Shipping live plants involves using a large number of people walking through the greenhouse gathering trays to fill customer orders. It is very labor intensive, time consuming and error prone.
Our customer wanted to get the job done promptly and more accurately. They found that they were sending people out into the greenhouse, with a cart, to fill just one order at a time. They came to us to help them automate the process of gathering, sorting and labeling the orders for shipment to their customers. The Current Directions team turned their knowledge into a software/hardware solution using a PC-based data-collection/machine control system, label printer/applicator, and Microscan and Welch Allyn bar-code equipment.
The grower's AS/400-based order system produces a master pull sheet that consolidates orders to be shipped on a given day. This allows the people gathering the trays to pull by variety instead of by order. They also installed a conveyor system in the green house that feeds the trays to a sortation area. The conveyor system is controlled by a PLC, installed and programmed by Fleir Holland. The sortation area is where Current Directions enters the picture. A PC monitoring the sortation area, (manager station PC), is responsible for importing the master pull sheets for a given day from the AS/400. Once the master pick lists are received from the AS/400 at the beginning of the day, the PC system can function regardless of the state or availability of the AS/400. The supervisor selects the master pull sheet that they want to load. A visual image is displayed on the PC screen of the pull sheet information.
A second PC is responsible for directing the trays as they enter the sortation area. This PC is connected to two Microscan raster scanners to allow scanning the tray in two different orientations. Once the tray is scanned, the system determines which of 25 belts to send it to based on the plant variety. The PC then communicates the message to the PLC and the tray is sent on its way. All trays on a given order are thus grouped together on one or more of the 25 primary sort belts. Once an order is completed in the primary sort area, the status of the order visually changes on the manager PC. The order is available to be flushed to the secondary sort.
A third PC is used to control and monitor the secondary sort. An operator selects the order they want to flush. The Flush station PC sends the message to the PLC to flush the order one line at a time. It also sends commands to the PLC that cause the order to be secondarily sorted by variety within the order. The Manager Station PC and the Flush station PC both have IBM touchscreen monitors that allow the operators to select the operation to be performed without the need for a mouse.
Once the order is flushed and sorted by variety, the trays are sent to the Shipping Entry Station PC. This PC is connected to a Sato bar-code printer/applicator to produce box content labels, a dot standard matrix printer used to produce cart content labels and packing lists, and a Welch Allyn laser scanner and keyboard wedge to scan trays. The shipping station allows entry of orders that both have and have not been sent through the sortation area. Certain orders require shipment to customers on large carts; and these orders are not sent through the sortation area.
The system provides the ability for multiple Stand-Alone Shipping Entry stations to scan large volumes of cart orders during the busy season. At the end of the day, the manager station PC is used to export shipping details to the AS/400 , where the shipped orders are processed.
Oracle was choosen as the DBMS for this project in order to provide excellent stability with little or no down time.
With the new system working for them, the growers found that all the guesswork has been eliminated. The time to process the individual orders was drastically reduced, as was the manpower needed. Mistakes were minimized. All trays that do not belong to an order are discovered before they are shipped. When the trays bloom, there are no unexpected surprises, and their customers are satisfied.