companies, including DC Velocity, got a chance to play teacher for a day when college students from nearly 20 schools converged on NA08 to learn more about the material handling side of the logistics field.

Now in its fifth year, the Material Handling and Logistics Classroom Day program is presented through a partnership between the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA) and MHIA's College Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE). Participating schools included Virginia Tech, Ohio University, Michigan State, and Penn State.

The program is part of MHIA's increasing emphasis on recruiting bright young students to the logistics field. To help schools defray the costs of participating, MHIA's Board of Governors provided $10,000 to the program. As a result, more than 100 students were able to spend a day on the show floor visiting with exhibitors who had volunteered to spend time explaining their companies' activities and role in the logistics marketplace. For more information, visit www.nashow.com/attendees/MHL_classroomday.aspx.

Videocast: Dynamic slotting boosts fulfillment efficiency

For Bertlesmann Direct North America, the largest direct marketer of DVDs and music CDs in North America, efficiently fulfilling customer orders is the lynchpin of its business strategy. Yet with thousands of SKUs and as many as 200,000 orders coming into its South Carolina distribution center each day, fulfillment was no easy task.

During a 30-minute videocast filmed in front of an audience on the NA08 show floor, Bertlesmann's Vice President of Operations David Piersma outlined both the company's challenge and its eventual solution: creating a dynamic slotting system using SI Systems' software suite. According to Piersma, the implementation boosted automation rates to between 85-95 percent of orders, compared to an estimated 60-70 percent before the implementation. (The videocast, sponsored by SI Systems, will be available at DCVelocity.com beginning on May 5.)

The new slotting system depends on SI's Xcellerator software, part of the company's SInthesis suite of software for warehousing and distribution. The process begins with the Xcellerator importing orders, summarizing picking volumes, and determining what products need to be in which picking areas to achieve maximum automaton rates, according to Jeff Wetherell, director of software development for SI Systems.

Late each night, orders are loaded into the program, which determines slotting for the next day in the four SI A-frames. Early shift workers then load the A-frames, which are designed to pick over 3600 orders per hour.

Products are ranked based on the number of orders in which they are involved, said Wetherall. In essence, the fastest movers are slotted so that they must move the least distance, taking account such factors as the physical dimensions of the products and the available slotting locations in order to maximize picking efficiency.

Merger results in more expertise, more services

This year's merger of well-known supply chain consulting company ESYNC with TranSystem's Management and Supply Chain Consulting Group expanded the range of services available to the two company's customers. During NA08, company principals promoted this expanded reach.

John Hill, formerly of ESYNC and now a senior vice president at TransSystem, noted that the firm now has a much "deeper bench" with more than 1,300 employees located in 45 offices and can offer clients expertise in considerably more areas.

Among those capabilities is a core competency in real estate and supply chain network design, said company principal and vice president Randall Gibson. "Real estate is a strategic asset," he said. "It commits a company to a property—and a way of doing business—for a period of time." Proper site selection has implications, he noted, that range from operations and labor to financial commitments, regulatory scrutiny, and supply chain flexibility. "Real estate fundamentally affects a company's ability to succeed in today's business environment," he said.

For more information, visit www.esync.com.

Stimulus package could prove a capital idea

One of the less widely reported aspects of the federal economic stimulus package could help out companies in the market for lift trucks and other capital investments. In addition to direct rebates to taxpayers, the bill also includes a depreciation bonus that could provide great financial benefit to companies planning to invest in material handling equipment, said Hyster President Paul Laroia at a NA08 press conference. He explained that the law offers companies a one-time 50-percent depreciation bonus above the standard capital depreciation if they take delivery of equipment this year. "It lowers the effective cost of equipment and is a great opportunity to get new equipment during the current economic downturn and thus prepare for the growth that will come when the economy rebounds," he said.

4Front takes its show on the road

Many material handling equipment vendors invite customers to their headquarters to train on their equipment and learn about maintenance and repair. But 4Front, the holding company for five dock equipment makers, is different: It brings its products to the customer.

4Front—which includes Kelley, TKO, Serco, LoadHog, and APS Resource—does have a demonstration and training room at its Carrollton, Texas, headquarters. But it also sends a custom-built, 53-foot trailer to both current and potential customers' facilities. It takes just 10 minutes to set up as many as 20 pieces of 4Front's products inside the trailer, powered by electricity or generators as needed. Visitors can "test drive" and learn how to maintain dock levelers, dock doors, and the like—right outside their door.

