Innovative Retail Technologies

MAR-APR 2017

Innovative Retail Technologies (formerly Integrated Solutions For Retailers) is the premier source for innovative yet pragmatic technology solutions in the retail industry.

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devices are generally scanning guns used for picking large items, receiving inventory into the DC, or scanning outbound inventory. " Those devices give and receive data to and from the WMS, which drives all the activities that take place inside the DC," says Hutchins. Those activities, in turn, rely on other tools, such as voice picking, depending on the scenario and what's being picked. "We have an extensive road map for our DCs, focused first on process, then on technology and the infrastructure that supports it," explains Hutchins. In DCs, those RF devices that chronicle the movement of all inventory coming and going are a cornerstone technology. As such, they need to promise uptime all the time, and that requires dependable power. Batteries: The Unsung Hero Of The Supply Chain Since 2014, Tractor Supply has been leveraging a managed service called Test & Replace from its aftermarket battery supplier, Global Technology Systems (GTS). "We've been sourcing GTS batteries and charging cradles to power the RF units in our stores for years," says Hutchins. " Their equipment powered our store-level inventory management and counting efforts prior to bringing them into our DCs." In addition to better-than-OEM battery life, the in-store implementation was driven by space efficiency. "We can charge three batteries in half the shelf space required to charge two using an OEM product," says Hutchins. In the much larger DC environment, Hutchins cites productivity gains as the most obvious benefit of longer battery life — and a better system of battery management. "If a battery fails mid shift, it creates a lot of footsteps," says Hutchins. And as we know, footsteps — whether they're necessary to pick and put or to change a battery — are the antithesis of DC efficiency. "A team member with a failed battery has to find a place to plug in an auxiliary charger and get to the RF room to obtain a new battery before picking up where they left off. In a large distribution center, that can amount to a significant loss of productivity," he says. On-the-job efficiency aside, battery management is also a productivity drain on other large enterprises. Where thousands upon thousands of mobile device batteries are in service, determining which are functional and which aren't isn't as straightforward as it sounds. In a recent interview with Innovative Retail Technologies, Larry Murray, CEO and founder at GTS, analogized that conundrum in no uncertain terms. "A five- gallon gas can should hold five gallons of gas," he explained. "If it's dented, its capacity is diminished. It will fill more quickly, and it will appear to be full though it's only holding four gallons." Newer batteries, on the other hand, charge more slowly, but last longer between charges. Discerning between the good and the bad is challenging, and keeping the bad batteries in circulation exacerbates the inefficiency issue. When a bad battery only lasts a few hours per charge — yet keeps making its way back to the device — the "footsteps" problem cited by Hutchins becomes too common an occurrence. What's worse, because associates think they're using good batteries that recover quickly in the charger and show a full charge when put back in the device, they often conclude that rapid battery depletion is a device issue. Sending those devices off for analysis and repair is costly and, more often than not, wholly unnecessary. "Prior to leveraging the new service, Tractor Supply relied on DC associates to mark new batteries' in-service date with a permanent marker," says Hutchins. " That only gave us an indication as to when Mar-Apr 2017 8 "A spike in the sale of riding mowers in the spring changes the entire approach to DC operations compared to the spike in gift items we see during the holidays." Tom Hutchins, VP of technology and IT strategy, Tractor Supply Co.

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