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I have personally been working toward this day for almost the entire life of our company. 

I had a dream on day one of a scheduling and inventory system in which every task in manufacturing was shared and live updated using a computer system and screens. (Yes I think I'm at least part Borg)

I had schemed this system into being bit by bit and over the last 10 months completed that scheme, coded it and implemented.

Today TRLIS went live! (TRLIS = TRL Inventory System)

Please bear with me and read if you are curious. I will highlight the important bits, but since this project has been my dream and is my baby I'd like to gush a bit. 

(You may be thinking why didn't we use an out of the box solution - well there isn't one that covers all we need, the way we need and I'm a schemer who likes to code.)





In the fall of 2012 I announced that we had converted to Cyborgs for our shipping. (read about that here http://www.theringlord.org/forum/index.php?/topic/11278-new-cyborg-shipping/)

Basically I had designed a system that used info pulled straight from our database by an android app to tell the shippers using voice commands where to go and what to pick. The system then takes input from a barcode scanner to confirm the picks are correct. This revolutionized our shipping department! 

Some (but certainly not all!) of the many benefits of this system are:

It is not possible to pick from the wrong bin.

Orders that are changed after the order paper is printed take much less effort to change as the voice system tells the shipper it was changed.

Customer service can see if the order was picked complete the first time or if an item was skipped because the bin was low. They also know who picked it and when.

Shipper training was cut from weeks to days - the system tells shippers where the product is with location information, tells them how many to grab and doesn't let them pick the wrong one.


The next step that just went 100% live today is something I've dubbed TRLIS (TRL Inventory System). It uses a combination of the android app, barcode scanning and a kanban scheduling system to revolutionize inventory control and how we schedule products to be made by manufacturing.

In effect our shop is now run by Cyborgs!


Our previous inventory control was a person who knew where stuff was... and if they didn't know well then maybe this other person knew... and well we can't find it so ask Bernice etc. I charged a quarter for every time I had to find something for someone else - if I had actually collected I could have taken a nice long vacation on that money. 

TRLIS uses the app and barcode scanning as well as location codes to note the production and overstock location for all of our products. It records this information and updates it in our database. This means that at any given moment I know (AND everyone else knows!) we have x number of overstock bags for this product in this location. This makes me very happy - much better!

All stock movements are now recorded and updated so we know where everything is at any given time. 

What does this mean for you: We will have much fewer cases of stock we thought we had not being able to be located.


Our previous manufacturing scheduling did use a calculated number based on sales and leadtimes to help us sort out what we need to make and when BUT it relied on a person sitting down and going thru loads of automated emails to see what we needed to make and then scheduling it. The system also had a physical tag that could be pulled for a product to help with scheduling - well tags get lost and can be duplicated etc. 

This system worked but it was too much work and it was reactive - something ran out so I should schedule it now. 

TRLIS is a LIVE system. If you order a product and the amount you order causes the stock to drop below the restock point this triggers an action. Another action is triggered if the stock drops to a point of almost not in stock and then again at out of stock. The system automatically - at that exact moment - updates the live production schedule. So someone in manufacturing can see the SS1614 they were scheduled to make later in the week has just changed from normal priority to rush because someone decided to make 50 shirts and bought all our stock. This means manufacturing priorities can adjust in a live environment.

The 2nd way things are scheduled loops back to the shippers again - if they skip an item in an order it triggers a bin refill request. If we don't have any more it changes the priority of the item in our kanban schedule. The shippers can also at any time request a bin that is low be topped up - which means shippers can prevent skipping an item and always have filled bins! This helps keep manufacturing ahead of shipping and bin refilling is proactive!

What does this mean for you: This means fewer out of stock products! It also means fewer delays and faster preparation times for orders! If we don't have to skip an item during shipping to make it or fill the bin we can send your order faster.


TRLIS is also used to refill bins - this means there is a barcode double check and a bin cannot be refilled with incorrect product! We really hope this puts the nail in the coffin of a contaminated bin! The only possible way left to contaminate a pick bin with the wrong product now is if the person making the product mis-labels it AND the person filling the bin doesn't do their required double checks.

What does this mean for you: Fewer mistakes! No one likes getting the wrong item. 

Our error rate is ~very~ low and we hope to improve that even further! We see a rate around 0.1% of orders with a mistake. We of course assist in fixing them and offer solutions in every case.


There are many other benefits of this system and this post just scratched the surface. For example:  All the info used to make products is the exact same info you see when buying them - there is no duplication of data for manufacturing. 


