January 2009 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

High-Stakes Handling: Bally Hits the WMS Jackpot

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Unwilling to gamble on warehouse operations, slot machine manufacturer Bally Technologies invested in a sure thing: a new WMS and data collection hardware.

It seems ironic that a high-tech video gaming systems manufacturer would depend on manual and paper-based distribution and fulfillment processes. But that was the hand Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies was playing.

Bally Manufacturing Company was founded in 1932 as a creator of wooden pinball games. Today, Bally Technologies designs, manufactures, operates, and distributes slot and video machines to a global gaming industry, including casino and video lottery markets.

It also designs, integrates, and sells computerized monitoring systems that provide casinos with networked accounting and security services for their gaming machines. Approximately 300,000 Bally game monitoring units are installed at more than 225 locations worldwide.

Despite its financial success—the company reported $889 million in revenue in fiscal 2008, with profits slightly less than $200 million—Bally knew its inventory management and warehousing processes needed improvement. Bally may have been on the cutting edge of gaming technology, but its warehouse operations had become antiquated, involving too many people, and too much paper and time. In 2008, the company decided to upgrade its DC systems to keep up with customer demand and boost warehouse performance.

"Under the old process, pickers reported to a warehouse administrator who told them what orders to fill," recalls Tony Evans, director of internal logistics for Bally Technologies. "Then the pickers had to allocate inventory, pick the items, and relay the pick information back to the administrator."

BETTING ON WMS

Evans estimates that the company's inventory data was only about 25 percent accurate. To bring warehouse operations into the 21st century, Bally bet on a new warehouse management system (WMS) developed by Atlanta-based solutions provider Manhattan Associates and mobile computers and printers from Everett, Wash.-based supply chain technologies provider Intermec. Designed to collect information on the spot in real time, the new system dramatically transformed Bally's warehouse operations.

MILLION DOLLAR BABY

Bally invested more than $1 million in the new warehouse system, which launched in March 2008, and the gamble paid off. The system has already hit the jackpot with a $400,000 return on investment.

The new WMS includes a slotting optimization solution, and runs on the provider's Supply Chain Intelligence platform application. Bally uses the system for both its pick-and-ship operations and to feed production lines.

"The WMS focuses on order fulfillment," says Eric Lamphier, Manhattan Associates' distribution management product manager. "It addresses inventory and labor management concerns, such as tracking inventory at all times, and does it cost efficiently."

The WMS version Bally uses has been enhanced to take advantage of voice recognition and warehouse control system integration. It also automates picking, packing, and shipping, and minimizes the number of moves per order while analyzing order fulfillment to speed processing and improve customer service.

Lamphier compares the system to a cockpit or dashboard that enables managers to prioritize or make changes when dealing with supply chain capacity.

"Sometimes supply chain managers need to condense inventory data to create actionable information," he says.

THE MOBILE TOOLBOX

For the WMS to perform optimally, Bally needed to implement handheld computer and printer hardware that could not only enter information into the system instantly but also print inventory labels on the spot.

Bally selected Intermec's CK31 mobile computer and PB50 mobile printer. To date, Bally has implemented the system at its Las Vegas and Oklahoma City facilities.

Bally chose the CK31 for its rugged construction—its seams are completely sealed to keep out dust, dirt, and water; and it can withstand multiple four-foot drops to concrete.

The mobile computer can also scan from up to 20 feet away, and access Bally's network remotely, permitting users to walk between multiple warehouses at the same location and maintain connectivity. Lightweight two-inch and three-inch PB50 printers complement the mobile computers.

"One of the hardware's advantages is that workers don't have to walk to a station printer. They can print labels anywhere in the warehouse," Evans says. "And if a pallet is missing a label, warehouse workers can print a new one right there, eliminating the additional time it takes to put aside the pallet and fix the error."

Since Bally deployed the new solution, employees report increased effectiveness and autonomy.

"Warehouse workers no longer have to wait for a supervisor to provide them with tasks to handle," says Evans. "The WMS allows daily responsibilities to be fed directly to the CK31, allowing users to complete functions faster and more efficiently without being micromanaged.

RANGE OF MOTION

"We were able to integrate the hardware with the WMS, which gave us long- and short-term range," Evans adds. "We could work with particular products in and out of inventory, perform cycle counts on the system itself, and move inventory anywhere in the warehouse without being confined to a station."

With the new WMS and Intermec hardware automating the process, Bally can now adjust inventory in real time during cycle counts, compared to the prior system, which did not allow for adjustments until after the count had been completed.

Thanks to its new tools, Bally's inventory data now scores a 90- percent accuracy rate. It's a welcome improvement, but only one step on the way to the company's ultimate goal of reaching 99.9 percent accuracy. With its new system in place, the odds are in Bally's favor.

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