Baillie Lumber Co achieved significant accuracy and efficiency improvements with a forklift mounted, rugged tablet solution
Tracking the movement of material across huge lumberyards is a complex mixture involving dozens of drivers, hundreds of work orders, and constant forklift movement with tremendous room for error — especially if the data is captured manually. Multiply that by dozens of lumberyards and you have the herculean task that Baillie Lumber faces every workday.
Baillie Lumber is one of North America's largest hardwood lumber manufacturers, distributors, and exporters. It provides hardwood logs, hardwood lumber, and proprietary grade hardwood lumber products. Founded in 1923, the company has grown from a regional supplier of domestic hardwoods to an international hardwood manufacturer shipping hardwood lumber to any region of the world.
After implementing System Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP) to manage business operations, Baillie Lumber needed to automate the flow of information from the yard to the new management system. They saw an opportunity to mount rugged tablets to forklifts for two reasons: achieve an automated data capture process, and a proven rugged device can withstand the continuous vibration of the forklift – a must for the conditions of a lumberyard.
“We rolled out tablets to eight facilities during our SAP deployment,” said Jeff Dominiak, infrastructure project manager for Baillie Lumber who led the project. “We were looking to improve the process and movement of materials in the lumberyards as well as better track work orders.”
“Some yards were still using paper and pencil while others were using alternative technologies to track material movements. We turned to Avalon Integration, our technology solutions provider, to develop the software interface with the SAP system and MobileDemand to mount ruggedized tablets on our forklifts. The goal was to track in real time — or near real time — the movement of material as it traveled throughout the yard.”
The Challenges of Mounting Tablets
Mounting a tablet on a forklift requires a great deal of planning and expertise. The tremendous vibration a forklift generates as it speeds across the yard requires very rugged tablets as well as strong mounts. The placement of the tablet on the forklift is also critical because it needs to be accessible and not block sightlines for safe navigation around the yard. There are also environmental considerations.
“There is a lot of sawdust and dirt in the yards,” said Dominiak. “It can also be very cold and moist or insanely humid inside pre-dryers. The tablets must operate in all those conditions. If the operator is wearing gloves you also want to minimize the number of times he must take them off and on. The larger tablet screen and simplified user interface help reduce that.”
Wi-Fi coverage in the large, open air presented its own set of challenges. In some locations the Wi-Fi signal was strong; in others there was none. It required a hybrid system where the tablet would automatically sense when there was connectivity and could transmit data in real time, or when there was no connectivity, so the tablet would collect and store the data until it was within Wi-Fi range and could be downloaded.