Insitu Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company, manufactures unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for defense, commercial and civil applications. They have locations in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to design, develop, produce and operate cost-effective, high-performance UAS deployed around the world.
Insitu operates a busy manufacturing operation that was rapidly outgrowing the daily transactions that its manual processes could handle. In 2014, Insitu installed the first phase of its RFgen Mobile Foundations solution to become more efficient by automating key warehouse workflows to replace its heavy reliance on slow, burdensome manual data entry and tracking processes.
Previously, the company tried implementing a barcoding software solution that ultimately proved unreliable and inflexible, lacking critical integration with Deltek Costpoint. Still needing to improve operational efficiency, the warehouse leadership and MIS teams set out to implement a new mobile data collection solution.
We wanted a user-friendly tool that would be reliable and interface with Deltek Costpoint.
--Chris Lorentz, Business System Analyst
"We needed to have accurate inventory tracking, efficient inventory transaction processing in receiving, part location, transfers, kitting, sales orders and cycle count," said Chris Lorentz, a Business Systems Analyst on the MIS team. "We wanted a user-friendly tool that would be reliable and interface with Deltek Costpoint. Finally, we wanted to make sure our users were well-supported in their transaction volume."
After evaluating possible solutions, Insitu chose RFgen Mobile Foundations for Deltek Costpoint, a Deltek-validated suite of out-of-the-box automated transactions that simplify and accelerate materials management and supply chain logistics for data collection and barcoding. RFgen is a Deltek-validated mobile solution for providing real-time, bi-directional information exchange between Costpoint and barcode scanners, handheld devices, RFID devices, PLCs and scale-type devices to optimize inventory, production and manufacturing process workflows.
"RFgen offered the transactions we needed out-of-the-box, along with some transactions we'd really like to use in the future. A key factor was its interface to Costpoint," Lorentz said. The team planned to use RFgen on mobile devices such as tablets and Bluetooth barcode scanners in conjunction with BarTender labeling software by Seagull Scientific for on-demand label printing.
The Insitu team was impressed by RFgen's ability to provide a guided experience throughout the development and rollout process, starting with the Business Analysis Workshop (BAW), a collaborative assessment methodology for gathering requirements.
The RFgen team delivered one of the cleanest rollouts I've seen in my career, and I've been in this business for quite a while.
- Chris Lorentz, Business System Analyst
"The BAW was an excellent process," Lorentz said. "RFgen captured the user story and showed us what the screens would look like so users could envision the end result. RFgen identified 85-90% of our requirements upfront, which was fantastic."
The BAW helped pave the way for a smooth transition to the new solution. Lorentz opted for an agile, two-phase deployment approach to gain user feedback throughout implementation. "The RFgen team delivered one of the cleanest rollouts I've seen in my career, and I've been in this business for quite a while," Lorentz said.
RFgen successfully automated data collection to replace manual warehouse processes through mobility solutions tailor-made for Deltek Costpoint. RFgen's dedicated project team of experienced experts also helped guide Insitu through deployment, providing an insightful process automation experience that created key value-add functionality for their inventory management.
RFgen's flexibility and easy-to-use Mobile Development Studio ensured Insitu would have the ability to customize the solution to correct unexpected errors or meet new and evolving organizational needs without requiring an intermediate business administrator.
Some of the key benefits Insitu experienced after implementing RFgen included:
Warehouse automation and mobilized data collection with RFgen helped the Insitu team upgrade their inventory management processes in multiple areas:
RFgen created new functionality for the warehouse team to further increase the efficiency of daily operations. Now, Insitu warehouse workers can find parts by location and part number before making a trip to the shelf. When a new barcode label is needed, an employee simply sends the print order to the nearest centralized printer and the label prints on demand.
Insitu also selected to use RFgen's high availability and offline batching option that stores scanned information on the local device when an outside wireless range or when connectivity is interrupted, and then upload that stored data once the signal is restored.
RFgen introduced three ways to transfer inventory quickly. Transactions such as Inventory Transfer and Location Transfer gave warehouse workers the ability to move parts or materials from one location to another as a group simply by scanning, saving staff considerable time compared to performing the same task manually or scanning each part individually.
The BAW process uncovered a labor-intensive process for moving inventory from location to location. RFgen's Senior ERP Consultant was able to propose and create a tailor-made Bin Swap transaction.
"[The RFgen consultant] suggested that a bin swap would be very handy from an optimization perspective," said Lorentz. "It gave us the ability to swap parts from one location to another. We can move everything to one location or swap two locations--all in one transaction. We don't have to scan individual parts. That is truly a labor-saving transaction."
Previously, completing a bin swap required an employee to scan each item individually. In a bin containing hundreds of items, this activity could consume hours, reducing the overall productivity of the employees.
Insitu team members shared the lessons learned from their previous solution for "what not to do" moving forward, such as that picking parts for one Manufacturing Order (MO) at a time slowed them down. RFgen was able to automate picking parts for multiple MOs at once while still maintaining alignment with FIFO standards, minimizing trips through the warehouse and ultimately saving labor, time and effort.
"We can input a list of MOs and RFgen displays them so we can pick them in location order. This is fantastic," Lorentz said. "In a large warehouse, this saves us many trips as opposed to going from location to location for each individual MO. Workers place each part into a bin for the correct MO as they're issuing it. It's a huge time saving, and our users just love it."
This is fantastic...It's a huge time savings, and our users just love it."
- Chris Lorentz, Business System Analyst | Insitu Inc.
RFgen increased the speed of Insitu's Issue to Sales Order process so much that a new label printing requirement had to be added to the project before proceeding to phase two of deployment. The Insitu team was delighted to request new automated shipping label functionality because their manual labeling process couldn't keep up with boxes ready to ship stacking up so quickly.
The RFgen team's role as dedicated, knowledgeable advisors during the implementation process didn't end at development. To ensure that Insitu received a maximum return on their software investment, RFgen provided testing and setup for on-premise servers as well as a Total Knowledge Transfer Training Program to equip designated Insitu employees with the tools and proficiency they would need to effectively manage their RFgen solution going forward.
The RFgen Total Knowledge Transfer Training Program consists of three parts:
Completing the Total Knowledge Transfer Training Program gave the Insitu team the ability to take complete ownership of their solution and achieve the lowest possible total cost of ownership (TCO). If additional assistance was needed, the Insitu team could reach out to RFgen support staff at any time. They also elected to maintain a Software Maintenance Plan with RFgen in order to receive continuing expertise and advisement.
In the end, RFgen achieved all of Lorentz's objectives. While the deployment met her expectations in terms of budget and timing, the best results came from users in the warehouse:
"Our subject matter experts who conducted internal training brought some of the employees to give me feedback personally," said Lorentz. "Our warehouse employees love RFgen because it's easy to use. The forms were well designed, with the user in mind. RFgen worked very, very hard and they were very responsive to see it through to success. Even the project's biggest skeptic told me 'I love barcoding' after we deployed RFgen."
In 2019, Insitu is planning for a phase two expansion of its automation with RFgen Mobile Solutions to further increase the productivity and efficiency of the Insitu team.