Customers like Pepsi, Target, Wal-Mart, and Sherwin Williams have brought the trailer to their warehouses and DCs all over the country. To date, the company says, 4Front's trailer and its crew have visited more than 1,000 sites in 40 states and have hosted more than 3,400 individuals. For more information, go to www.4FrontES.com.

Automated SmartCart operates "off the grid"

Jervis B. Webb, a subsidiary of Daifuku, demonstrated its new models of automatic guided carts (AGCs) at its booth at NA08, where several of the compact units busily followed a variety of paths.

The Model 50 SmartCart automatic guided vehicle is designed for pallet loads and lighter items and is priced to be affordable for manufacturing and warehousing operations of all sizes, according to company representatives. Also on display were the company's Model 300 SmartCarts, which come in several variations, including a heavyweight tugger, a counterbalanced forklift vehicle, and a single conveyor version (for use with roller conveyor systems).

The vehicles typically follow magnetic-tape trails on the floor of the facility, but they can also be programmed to turn and travel off the tape. After they have completed their tasks, they return to the magnetic path and continue on their way, either forward or in reverse. Additionally, their modular design makes them easy to retool for different applications. The AGCs also can be integrated with Webb's recently upgraded SmartLoader automatic trailer-loading vehicle and its automated storage and retrieval (AS/RS) systems.

For more information, go to www.jervisbwebb.com.

AGV meets AS/RS

HK Systems says the company is "bridging the gap" between automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) with its new line of special trucks. The vehicles are designed to lift loads from 21 feet to as high as 35 feet. This capability will challenge stacker/retrieval cranes usage in smaller firms, predicts Mike Kotecki, senior vice president for the company.

For more information, visit www.hksystems.com.

Raymond solution unifies fleet data

Until now, forklift fleet managers have had to analyze and act on data collected from disparate sources—what David Furman, vice president of marketing for lift-truck maker The Raymond Corporation calls "islands of information." Raymond's new "iWarehouse" system, however, will solve that problem by providing a single portal for an array of data.

At a press conference, Raymond executives explained how a device (developed with partner ShockWatch) that is inserted into the vehicle's engine wirelessly extracts data and makes it available for analysis and use by the system. Modules available to customers include:

  • iAlert's remote diagnostics, which allows technicians to determine the parts and repairs needed before arriving on site.
  • iControl, which automatically adjusts truck settings, such as lift speed, based on the driver's skill level.
  • iImpact, which reports accidents and sends e-mail alerts to managers.
  • iVerify, which checks compliance with OSHA checklists and identifies service needs.
  • iTrack, which provides online access to data on costs for maintenance, labor, parts, and more.
  • iMetrics, which tracks usage data to measure operator and asset productivity.

For more about the system's capabilities, go to www.raymondcorp.com.

Yale shows off new narrow aisle truck

Yale Materials Handling Co. conducted product demonstrations for its new NR narrow aisle lift truck series during NA08. The demonstrations included discussions of the new truck's ergonomic and service options and its optional fork laser line and camera, which allows operators to see where the forks are positioned in relationship to the load.

The AC-powered truck, available in 3,000- to 4,500-pound capacities, provides both power lowering and regenerative lowering. Buyers have a choice of two operator compartment layouts.

For more information, visit www.yale.com.

Komatsu unveils hybrid electric forklift

Komatsu Forklift USA displayed what it says is the world's first hybrid electric forklift at NA08. The company believes it is one of the most energy-efficient lift trucks available on the market today.

The truck uses a sealed, maintenance-free battery; a built-in inverter charger; a capacitor; and an on-board charge controller. The controller captures five sources of regenerated current and stores the energy in the capacity, which delivers current to the truck. The system recaptures as much as 20 percent of the energy produced in regenerative braking, compared to 2 to 3 percent in other electric trucks, Komatsu says. As a result, power consumption can be reduced by a maximum of 27 percent. The company estimates that over a four year period, the operating costs for the new truck could be half that of an IC (internal combustion) hybrid truck. The truck can run for 11 hours a day with a single opportunity charge during the shift, the company says.

