GP Summit 2014 – Nathan Smith Presents Android Physical Inventory for GP

If your at the GPUG Summit, this Thursday 10/16/2014, Nathan is presenting in Room 213 at 3:15PM to show our latest physical inventory and talk about the power of Dynamics GP Web Services.  Here’s a screen shot of our app.  See you there!

Android Physical Inventory for GP

Android Physical Inventory for GP

 

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Are You Ready to be Happy and Carefree?

I don’t read business magazines that often, but yesterday I read a few articles that compelled me to write about.  It reminded me of the company I started long ago; Appolis.  Appolis is not a super successful company.  We are successful to be sure, but a few Harvard Business Review articles reminded my why I remain optimist.  We are good at survival.  The company recently turned 13 years old and despite our failures, we seem to be very good at attaining a great degree of success in part because we make creative products and we are good at converting failure to success.

The main themes I read about:

Failure is Likely a Necessary Key for Business Success

(Get Ahead by Betting Wrong) is a great story about LCD’s and Plasma TV’s and how the big investors in the wrong long-term technology did pretty darn well in LCD even if they were late to the part.

(Do You Really Have to Fail to Succeed?) At least it appears to be according to a large pool of successful business owners and entrepreneurs alike.  How we deal with failure, pain, and suffering is up to us, yet it is hard to change for many.  Those that master failure’s better qualities seem to be successful.

Creative is More Interesting Than Sensible

NOTE: failure is only one of many key components that seem to be a recipe for success, not THE key.  The next article describes another key creativity (Managers Reject Ideas Customers Want);

When you ask customers what they pick for products, their choices are often in conflict with what executives in businesses think will sell.  It’s seems to make sense.  People don’t want boring.  Life is short and we want exciting… or at least less boring.  Buys like creative solutions.  Solutions that are different and address needs in ways that are new and interesting.  Interesting.

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Observations on the Future of Manufacturing

I recently visited a manufacturer that is growing at an incredible pace. The kind of pace that I observed in the reverse manufacturing market.

Side note: Another more recognizable term for reverse manufacturing is refurbishing or repurposing. These businesses buy broken or used stuff for pennies on the dollar, and either fix or disassemble for parts. Great business model!

My visit today reminded me of the 3D printing movement. One of the most revolutionary aspects of 3D printing is its ability to economically produce 1 offs. Rare and unique parts or in the realm of consumerization; unique value when it’s pinpointed to the right buyer.

My observation today reminds me that there is yet major change in store for manufacturing; at least for non commoditized products. If 90% of a manufacturing process can be “one size fits most”, and 10% is “yours” and “yours alone”, then value is created. Value that I believe is now becoming possible because of concepts (not solely) such as 3D printing.

Cheers to the future!

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Big Data for Big Inventory

While traveling recently, I had a chance to read an article (Meet a Start-Up With a Big Data Approach to Hiring) in a magazine about how Big Data is being used to help HR divisions in organizations predict the outcome of new hires.  Whitetruffle provides a data service using a proprietary model which analyzes 50 categories of “signals” in a job candidates profile. The claim is that the more data they get, the smarter the model becomes. The result is that you end up hiring better employees. While I’m not an expert in the “Big Data” trend, I summarize its purpose as simply “more data to analyze, means better results”. Big Data analysis can be a valuable tool to selecting the best performers for your company, but it can also be used for selecting the best performing method of picking, receiving, and bin strategies.

In my career, I have spent years reviewing all types of companies that have inventory. They create it, they buy it, they bundle it, and ship it. The truly amazing thing about it, is that I rarely see the same solution needs for two companies. Even in one company, recommending the best method for a process can be very perplexing. Using volumes of data grouped into inventory related categories of “signals” we can match up which method of picking for example should provide the best results.

During my trip, I visited a company that employs temporary workers whose jobs are to pick orders in the warehouse. Some pickers are very knowledgeable about how to find products and pick orders; others pickers are relatively new. The warehouse has over 40,000 SKUs and many of the cases are shipped in and arrive at the dock as a hodgepodge of boxes.  Some combinations of pallets are more random than others.

