KENT ELECTRONICS' UNIQUE DELIVERY SYSTEM COUNTS ON SETRA SCALES FOR EFFICIENT PARTS HANDLINGAdvanced warehouse automation allows Houston-based Kent Electronics to stock millions of parts, double the number of orders processed each day, and achieve an incredible 99.98% shipment accuracy -- all from a single centralized distribution site. An integral part of this delivery system is a unique network of high-accuracy counting scales from Setra Systems. By linking individual scales with bar code scanners to a central database, Kent has developed an efficient approach to automated counting that virtually eliminates re-sampling and reduces operator error.
To efficiently receive, process, and ship over 1400 orders a day, Kent has developed a system of automated carousels, conveyors, and flexible work stations to bring the right parts directly to an operator. Nearly one out of four shipments involve scale-counted parts. By automating much of the parts counting process, Kent has been able to improve the accuracy of bulk orders, while drastically reducing the time it takes to fill them.
All the Right Parts
In Kent's automated distribution center, bulk electronic components are stored in 92,000 individual locations on 16 automated carousels. When components are received from suppliers each part type is tracked by advanced inventory management software and is distributed among multiple bins to streamline access from any part of the warehouse.
When an order arrives the inventory management software assigns a tote bin and unique bar code identifier and routes the tote to the proper work station. For each item on the order, the carousels automatically rotate into place, giving the work station operator immediate access to the part's storage location. Each station works from two carousels, and moves up and down to access a particular parts bin. As an order is filled, tote bins may be routed from station to station to access different carousels, and are then sent to quality control and shipping.
A number of scheduling strategies are used to streamline order processing. For example, the inventory management software uses an optimal "pick" strategy that considers the relative location of the various part bins, and has operators pick from open packages first.
Counting On Quality
At their main distribution warehouse, Kent uses 10 Setra C Series high-accuracy industrial counting scales. Kent chose Setra's C Series scales because they combine ultra-high counting and weighing resolution with heavy duty construction, bar code system compatibility, and a computer interface port.
By utilizing Setra's patented variable capacitance technology, the C Series offers counting resolution as fine as one part per million and weighing resolution as fine as one part in 500,000. This high level of resolution allows Kent to quickly process large orders, while maintaining their impressive level of order accuracy.
When using any electronic counting scale, the average piece weight (APW) of each part must be entered before counting can begin. If known, the APW may be keyed in; if not, it must be determined through a sampling process . In components distribution and other environments where thousands of different items are repeatedly counted, performing these initial steps can become very time-consuming. One solution to this potential bottleneck is to automatically load the APW for a particular part number directly from a printed bar code label using a bar code scanning system.
In Kent's Houston distribution center, scales are networked via the C Series' RS-232 communications port to a customized PC data base, which stores the average piece weights for every scale-counted part. Before a part is counted, the operator keys in the part number by hand or by scanning a bar code label. If the APW is already in the central database, it is automatically transmitted to the counting scale. If no APW is listed, the system prompts the operator to sample count 29 parts, or to enter the APW if it is provided by the supplier. In this way, the data base grows as new parts are counted.
Weighing The Benefits
Mike Frank, the director of operations for Kent's distribution center, "This custom solution provides a smarter way for us to automatically count components." Instead of re-sampling each time, the central database system and network of counting scales allows Kent to not only re-use APW information, but also to minimize the chance of operator error. More importantly, Kent's automated counting system can reduce the time for bulk order processing from a few minutes to several seconds.
Centralized distribution has allowed Kent to nearly double the number of part numbers that it stocks, increase the number of orders filled each day from 700 to over 1400, and achieve their 99.98% shipment accuracy. In addition, Kent can offer its customers guaranteed same day shipping when an order is received by 7 PM Central Time and the parts are in stock.
High-accuracy counting scales from Setra Systems are an integral part of Kent's unique warehouse delivery system. In addition to the C Series, Setra's Weighing Systems Division offers a broad range of other electronic weighing and counting scales for material handling and inventory control applications. By integrating these precision weighing products as part of an overall material handling system, efficient approaches to automated counting are now within reach of many manufacturers and distributors.
As seen in APICS magazine, April 1995.
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