India can be a tough place to sell automated data collection systems. For one thing, the supply of low-cost labor is almost unlimited, so it can be difficult to convince prospective buyers that they'll see an adequate payback. For another, there's the high potential for product damage in warehouses where working conditions may be rugged and the workers unskilled.
One way to overcome such challenges is to adapt the products to the local environment. Psion Teklogix recently did just that for its client Viraj Profiles Ltd. of Mumbai, India, one of the world's largest manufacturers of stainless steel products. At Viraj's five warehouses, which can be both humid and dusty, stainless steel pieces known as "profiles" are delivered and stored in bundles weighing up to a half-ton each. In the past, bundles were marked with handwritten codes and randomly stacked by overhead cranes wherever space was available. Once a day, workers would manually update the IT system to reconcile inventory records and location information.
But that system was labor-intensive, error-prone, and time-consuming. To improve its record keeping, Viraj decided to implement an RFID solution from Vicinity RFID running on the Psion Teklogix Workabout Pro 7527 mobile computer in its warehouses. The handhelds were chosen in part because they can stand up to rough handling, like multiple drops to concrete, and their inner workings are protected from the dust and humidity that are common in warehouses throughout India, says country manager Deep Agarwal.
Another consideration was that Viraj wanted the devices to be customized for foolproof operation by workers with limited education. Psion disabled the touch pad and reprogrammed the software so that only the required keystrokes and scans could be performed, says Viraj's managing director, Nitan Chhatwal. Psion also designed macros so users only need to touch one or two keys to complete a transaction, Agarwal adds.
The modified devices have been a success. Now, workers scan the RFID tags for each steel item and its location and store the information in the Workabout Pro. Once or twice daily, they dock the devices to automatically transfer the item/location data to the server, minimizing the potential for error. Viraj has achieved 99 percent inventory visibility, and the entire process of inventory reconciliation now takes about one hour rather than the 12 hours it took in the past. Thanks to the improved inventory data, says Chhatwal, the company has been able to increase the volume of goods it loads for export each day by 20 percent.
What about the ROI? Payback took just six months, Chhatwal says. Viraj also is considering introducing bar coding for some aspects of its operation. Because the Workabout Pro can handle both RFID and bar codes, he expects the additional cost and training to be minimal.
Editor's note: For an insider's look at logistics conditions in India, see "Now's the time for an India strategy" in the Q1/2009 issue of our sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.