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Dale and Thomas Leverages Wireless Warehouse
Bring gourmet popcorn to legions of fans

Inventory management is never simple, but it becomes even more complex and takes on more urgency when dealing with perishable, gourmet food products.

Dale and Thomas Popcorn manufactures and distributes gourmet popcorn products in a wide variety of flavors such as chocolate and peanut butter, cheddar chipotle, and toffee crunch. At Dale and Thomas Popcorn, they do everything possible to ensure every item they ship arrives in perfect condition.

Featured in Food and Wine Magazine, the "Today Show" and Food Network's show "Unwrapped" - Dale and Thomas Popcorn has recently experienced explosive growth as demand for its products rises not only in its retails stores, but with phone and online orders.

To support such growth as more consumers discover their gourmet popcorn products, Dale and Thomas Popcorn needed more space to accommodate the increased volume of popcorn inventory, shipping boxes, and operating materials. When Dale and Thomas moved into a new corporate headquarters facility and opened a 105,000 square-foot warehouse, they knew they would need to deploy a tracking system to follow the inventory of products and supplies moving in and out of the facility.

Building a Wireless Warehouse
Manually tracking the arrival, storage, and shipment of goods was out of the question. The warehouse - filled with popcorn and boxes in cartons and on pallets - typically sees complete inventory turnover in a day and a half. They decided to implement a barcode tracking system in which workers would use handheld reader devices to identify the location of inventory anywhere within the warehouse. One key decision was to implement a wireless network to support the system.

After evaluating wireless solutions from several vendors, they selected the HiPath Wireless portfolio from Siemens Enterprise Communications because it could provide all of the capabilities Dale and Thomas needed for the wireless infrastructure, as well as critical mobile applications support.

Effective Inventory Management
Installation took place during the summer of 2007. Dale and Thomas worked with Siemens and its partner, Network Doctor, to deploy one controller, 19 access points, and nine sensors throughout the warehouse and headquarters facilities.

HiPath Wireless delivers a wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure enabling open, pervasive wireless connectivity for voice and business processes across the enterprise. The solution provides wireless connectivity directly over IP using a centralized management approach and standard IP routing technology for integration with existing network resources.

After the network went live, Dale and Thomas' warehouse workers began using handheld scanners to process items moving into and out of the warehouse. Every pallet and carton includes a barcode, which workers scan to keep track of inventory. Data is wirelessly transmitted to a server-based application that the company uses to track how much product is available at any given time. It also helps to identify inventory of each of the different flavors, which is used by the production department. Plus they can identify the exact location of each item, which comes in handy as the company strives to ship orders as rapidly as possible.

Some of the workers also use wireless hip printers, printing barcode labels for cartons and pallets as soon as they're needed. This limits any potential confusion and eliminates the time delays associated with using a remote, stationary printer.

The system also makes it easier for people working in the ordering department to know what's available in inventory. This is particularly valuable during the holiday season when demand is up and the company is especially busy.

Convenient Access to Information
Dale and Thomas also uses the solution to provide wireless connectivity in its offices - for employees as well as visitors. Virtual Network Services (VNS), included in the Siemens Wireless solution, makes it possible to group specific mobile users, devices, and applications by policy class to provide unique levels of service, access permissions, encryption and device authorization on a single wireless network. A VNS segment is like a virtual network, and multiple VNS segments can run on each access point, providing increased flexibility.

One segment of the network provides employees with the flexibility to roam the facilities with access to company applications and information. The VNS offering gives them an elevated level of convenience for their employees, allowing them to work more productively and efficiently. At the same time, guests and external business associates are also able to access the Internet and get things done on the premises via laptop, PDA, and other mobile devices - but not to Dale and Thomas' internal systems and applications. Of course security is always a concern when planning a wireless infrastructure. However, with the Siemens HiGuard in place, the sensors detect any rogue access points and report them immediately. They've built a solid shield so only authorized users can connect to the network.

A Competitive Edge
The new Siemens WLAN along with an asset tracking and management system gives them great visibility into their inventory and how items are moving through the warehouse. They have a continuous, real-time picture of what their warehouse looks like and can instantly know where things are and the purchasing needs at hand.

The results are more productive mobile workers, more efficient mobile business processes, improved access to information and network resources, lower communications costs - not to mention a competitive advantage. Warehouse workers spend much less time trying to find specific products to ship, and popcorn is delivered to customers faster and fresher.

At Dale and Thomas Popcorn, their Siemens WLAN offers the scalability and ease-of-installation to easily extend coverage externally if needed, and they are evaluating linking the new wireless infrastructure with wireless networks operated by retail outlets in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, and other states. Without the current wireless infrastructure and applications in place, there's no way they would be where they are today. It's enabling the future growth and success of the company.

Resource

About Norm Steiner
Norm Steiner, a manager of IT infrastructure for Dale and Thomas Popcorn, has 20-plus years of IT experience. Previously he worked in programming, networking, and as a consultant.

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