We are loving the benefits we are seeing in house already and we hope you will love it too as the benefits trickle down to you!


Thanks for reading my ramble!


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Goodness sakes, woman, that is a lot of detail and work you put in there! Excellent, sounds like you're making sure things are done right. I look forward to rarely having to wait for something to be in stock. :)

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I'm finding it rather mesmerizing to sit and watch - from my office - the tasks get automatically created and products get made.

I can tell when a shipper is picking an order, when they request a bin be filled and then when production coils that item and when that same item has been cut and washed etc. 

I can tell when someone refills bins, picks an order - does basically anything.


I watched some sterling enter the queue today when a shipper requested a bin be refilled at about 1pm - it was coiled, cut, deburred, washed and the bin refilled all within a few hours and all without people talking to each other to co-ordinate!

Its like ring making TV.

(ps: don't tell the staff I can watch - it might creep them out...)

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This is so freakin cool to read about - as someone who loves wrangling with data systems, it sounds like heaven. Here's to even more efficiency on the customer end! Well done, Bernice!

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String str_bernice_status;


if (str_bernice_status.equals("Yay my business is running perfectly and I have lots of time.")) {
   tts.speak("Yes I just might make a customer app!", TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, null);
}else if (str_bernice_status.equals("Sorry I have no life and am too busy running the business right now.")){
  tts.speak("Sorry not any time soon, but sounds like fun.", TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, null);
}else if (str_bernice_status.equals("Drinking margaritas and trying to relax.")){
   tts.speak("Sounds like fun... hand over more margaritas and lets see if I can code tipsy. You want ewok emoticons right?", TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, null);
  tts.speak("Bernice status unknown. Check back later - maybe the ewoks got her.", TextToSpeech.QUEUE_ADD, null);

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I wish my last factory job used that for scheduling orders.

The "we need to be more productive" speech with hours wasted for change overs got old quick.

Any chance for an upgrade to the order form to see how many orders are in the que ahead of us?

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I could give you all the stats but its my job to interpret them and I don't think the average customer would understand. I mean no insult - its just that scheduling machines and people is the core of our business and its rather intricate.
I understand why people might think its useful to see the number of orders ahead of them but its not - I've thought about this. 

Let say that Monday morning we start with 400 orders in the pile and you go wow I'm not ordering now that's too many. But then on Monday all 3 of our shippers come to work and by the end of the day we're down to 230.

Is that a lot?

(the answer is we're perfectly caught up for a Monday and by Wednesday if there aren't a high volume of orders we'll be sweeping floors)


Lets say the system says we have 100 outstanding orders and you look and say that a lot! Then our shippers show up and within 2 hours they are twiddling their thumbs and sweeping the floor as they have no orders left to package.


Lets say we have 150 orders and the power goes out and people are 2 hours late to start work - its a Thursday. (<--this was today) Do we have a lot of orders? are we behind or ahead?

(the answer is we're perfectly caught up and will be thumb twiddling by Friday)


I can answer the question of how many we can pack in a day. I can monitor our staffing. We can adjust in house to hit our estimated leadtime. I don't think I could ever give all customers enough info to allow them to judge correctly if we are swamped or caught up. I don't really know this sometimes because people call in sick and people drink extra coffee - orders can be 1-2 items or 100-200 items. 

Here are ordering rules of thumb for leadtimes:

Rule #1 of prep time: tell us if you have a deadline and pay for rush if you have a firm deadline. Not only does this bump you to the top of the pile but if we need to make something for you, or something runs out you will be notified faster and perhaps even phoned. 

Rule #2 of prep time:  Look at the day of the week you are ordering on. We ship M-F so this means if you order Sunday all the people from Friday after we closed to when you order are ahead of you. If you need it faster let us know - see rule #1 ...and then there are exceptions like this weekend where it looks like everyone read this post and no one ordered so Monday AM we're caught up already. 

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That's a very clear explanation, thanks.

Years ago I worked as "invintory controll" pulling orders for circuit board assembly both in house and subcontracted. It was an experience.

Wednesday's where the paticularly high stress counting 5% of the inventory on top of regular duties.

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Wow its a little early to say for sure but we've been super caught up since this system was implemented. We'll see but I think it is working as planned and speeding things up!

We were caught up on a Monday this week - unheard of!

Now Wednesday and we're still really caught up!

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Bernice you are a genius at inventory systems.   Have you thought about packaging it up and selling you ideas to other manufacturers? 

When/If I have time! 

I am actively seeking a way to get this to market. I would need an android programmer at very least as I don't have the time right now to tweak this to be generic.

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