 

Should the receiving dock spend the time to break down the pallets or should be pallets be put away as is?

Using volumes of data to analyze, the system could consider the profile of the receivers, and pickers at the facility. The answer to whether to breakdown pallets may be made in real time using this data. It may even vary by pallet.

To select the best answer, the system might consider signals such as the workers skill sets, number of bin locations versus empty bin locations, the ordering statistics such as number of lines and frequency of these items, and whether FIFO picking is used or Primary Pick locations.

Big Data certainly has a place in giving distributors and manufacturers the best methods to accomplish a set of tasks.  In the future, like the start-up company Whitetruffle, using Big Data to provide a service to help make hiring decisions, I can see companies subscribing to a service that collects member data securely and in return provides key data analysis across all the members to help each one make the best decisions on whether to single pick, batch pick, or wave pick even down to the pallet level. Sounds pretty cool!

 

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Rugged Scanners vs. Consumer Devices

Over a year ago, we rolled out the concept of using a low cost consumer device for warehouse picking at a major trades how. In 2012, the feedback can be summed with the comment “Why?”.

Fast forward to 2013. A month ago, the feedback has changed! Now the same people are embracing the concept. The term “Tipping Point” comes to mind. The reasons may be varied, but one this is certain, buyers are on board with the idea that cheap devices from Apple and those running Google Android are more then a crazy idea for use in warehouses. The reasons are very strong:

fast processing power

familiar user interface

low cost

versatile

Appolis is very excited about our ability to provide the right solutions for the right needs. BYOD or smartphones are no exception!

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Creative Ways to Deal with Lot Tracking in Your Warehouse

If you’re a distributor or manufacturer and lot tracking is heavy on your mind these days, then this article is for you.  I know lot tracking requirements can be very difficult to plan for and implement.  Especially since the world around us wants faster and more accurate traceability and recalls.  The biggest question that will drive the strategy your organization uses is this:

How much additional labor are you willing/able to incur?

Lot tracking brings extra work to an organization that may already be suffering from slim profit margins.  Full lot tracking can kill a company’s bottom line.  I recently spoke to the president of a customer that deals with recalls for pet food products.   His organization is currently dealing with 2 recalls of food product manufactured by an outside vendor.  As he can tell you, dealing with lot tracking compliance and recalls with the minimal impact to labor and expenses is the holy grail of competitive advantage for these organizations.  The point is that not only does each distributor’s process vary, but each product that is tracked should be analyzed to determine the best way to track it.  That is what this article is really about; how to categorize products and processes that best fits the operational process to the optimal method for tracking lots.

Assuming you need to track which customers receive a given lot number, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you go through the process of evaluating the appropriate tracking method for each product/location:

How often does a specific product/bin location contain only 1 lot number?

How many different lot numbers exist at this location on average at a time?

How often do I replenish new lots to this location?

What percentage of my saleable units are barcoded with lot numbers?

Do a majority of vendors have lot tracking information barcoded for receiving?

Can I effectively replenish new lots to a location with other lots in FIFO (first in, first out) order as with flow racking or other techniques?  How long would it take to add a new lot to this location?

Is shelf life important to your organization and customers?

Lot Tracking Optimization

Here I present 6 configurations to support different variables for bin/item lot tracking.

1)      Single Item/Lot per Location

  1. a.       License Plate Level – Users scan the license plate on container to determine lot and item information.  Containers can be placed in a bin location along with other Item single lot containers.  The advantage here is that by only scanning the LP barcode, the warehouse management system can determine the lot number that is being picked.  The lot number can either be embedded into the barcode, or the warehouse management system can look up the lot information for this particular item.
  2. b.      Bin Level – Users can scan the bin location and item barcode and the warehouse management system can look up the current lot number for this location and stamp it on the pick records for an order.  All movements to and from this location would require tracking and validation to force 1 lot per bin.

