Forklifts give new meaning to “Mobile Computing”

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Imperial Tobacco Canada has been Canada’s leading tobacco company for over eighty years, producing two-thirds of Canada’s cigarettes including du Maurier, Players, and Matinee.

Imperial is currently running a cigarette manufacturing plant in Guelph, Ontario, and a tobacco processing facility in Aylmer, Ontario. Their corporate office is in Montreal.

The Challenge: Deploying Inventory Management Software on Moving Forklifts

Imperial Tobacco was dispatching fork- lifts to move materials and products with an old-fashioned paper-based requisition and confirmation system. A computer- based system would be faster and more responsive, with greater accuracy and easi- er record keeping.

The problem – mounting a computer on a moving forklift. PCs are large, and the vibration and movement of the forklifts are extremely damaging to hard drives. ThinManager Ready Thin Clients provided the solution.

Implementing ACP Technology

Imperial researched Thin Clients and found that ACP provided the features that they needed. They attended an ACP Forum to learn the details and then set about deploying Thin Clients on the forklift project.

They chose Xycom XA3412T units with an integrated touch screen, powered with 24v DC from the forklift. The units con- nect to the network through an Enterasys RoamAbout wireless transmitter. This com- municates with the wireless network that Imperial already had in place.

Additionally, each unit has a long range barcode scanner attached to its PS/2 port. This allows the driver to scan material from the forklift and have it qualified by the material verification program running on the terminal server.

The Xycom Thin Client displays a brows- er that shows a Java Flash application (run- ning on a server in Montreal) that allows the driver to receive instructions from the Inventory Management system while driv- ing. He then uses the tethered scanner to verify that the right material is picked up, and then delivers it to the needed location. This mobile forklift deployment has been installed on sixteen forklifts as of this writing.

Reliability is a key issue, so a second tier of scanners was installed on stationary Thin Clients. These wireless scanners connect to a base station that is attached to the PS/2 port of a Xycom XA1300 ThinManager Ready Thin Client. If the forklifts are unavailable, an operator can carry the wire- less scanner to verify the material. The data are sent to the base station and into the system through the Thin Client.

Future Plans

Since the initial deployment, Imperial Tobacco has expanded their usage of ACP several times in Guelph, including deploy- ing ThinManager Ready Thin Clients as HMI workstation upgrades.

One feature that Imperial likes is the Thin Client’s flexibility. Units can be given unlimited access, applications, and resources, or can be limited to a single application with simple settings.

Additionally, the remote management and administration has simplified manage- ment and maintenance. Because patches and upgrades are performed on the termi- nal servers, not the clients, less time is wast- ed walking to the nodes for management.

Imperial also expanded to a second site, the tobacco processing plant in Aylmer. Because the two sites share a Wide Area Network, Thin Clients and Terminal Servers at the Aylmer site can be moni- tored, managed, and even shadowed from the Guelph site.

Tom Jordan

V.P. of Marketing - Automation Control Products