September 2007 | Case Studies | DC Solutions

Remember The Alamo Group's Inventory Tracking Success

Tags: Warehousing

The Alamo Group realizes Texas -sized returns after installing a new wireless inventory control system.

The Alamo Group is not a household name, but most people have seen its products in use at one time or another.

The company is a leader in the design, manufacture, and distribution of high-quality equipment for right-of-way maintenance and agriculture. The product mix includes tractor and truck-mounted mowing equipment, excavators, street sweepers, snow removal equipment, and parts.

Alamo, based in Seguin, Texas, was founded in 1969 and has grown rapidly through the acquisition of numerous companies. Currently Alamo employs more than 2,290 workers, and produces and assembles products in 16 facilities worldwide. Alamo products are marketed and sold through independent dealers.

Manual Labor

While the company's business model has been a successful one, its distribution operations have not keep pace. An older, paper-based system kept Alamo from tracking inventory in real-time, and slowed down operations.

In addition, the manual system increased the potential for human error. It was time to modernize.

"With the manual system, our distribution center workers walked around carrying print-outs to direct them," says Keith Vinyard, Alamo's vice president of IT. "We wanted to streamline processes and make sure employees were working as productively as possible."

Alamo is comprised of many different divisions and several distribution centers. Its main DC, located at the Texas headquarters, would eventually serve as the pilot site for a new system.

One of Alamo's most important goals was to move from batched data entry to real-time data collection in order to provide up-to-the-minute information on inventory, sales order picking and shipping status, work-order status, and other peripheral data collection capabilities.

While many technology vendors provide these features, Alamo needed a provider that could integrate directly with its JD Edwards' ERP system.

"Only a few systems fit our needs, but we were able to find one that provided all the features and integration we wanted," says Vinyard. That solution is RF-Smart from ICS Inc., based in Jacksonville, Fla. RF-Smart is a brand of wireless, mobile, and RFID software solutions designed specifically for the JD Edwards ERP system, making it a good fit for Alamo.

Alamo Gets RF-Smart

Alamo selected RF-Smart's manufacturing and distribution suites. The product's adaptability to the company's growth, along with its low total cost of ownership, were just two factors that gave it the edge over other packages.

"Part of Alamo's growth has come through well-managed acquisitions," says Vinyard. "RF-Smart's flexibility helps us to prepare for and easily address those transitions."

Another priority in selecting the right package was finding one that would allow the company to easily "take ownership" once the implementation was completed.

"Alamo was looking for an easy-to-use product that its people could take responsibility for after we left," explains Randy Patrick, customer advocate executive at ICS.

Before ICS began the formal implementation process at Alamo's 250,000-square-foot DC in Texas, several Alamo employees traveled to ICS to learn the system.

"We wanted to be able to take over quickly after implementation, so training our people at ICS made sense," explains Vinyard.

Implementing the ICS product required only minor "cosmetic" changes on the front end in order for it to integrate smoothly with Alamo's system. "It was a smooth process," Patrick says.

Vinyard agrees. "Some minor issues arose along the way, but we handled them easily," he says. "One example was that we hadn't implemented our wireless network prior to the installation, so we had to work around that."

In addition, just prior to going live, Alamo made another acquisition.

"We had to help them get the new division on board, but that wasn't a big issue," says Patrick. "We did the install, then worked with Alamo for an additional three or four weeks on the pilot, gradually increasing the number of processes migrating to the new system."

In all, Vinyard estimates that the pilot implementation took about two months. Since going live at that facility, Alamo has continued to roll out RF-Smart; a total of seven facilities in the United States are currently online with it.

"The rollout has been easy," Patrick says. "Once we implemented the system in the main DC, we were able to send our people out to implement the other facilities rather quickly."

Well Worth It

Alamo began operations with the ICS system using about 15 wireless handheld devices from Psion Teklogix, along with several wireless printers. The system allows for manual entry through a Web browser as well, and additional keyboard wedge scanners round out the new equipment.

The ICS system allows Alamo to conduct shipping, receiving, picking, and inventory transactions in a wireless format. While it is still too early in the process to report any hard numbers, Alamo reports several improvements since making the change.

"We have been able to substantially boost inventory accuracy," says Vinyard. "We now have real-time, accurate information to work with, and that has also led to improved customer service."

In addition to achieving its goals with the new product, Alamo has been "discovering new ways to use it," Vinyard says. The Alamo staff has embraced the new technology as well, recognizing that the system makes everyone more efficient.

Moving forward, Alamo has two more acquisitions on tap to include in the implementation.

"We still have to get the new companies online with the ERP system," says Vinyard. "We're also in the process of upgrading the ERP, so that slows us down slightly. But we anticipate an easy rollout once that is completed."

Looking back, having more people trained on the system earlier on might have made the process even faster and easier, Vinyard says.

"But overall, migrating to the new system has been an easy process, and we're happy with the results," he adds.