| New bar code labels help Whirlpool move toward paperless warehouse
When Whirlpool Corporation senior packaging engineer Dave Caum says “If there’s a Whirlpool part going anywhere, it goes through here first,” he might be making one of the biggest material handling understatements ever.
Caum is largely responsible for designing and implementing systems that identify and move more than 55,000 different parts and accessories for automatic washers and dryers, refrigerators, freezers, compactors and other appliances. This is accomplished through the company’s 600,000-square-foot distribution center in LaPorte, Indiana.
Most of the bar code labels and labeling systems that make it all happen for Whirlpool are from Weber Packaging Solutions.
Before implementing its current bar code labeling systems, a variety of identification and routing labels were used. Most were preprinted by outside sources as needed. This led to a large number of short and expensive print runs.
Different label formats were also used. Some were printed on cardstock and had to be taped or stapled onto products or pallets, while others were printed via dot matrix printers by forms suppliers.
In 1987, Whirlpool began a complete overhaul of its labeling operations. Its customers began to request that parts and accessories be bar coded.
“There are many benefits to modern labeling equipment,” Caum says, “but when you get right down to it, labeling is needed for one ultimate objective: customer satisfaction. Modern labeling allows us to do just that get the right part to our customers with the proper identification.”
When Caum uses the term customer, he is quick to point out that there are several types that Whirlpool serves: end users, retail outlets, service representatives and technicians, as well as warehouse personnel and contract packaging sources.
Dozens of bar code labeling applications at Whirlpool are designed to identify and coordinate the in-warehouse movement of parts and accessories.
Caum identifies several of the applications for the labeling systems:
• Identification of individual prepackaged and finished parts, preprinted in consecutive numbers for accurate receiving.
• Preprinted pallet and routing labels that include bar codes for sloting pallet loads in proper locations within the warehouse.
• Routing labels that are affixed to totes that move goods around the warehouse.
• Thermal-transfer shipping labels.
• Warning and informational labels that are packed in or on products.
Whirlpool has ten Legitronic 80 Series thermal-transfer label printers in place throughout its material handling system. All the label printers are linked and operated by a single personal computer. Legi 80 labeling software includes a graphics program, which allows users to make, store and retrieve various label formats that include both bar codes and descriptive text.
A translator program written by Weber programmers allows Whirlpool to print label images directly onto polybags, which many of its parts are packaged in. The polybags are preprinted with a white block for subsequent printing of appropriate information. These labels are designed with the same format and graphics used on printed paper-based labels.
The LaPorte facility is about two years into a warehouse automation process that will result in a paperless warehousing and distribution system.
Computers will identify parts and accessories, pick orders, route orders through the warehouse and prepare orders for shipment. The facility will have computerized order entry, and parts will be received through a computerized system and routed by computers.
A bar code label will be affixed to a finished part’s carton at the packaging location. The label contains the information needed for any function, or by any warehouse personnel or end consumer along the distribution trail.
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