The truck is now available in the Japanese market with a lifting capacity of up to 5,000 pounds. A 3,500-pound truck will soon be available in North American markets.

For more information, visit www.komatsuforkliftusa.com.

German truck maker gets a lift

Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp., long a fixture in the industrial truck market in Europe, has been making significant strides in the American market for past eight years. "We've been here since 2000, and we have been growing 50 to 60 percent a year," said Greg Mason, general manager of products and training, during an interview with DC Velocity at NA08.

Will Jungheinrich build a manufacturing plant in the U.S. some day? "Not yet, but it is something we would consider," he said. Meanwhile, the company's business outlook remains very good. "There's a lot of growth in China and Eastern Europe, particularly Russia," he said.

Supporting that business is the company's commitment to constantly improving its products. "We make all of our own motors, and we spent some $44 million on R&D last year," said Mason. One example of the company's R&D efforts is its methanol fuel cell project.

For more information, visit www.jungheinrich.com.

Green power from Oorja's methanol fuel cell

The race for the most effective and environmentally friendly fuel cell has a new contestant. Oorja Protonics ("Oorja" means "energy" in Sanskrit) debuted its "ultra powerful" methanol fuel cell for material handling equipment at NA08. On-board battery chargers fueled by the cells, which have been tested by Toyota, Nissan, and others, continuously charge lift trucks, pallet loaders, and automated guided vehicles (AGVs). As a result, the vehicles can run for multiple shifts before they need to be refilled.

At a company press conference, CEO Sanjiv Malhotra said that the Oorja system offers several advantages: companies are familiar with methanol from other uses; there is no downtime during shifts to change batteries; no battery rooms are required; and the cells can operate in both hot and cold temperatures with no loss of power. Furthermore, refill stations are easy to maintain, as methanol suppliers can simply swap out tanks. According to Malhotra, methanol is also safer to handle than hydrogen. The cells can be used on both new and retrofitted vehicles, and the payback is an estimated 18 to 24 months, he said.

For more information, visit www.oorjaprotonics.com.

Envira-North has a whale of an idea

Envira-North Systems has turned to the sea for ideas about improving the flow of air in warehouses and DCs. The Ontario-based manufacturer of industrial fans and ventilation systems plans to release a fan design based on the flippers of humpback whales.

Envira-North has teamed up with WhalePower, a company founded by a marine scientist, to apply whales' efficient body design to industrial products. The blades of the new fans, which are not yet in commercial production, feature bumps and valleys that mimic those found along the leading edge of humpback whale flippers. The design speeds the flow of air over the blades, reducing the amount of energy needed to run the fans, producing better ventilation, and generating less noise.

To learn more about this unusual design—recently featured on The Discovery Channel and in National Geographic magazine—visit www.enviranorth.com.

Seegrid launches "visionary" industrial robot

Material handling robots are familiar enough now that they are no longer looked on as the stuff of science fiction, but they still are able to surprise and fascinate.

That was the case with the G Series industrial mobile robots from Seegrid Corp., a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University's Mobile Robot Lab. At a press conference, company executives claimed that there is "no comparable technology" to their vision-guided vehicle, which relies on a series of photos to create the 3-D images by which it navigates. The vehicle creates and stores multiple guidepaths as the user walks it through each route. After that, the vehicle is on its own, with no magnetic trails or other facility modifications required.

After a year of testing, Seegrid has incorporated users' suggestions to improve safety, ease of maintenance, and efficiency while keeping the cost below that of most automated guided vehicles (AGVs). The company expects the vehicle to be especially popular as pallet movers in very large DCs that want to minimize operators' travel time.

For details, go to www.seegrid.com.

High-resolution marking at lightning speed

The dual print heads of Videojet's 2310/2330 large-character ink-jet printers zipped across pieces of corrugated cardboard as they printed complicated, high-resolution graphics. This demonstration at Videojet's NA08 booth was designed to show that—despite its speed—the printers could create high-resolution images that looked as if they had been pre-printed on the box.

The company also touted the printer's ease of maintenance. The unit's patented "micropurging" self-cleaning system keeps printheads free of dust and dirt, eliminating the need for manual cleaning. A visual display shows ink levels, and operators can replenish ink in seconds by replacing sealed containers. An ink reservoir inside means there is no down time during the switchover. Another feature is automatic recycling of ink used during maintenance.

