Tracking 1,000 acres of plant material and staging it for shipping in one area is no easy task, as Karl Losely, the president of Herman Losely & Son. will tell you. But tracking material that comes into the shipping yard with an archaic manual paper system, as the nursery did for many years in Perry, Ohio, magnified the challenge Losely and his team faced.
“Initially, we had a paper pallet tag in which crew leaders in the field would note specific data on the tag – customer name, ribbon color, order number, what the material was and the quantity,” Losely says. “There was a tear-off stub on that tag. It was torn off as pickup crews picked up orders and brought it into the office. We would then manually track the data.”
Manually tracking was a nightmare, though. The paper-tracking system forced Losely and his wife, Kathy, into many late nights around the dining room table finalizing the next day’s shipments. After enough aggravation and too many late nights, Losely figured a better way to track must exist.
Fortunately, Losely met Vista Data Systems’ Jerry Peyton, who helped Losely & Sons implement barcode tagging and mobile handheld computer systems to replace the old paper system that tracked inventory and shipments. Now, the nursery is tracking shipments quicker and more accurately while offering customers better service. The system offers Losely the chance to get a little more sleep, too.
“Losely & Sons was the first nursery that we sold this particular product to,” Peyton says. “It is tailor made for nurserymen because we used Losely & Sons as the blueprint for all the modules.”
The System’s Advantages
The product Herman Losely & Sons has is called ConnectPRO. Vista Data Systems actually recreated the nursery’s existing inventory/order management system, and implemented new technologies to improve efficiencies. The new system incorporated handheld devices from Psion that each function as their own “terminals.” Each Psion handheld is linked to the nursery’s main office, so data collected in the field is streamed back into the office.
“Now, the person in the yard will scan a barcode, and he sees on his screen what that pallet is for – what the ribbon color is, what the material is, what the quantity is supposed to be on that pallet, “Losely says. “It also says this order is being assembled in such and such area.”
The handhelds serve as a great double checker, Losely adds. Losely & Sons has historically relied on ribbons to identify material for a specific order throughout the nursery. Losely still uses a ribbon system to ID material, but the added bar codes and handhelds offer confirmation before the wrong material is loaded onto a truck.
“If there are supposed to be five pieces on a pallet and there’s actually six, we can adjust the order,” Losely says.
Now, when a shipment is complete, loaders press a signoff key, which triggers a delivery ticket to be printed. So there are no transcription errors when a delivery receipt is created. Another plus is the Psion handheld doesn’t get soggy when it is raining. The nursery’s inventory, together with the customer’s order, is updated, so Herman Losely & Son is always aware what’s in the nursery and what’s been loaded onto trucks.
“This system has been significantly smoother,” Losely says. “I would say it’s improved our throughput by 30 percent. The really great part is that it’s improved our accuracy.”
In addition to tracking shipments, the nursery tracks inventory with ConnectPRO. Data entered into Psion handheld throughout the nursery is stored in the unit’s memory. The handhelds are brought back to the office at the end of the day, placed in a docking cradle and the inventory data is downloaded to the computer.
“We track our field stock once a year with a hard count, and it takes a month to get done,” Losely says. “Before, we had pencil, paper and a six-button clicker.”
Even then, those tracking inventory typically hand off their notes to a transcriber. And transcribers can easily make mistakes if they can’t read the tracker’s handwriting, or if they lose focus during the task. But now, reports are printed based on handheld data, and those who take inventory simply review printouts for glaring errors.
“Once they say the reports look good, the data is transferred into the active inventory,” Losely says.