Del Papa Taps Into the IoT to Improve Beer Distribution Center

A new DC, built with IoT technology from the ground up, is helping Del Papa Distributing Co. to boost productivity while cutting energy use.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Each employee is issued a badge with an integrated passive key card provided by HID Global. These are used to enter the building, and the card readers are linked to Cisco 6050 IP surveillance cameras, mounted near the doors. This provides building security with a visual recording of each entrance, which it can use to confirm that a particular worker is entering, and not an unauthorized party. Each employee is also given a Nedap active RFID module that is placed on his or her personal vehicle. To enter the secure parking lot, the individual places his or her badge in the module, which functions both as an HID card reader and an active RFID transponder. The module sends both the employee's card ID number and its own identifier to a Nedap receiver at the gate. The receiver then transmits this data to Cisco's Physical Access Manager software, which manages all gate and door locks, as well as to security cameras, and monitors the movements of all vehicles and employees through these gates and doors.

Stephen Lurie, Zones' VP of Internet of Things, says that because the new warehouse was a greenfield project, his company was able to test and evaluate all communication and sensing systems as the project was coming together—Zones even used the network of IP video cameras during the building's construction to monitor the security of valuable construction materials. Currently, those cameras monitor the security of the products inside the warehouse, while also monitoring doors and docks.

Steve Holtsclaw
"We designed the IT systems with the architects of the building," Lurie says. "That is where we can get ahead of a project like this, and that is best for [the client]." This started with routing the CAT 5 cabling that serves as the backbone for the various IP components, from Wi-Fi access points to sensors used in the HVAC, communications or video surveillance equipment. Zones worked to ensure that all componentry was either addressable over IP or could be added to the IP network through an adapter.

One key feature in making the new warehouse significantly more functional than the former Galveston facility is reliable Wi-Fi coverage, Holtsclaw reports, since this solves issues Del Papa was having with the voice-guided picking component of the Softeon warehouse-management system the company uses.

In Galveston, "We were just trying to get by," Holtsclaw says of the order-picking system. "The wireless was spotty at best, so the system would not perform or keep up with the picker. He'd go from one spot to the next and wait for the system to catch up with him."

At the new Texas City warehouse, Holtsclaw reports, order builders regularly meet or exceed the company's goal of picking 100 cases per hour—and in some cases, employees are doubling that goal, which earns them an incentive award. "A picker can work at his own pace and not worry about the system catching up with him [because poor Wi-Fi coverage creates latency in the voice-picking commands]," he states. "That's a huge positive influence we've seen." Thanks to the adequate Wi-Fi coverage, the voice-picking system does not suffer from delays. As a result, Del Papa pickers spend less time building out orders and more time attending to other tasks, such as ensuring that inventory levels remain up to par, which further improves picking rates for other pickers.

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