For more information, go to www.videojet.com.

Attendees get a kick out of The Mule

Beyond Products' multifaceted, manual transporter was the talk of at least one bus ride from the I-X Convention Center to the hotels. What excited attendees? Innovative industrial design at a reasonable price—and made in the U.S.A. to boot.

The Mule is a hand-operated lift truck with an adjustable carry platform in front and a periscope-style handle in the back. The company's literature says that it stacks, lifts, shifts, pushes, raises, rocks, lowers, positions, pulls, tows, carries, and rolls. The platform, which can carry up to 350 pounds, features movable, slanted blocks that plug into holes (much like Lego blocks) to create customized chocking to hold items in place. A new, interchangeable fork attachment introduced at the show adds to the Mule's versatility.

All this comes in a tidy package: The Mule weighs just 114 pounds and measures 60 inches x 21 inches x 37 inches when it is in use and folds up even smaller for storage. Its battery plugs into any standard 12-volt outlet for recharging. The price: Less than $1,400.

For more information, go to www.beyond-products.com.

New system accelerates picking productivity

Diamond Phoenix, Lewiston, Maine showed off ExactPick, a new system designed to take cost out of the material handling operations for business sectors such as apparel that require high pick rates. This "high cube" flexible picking system, as the company describes it, is designed to use less floor space than a traditional rack or shelving system, allowing for high density storage, flexible staffing, and high pick rates. Robert D. Rienecke, vice president of business development, said that the new system offers three to six times traditional pick productivity. "What we've done here is drive out costs for the customer," Rienecke said.

For more information, visit www.diamondphoenix.com.

"Game On" at Kiva System

There was a steady buzz around the Kiva Systems booth at NA08 as the Massachusetts-based provider of an innovative new, robotics-based order picking and packing solution pitted attendees against one another in a bit of an operational game show.

Attendees, with less than two minutes of training, stood at picking stations and used the Kiva System to fill simulated orders on the show floor. The exercise not only created a stir, but according to Kiva founder CEO Mick Mountz, gave attendees a first-hand experience with the Kiva Mobile Fulfillment System. "The best way to get a sense of the capabilities of the system is to use it yourself," said Mountz.

The company also made a series of other announcements at the show, including the news that it had hit an important milestone: With its recently announced contract with e-commerce retailer Zappos.com, Kiva had shipped its 1,000th robotic unit.

For more information, visit www.kiva.com.

Keep an I on the system

Intelligrated, a material handling equipment manufacturer, took advantage of NA08 to showcase its I-Watch maintenance solution. I-Watch is designed to monitor its IntelliSort sliding shoe sorters and provide maintenance alerts. Intelligrated now provides I-Watch as part of every sliding shoe sorter system that it sells.

The company says that I-Watch helps extend the life of a sorter chain and other critical systems by alerting personnel to maintenance requirements, such as the need to oil the chain, system jams, uneven chain stretch, chain jumps, and sorter drive problems. Because of the effectiveness of the I-Watch program, Intelligrated now offers a ten-year warranty on its chains.

In addition to alerting maintenance workers to potential problems, the I-Watch system can also be programmed to shut down the system when critical problems arise, avoiding severe and expensive damage of systems and handled products.

For more information, visit www.intelligrated.com.

New dashboard helps you see the light

The new LP Dashboard from Lightning Pick Technologies, which was on display at NA08, offers managers a graphical tool for analyzing productivity data. Managers can use the tool's two- and three-dimensional charts and graphs to quickly gage worker productivity, accuracy, and throughput.

The dashboard was not the only solution that Lightning Pick was showcasing at its NA08 exhibit. The creator of advanced order fulfillment execution solutions was also demonstrating its LP Pick to Light product, LP RF Picking system, and LP Voice-Directed Picking system. Lightning Pick's solutions encompass best-of-breed offerings that support multimodal picking environments.

For more information, visit www.lightningpick.com.

