Inking A Solution To Sticky Warehouse Dilemma
October 3, 2018 Alex Woodie
When the forklift drivers at Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems had trouble maintaining a WiFi connection in the warehouse, the company turned to its network supplier. But when the network supplier dragged its feet on providing sessions stickiness, the IT folks at FSIS found their own solution, which involved transforming its IBM i software into a modern Web application.
Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems develops and manufactures a range of inks and consumables for a variety of printing processes, including inkjet, screen, textile, label, and packaging. The UK subsidiary of the Japanese imaging conglomerate designs, manufactures, and ships its ink products from its facility in the city of Broadstairs on England’s southeast coast.
FSIS relies on a highly modified version of PRMS, an IBM i-based ERP system that it originally deployed in 1990. While the core ERP system itself has functioned “brilliantly” for the company, which won a Best Process Plant Award in 2011, some of the user interfaces have not stood the test of time quite as well. Specifically, the 5250-based terminal emulators that the forklift drivers worked with had become a real hindrance to productivity.
There were two main issues with the 5250 devices in the forklift. For starters, the computers, which were Panasonic ToughPads, had trouble maintaining a WiFi connection as the drivers navigated the warehouse, which is roughly 40,000 square feet (or 4,000 square meters). When one of the drivers of the 17 forklifts would encounter a problem with connectivity, it would force them to restart their session, which often involved a call to help desk.
The second issue had to do with the 5250 screens themselves, which could be hard to read in the dimly lit warehouse. And because of the way navigation worked on the PRMS application, the forklift drivers often had to pull up the on-screen keyboard to utilize function keys to enter specific pieces of information about the delivery they were preparing, which added to the frustration of the forklift drivers and further hurt FSIS’ productivity.
But it was the first issue – the WiFi connectivity problem – that really spurred the company’s IT personnel to a solution. As they were working with their local networking company to troubleshoot the poor WiFi signal and dropped sessions on their new Cisco network, they conducted some research into potential ways they could maintain sessions when WiFi was down. That “sticky session” research led the company to Rocket Software and its LegaSuite software.
One thing led to another, and before long a Rocket representative was in the FSIS warehouse demonstrating a solution. After two days, the Rocket representative successfully proved that LegaSuite could provide the session stickiness that FSIS required. FSIS was impressed, and purchased a license to use LegaSuite’s Web application technology to deliver screens to forklift drivers.
As they refactored the PRMS screens, FSIS changed some of the workflow to eliminate unnecessary options. When it was all said and done, the new LegaSuite screens relied primarily on touchscreen input, as opposed to relying on drivers to use the keyboard. The company selected a UK firm called In-Car-PC to provide the touchscreen-based hardware, which run Microsoft Windows 10 operating systems.
The new LegaSuite-based screens are “clear, bold, and bright,” according to FSIS. The forklift drivers took to the new screens immediately, and calls to the help desk dropped by almost 90 percent in the first few months of the new application, which was deployed near the end of 2017, FSIS personnel tell IT Jungle.
The new interfaces also paid dividends with the “wall-to-wall stock check,” an annual event where every single item is inventoried. The check normally takes seven hours, but with the new interfaces, it took less than six hours.
The company’s IBM i programmers did much of the work of implementing LegaSuite. They said that, while the learning curve was steep at first, there were no unexpected difficulties, and that they would recommend LegaSuite to other IBM i professionals in a similar situation.
Buoyed by that first success, the folks at FSIS are looking to see if they can apply LegaSuite to other areas of the business, which is still running on that rock-solid PRMS system. FSIS and Rocket are currently working on a project to improve the handling of spool files off the IBM i server. The company has “lots and paper and lots of files” that could be stored electronically.
There is also the potential to bolster UIs on the upstream side, during raw material collection and weighing, the developers say. They don’t necessarily want to “pretty them up,” they say, but they do see benefits from unhooking employees from their PCs and letting them roam freely with a tablet.