2)      Mixed Item Lots per Location

  1. a.       Prompt for Lots – When picking, user scans bin and item.  A WMS system can pull lot numbers from database for item lot information for the pick record.  The user can select from the screen the lot number that matches the item being picked.  The system can use the lot numbers currently in inventory.
  2. b.      Lot Number Barcodes – Each picking unit is labeled with Item and Lot Number barcode.
  3. c.       FIFO Lot Defaulting – When a pick occurs, it automatically uses FIFO back-flushing.  Flow racking is a goes well with this technique.
  4. d.      LIFO Lot Defaulting – When a pick occurs, it automatically uses LIFO back-flushing.  Process coordination between replenishment and picking will require more care to be taken to stop other operations while a replenishment task is occurring.

Once you have analyzed these product/bin combinations, you can start fitting each into the appropriate technique of dealing with it.  In the magic quadrant diagram below, you can see that the rate of change in lot numbers and the rate of replenishments can plan a major role in selecting the configuration that works best.   In this diagram I represent the labor in related to a technique by the size of the dot.

lot tracking quadrant

Lot Tracking Methods

Planning for optimal lot tracking is both a science and an art.  It requires careful planning and the most important consideration is agility.  Your organization needs to adapt quickly to different combinations of product velocity and rate of change in lot numbers to turn the downside of additional labor for lot tracking into a competitive advantage.  Ask the experts at Appolis; creators of WithoutWire™ (WoW) Warehouse Management Solutions, how you can optimize your automated lot-tracking solution today!

By Travis Smith, CTO/Founder – Appolis Inc.

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Our Experience with Microsoft Dynamics Connector

Over the last 3 months as part of our R&D projects, Appolis developed an iOS based Sales Order Entry System we call “WoW Order”.  The need for order entry in the field is alive and well and we continue to get requests for this capability all the time.  This article explains our experience with the V2 release of Microsoft Dynamics Connector which was made available to the masses in December 2011.  For information about the SDK which is used to create your own custom adapters, check out the Microsoft Dynamics Adapter SDK. (you’ll need login credentials as a partner or customer).

As a WMS provider, we typically don’t see order entry as our sweet spot, but Microsoft Dynamics Connector was a technology that we wanted to get real world exposure to.   
The Microsoft Dynamics Connector is a free Microsoft integration tool that began as a replacement for Microsoft Dynamics CRM integration to Dynamics GP.  Once the Connector architecture was proven out, the Microsoft team continued to build Adapters to integration between CRM, GP, AX, NAV, and SL.  Appolis has always been an early adopter of web services for Dynamics GP and the Connector was a technology that we could create an efficient integration strategy with ALL Dynamics products by leveraging existing Adapters that were initially built out for CRM integration.  If successful, it opens up a whole new market space for our products and services.

For out WoW Order application, we created a custom adapter that would be used by both Microsoft Dynamics® NAV and CRM to create sales orders, return order statuses, order history, pull master lists of items, and customers.

For our application we used 3 new technologies:

1) Microsoft Dynamics Connector for CRM/GP/NAV/AX
2) Apple iOS based Sales Entry App with Barcode Scanning and WCF integration
3) Appolis WoW Framework

The documentation provided for custom adapters is limited.  Our main source of information was the Connector Blog, the SDK, and some internet content. 

Once we figure it out how the Connector architecture works, custom Adapters are very easy to create and to work with. The difficulty resides in the business rule around the data that is transferred from a system to another.  In the SDK there is a Visual Studio template to create new adapter project or mapping function.  Our initial load testing showed very positive results when importing our data from Dynamics NAV for our Customers and Items.  We were seeing .01 seconds per item and although many factors impact performance results, our integration is running seamlessly without any manual intervention.  It just runs! 

Obviously there are many technical tips and tricks to success that we have discovered which are not covered here, but we believe that it opens up new doors to integrated systems for Microsoft Dynamics customers, partners, and companies like us… ISV’s.

We plan on continuing our R&D investment in this area and believe that it will play a significant role in our future product strategy!

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