Camera provides better sight and sizing

Accu-Sort Systems displayed its AccuVision AV6010 long-range camera at its NA08 exhibit. Designed for parcel, postal, warehouse, and other package handling applications, the AV6010 has a built-in dimensioning system. According to Accu-Sort, the AV6010 provides high throughput read rates, solid reliability, and high read rates on poor quality bar codes.

The camera features replaceable boards, which permit customization and allow for fast upgrades. Because the AV6010 was designed as one integrated unit, it is easy to install. The new unit also connects and integrates easily with other IT and handling systems and is compatible with Accu-Sort's FAST Monitor and VisionCapture systems.

For more information, visit www.accusort.com.

Upgrade takes software to new heights

Logistics software developer HighJump has released Version 10.0 of its Supply Chain Advantage Suite. This latest release offers new functionality, including a billing management module for third-party logistics providers (3PLs) that gives increased flexibility for client management.

The new suite also includes a warehouse management module targeted to small and medium companies. Called Warehouse 45, the module can be implemented in only 45 days, according to the company. In addition, it includes software enhancements in the areas of planning and forecasting.

The 10.0 release also includes a simplified approach to upgrades and the ability to translate into Asian character sets.

For more information, visit www.highjumpsoftware.com.

RedPrairie tool adds sustainability measure

With sustainability on the minds of managers in most industries, capturing information on greenhouse emissions has become critical to business operations. In response, RedPrairie, a developer of warehousing, logistics, labor management, and supply chain software, has included sustainability measures in its Performance Management tool. RedPrairie announced the availability of the software application to supply chain providers during NA08. Previously, it had been available only to retailers.

The web-based tool makes use of existing information from RedPrairie's warehouse, transportation, and workforce management applications, allowing managers to monitor, analyze, and report on key performance metrics. The Performance Management dashboard allows managers to look at captured data in a variety of ways, such as CO2 per shipped case. It also includes transportation metrics based on standards developed by the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay Transport Partnership for CO2 and NO emissions. (RedPrairie is a partner in the SmartWay program.)

RedPrairie Performance Management for supply chain is compatible with Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007.

For more information, visit www.redprairie.com.

CHEP adds new products and an acquisition

During NA08, CHEP, the international pallet-pooling specialist, discussed a pair of recent product additions and its recent acquisition of LeanLogistics.

The first product is the Blue Guardian, a steel frame with an energy-absorbing bumper designed for Class-2 forklifts. The bumper attaches to the front of a forklift and redirects impact force away from where valuable product is located to the more durable center of the pallet. This reduces both pallet and product damage. In its initial test with a U.S. grocery chain, the Blue Guardian reduced unsalables by 11.8 percent, said Derek Hannum, marketing director for CHEP in the United States.

Also on display at the show: CHEP's next generation pallet, the BlueStep, which will be launched in the second half of this year. The new pallet design resulted from CHEP's studies of damage to pallet components and the associated costs, Hannum explained. Based on these studies, the pallet has composite-wood corners that are stronger and more durable than new wood. Using composite wood has the added advantage of allowing CHEP to make use of wood waste. The new pallet also has a redesigned deck. The deck has less coverage than earlier designs but is engineered so that all standard case sizes land on a board in almost all configurations. CHEP expects the new design will extend the life of pallet components and result in less product damage as well.

Finally, in March, Brambles, CHEP's parent company, announced that it had agreed to acquire LeanLogistics, a provider of technology-based transport and supply chain solutions, for $45 million cash.

The acquisition demonstrated the company's commitment to move beyond pallet management to a broader menu of supply chain services, said Hannum. "CHEP knows more about the movement of products than anyone," he said. ""We can overlay that with LeanLogistics unparalleled transportation intelligence and leverage that data to take empty miles out of transportation."

For more information, visit www.chep.com.

I.D. Systems expands with acquisition and marketing partner

I.D. Systems Inc., a provider of wireless asset management systems for distribution centers, announced at NA08 that it had acquired PowerKey, a developer of tools for industrial truck monitoring, from International Electronics Inc. The $500,000 acquisition provides I.D. Systems with an entry-level product for asset management. PowerKey expands I.D. Systems' product line so that the company can now serve any size fleet, said Gregory Smith, vice president of marketing and corporate communications for the company.

At the same time, I.D. Systems launched a new product, PowerKeyPlus, aimed at that entry-level market. The new product focuses on access control, safety, and maintenance, Smith said.

I.D. Systems also announced an agreement with Zetes Industries, a European systems integrator for auto-ID technologies, under which Zetes will market I.D. Systems products and services in Europe.

For more information, visit www.id-systems.com.

SICK adds new camera to auto-ID lineup

SICK Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of SICK, a German-based manufacturer of factory and process automation technology, introduced its ICR890 camera at NA08. The camera, aimed at the retail distribution, parcel, postal, and airline baggage handling markets, is part of SICK's automatic data collection line of products.

The camera can rapidly capture images of both linear and two-dimensional bar codes, enabling data collection, dimensioning, weighing, and video-coding system in high-speed sortation environments. The camera can be used in single-sided reading stations and high-speed, multiple-sided scanning arrays on belt conveyors and tilt-tray sorting systems. John Ashodian, market manager for SICK Inc., says the camera can capture data off short bar codes and those of poor quality. The bar codes can be randomly oriented, and the camera can work with conveyor speeds as high as 550 feet a minute.

"What customers are looking for is a product design that is simple to install and service," Ashodian said. The camera's modular design allows separation of camera and illumination, simplifying installation and servicing.

SICK also offered previews of its new CLV620 and CLV630 lines of bar code scanners during the show. The scanners make use of SICK's Modular Advanced Recognition Technology (SMART), enabling the scanners to read poor quality, partially hidden, or damaged bar codes.

For more information, visit www.sick.com.

LXE offers ring scanner with Bluetooth

Ring scanners may not be new, but LXE believes it has a leg-up on the market by offering a new ring scanner that uses Bluetooth wireless communication technology.

The LXE 8650 Bluetooth Ring Scanner, which the company introduced at NA08, can be worn on the finger of either hand, with the Bluetooth module resting on the back of the hand or wrist. Together the scanner, Bluetooth module, and battery weigh a combined 4.8 ounces and allow workers to use both hands in warehouse operations.

Using LXE's EZ Pairing technology, the module can be paired with any Bluetooth-enabled handheld, wearable, fixed-station, or vehicle-mount computer. The scanner is available in standard laser or one-dimensional/two-dimensional configurations, said Richard Adams, the European sales director for the company. The long-life battery in the scanner lasts about 20 hours between charges for 1D applications, and about 80 percent of that for 2D, allowing as many as 17,000 scans on a single charge, said Khalid Kidari, senior product manager for the company.

For more information, visit www.lxe.com.

Llamasoft boosts modeling power

Llamasoft, a Michigan-based developer of supply chain optimization and modeling software, introduced the latest version of its Supply Chain Guru technology during NA08. The company says the software is designed to help supply chain and logistics managers model, analyze, and optimize their supply chain networks. The software operates on Windows-XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 2000.

One recent addition to the software: the ability to model a company's carbon footprint and optimize a supply chain network structure based on greenhouse-gas emission targets.

For more information, visit www.llamasoft.com.

A matter of inches: Sky-Trax unveils monitoring system

Sky-Trax Inc., a specialist in warehouse location applications, introduced its Total-Trax system for warehouse vehicle and inventory tracking. Total-Trax integrates two existing Sky-Trax solutions: the Sky-Trax System and Skan-Free.

The Sky-Trax system is an indoor, optical vehicle-tracking system that uses ceiling-mounted markers and vehicle-mounted sensors to monitor the location, direction, and speed of all indoor vehicles. Skan-Free is an automatic data collection solution that uses a vehicle-mounted Optical Label Reader to scan pallet ID labels, freeing drivers from having to scan each pallet.

Now under the Total-Trax System, Sky-Trax sends vehicle-location data wirelessly to a main controller that records and stores all vehicle movements, including full path data. That information is then integrated with the pallet-label data collected by Skan-Free, allowing users to plan routes and make dispatching decisions in real time. Total-Trax is capable of tracking indoor vehicles and inventory within one-inch accuracy.

The potential benefits are significant. In a January 2008 pilot installation for 10 vehicles in a 320,000 square foot facility, Total-Trax produced 100-percent accuracy for more than 20,000 pallet moves and a 100 percent increase in productivity.

Sky-Trax also announced that it has partnered with GENCO Supply Chain Solutions for the launch of its Central Controlled Vehicle (CCV) Program. The project, scheduled for completion in December 2008, is meant to be both an improvement on and a departure from automated guided vehicle (AGV) systems. The CCVs are free roaming, with no fixed or predetermined paths, and have anti-collision capabilities. The vehicles are built to work with the Total-Trax System, so they can collect inventory-tracking data automatically while their vehicle location is monitored in real time. The CCV program will communicate with both CCVs and manually operated vehicles through a central command system. This allows users to safely and effectively track and direct both automated and manned vehicles together. Sky-Trax says it is also looking to partner with automated guided vehicle (AGV) and lift truck manufacturers and warehouse management system companies.

For more information, visit www.sky-trax.com.

Gorbel crane lends Capitol helping hand

Every day at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, caretakers use a freestanding jib crane from Gorbel to lift 500-pound steel crates filled with flags to the building's roof, where the flags are flown. At the end of the day, the flags are packed back in the crates, and the crane is used to lower them to the ground. Before installing the Gorbel jib crane, the caretakers had been using a homemade crane. Gorbel says the new system is safer, puts less stress on the building, and can be operated by just one person.

While Gorbel cranes worked the Capitol, company representatives worked the floor of the I-X Center, touting the company's newest addition: the Pivot Pro, a light-duty articulating jib crane designed for capacities up to 150 pounds. This smaller capacity allows for a streamlined design that makes it easier to operate the crane in high-repetition environments like palletizing. The crane's articulating design increases operational safety by limiting the "whip" of the boom while its sealed tube design eliminates the need for festooning hoses.

For more information, visit www.gorbel.com.

Energy-saving controllers make all the right moves

At NA08, electronic controls specialist Holjeron introduced two new microprocessor-based controllers for conveyor systems. The new controllers are designed to reduce energy consumption.

Holjeron, an electronic controls specialist, exhibited a low-pressure accumulation controller and a universal controller for powered rollers or mechanical brake rollers.

The low-pressure accumulation controller for 24-volt DC-powered roller conveyors can be implemented for loads weighing 5 pounds and up. Holjeron says low-pressure accumulation is about 40 percent less costly than zero-pressure accumulation because of the reduced need for sensors. It adds that because the universal controller enables electronic braking for standard motor-driven rollers or mechanical brake rollers, it consumes significantly less energy than electronic solenoids used for that application.

For more information, visit www.holjeron.com.

Printing devices mark the spot

Matthews Marking Products showed off three new ink-jet marking devices at NA08. Matthews' new C84 continuous ink-jet system prints up to four lines of characters from 1.25 mm-15.6 mm high at a maximum speed of 1,235 feet per minute. The company is targeting the printer to cosmetic, snack food, pharmaceutical, and electronic manufacturers. Its SX32e drop-on-demand printer can store up to 200 messages. This printer is used to print high-quality graphics, logos, and date codes. Finally, the new I-Mark V84 drop-on-demand ink jet controller can print four or five lines of text, including graphics and logos, for industrial and packaging applications. It provides independent control of printing attributes for up to four printheads.

For more information, visit www.matthewsmarking.com.

20 years of success? Sounds good

Vocollect entered NA08 hot off the success of its Accel user's conference in Pittsburgh. That conference brought together customers from some 80 companies to learn more about voice and to help celebrate Vocollect's 20th anniversary.

The 20th year seems to be off to a good start. The company had a large array of voice products on hand at NA08, including dedicated and multimodal devices. Additionally, the company is continuing to expand its presence overseas, according to Vocollect representatives. More than 45 percent of its revenue now comes from international markets, such as Europe, Japan, and Korea. As part of its international expansion, Russian and Korean languages have now been added to the available languages within Vocollect's voice-directed products.

For more information, visit www.vocollect.com.

Hear, hear: Lucas Systems can be deployed on multimodal units

Lucas Systems took the opportunity at NA08 to demonstrate that its voice software systems are available for deployment on multimodal units from Motorola, LXE, and Intermec. Multimodal devices allow users to combine scanning, photo capture, and other operations with voice-directed activities.

The Lucas voice systems can be incorporated into a number of applications, from receiving and putaway to picking and truck loading. The software's management console also features smart client technology and rich management functionality.

For more information, visit www.lucasware.com.