The barcode label is custom-formatted for each producer. An employee then scans  the label.
The barcode label is custom-formatted for each producer. An employee then scans the label.

In the last few years, innovative technologies such as self-consolidating concrete, quick form changes, and effective lifting devices have sped up most precast operations. When producers combine these innovations with more sophisticated computer-assisted drawing, they find themselves with a just-in-time (JIT) production model.

The automotive industry first developed JIT to be responsive to customer orders, and to the delight of their accountants, as an effective tool in reducing inventory. The backbone of a streamlined JIT product delivery system is efficient inventory control.

Trying to track the hundreds, if not thousands, of items precasters produce each year has been troubling. While most producers generally offer several main product types, each job order comes with several customer-specific requests. Usually, producers merely paint the job order number on each piece produced and track the part's movement from stockyard to delivery with a physical count.

Fortunately, there's now a better way to track inventory of their products. Introduced at last year's Manufactured Concrete Products Exposition (MCPX), the Concrete Tracking System (CTS) is a proven and reliable management tool.

The system has been used in industries that share the problems posed by multiple orders and part variations. But what makes CTS unique is the investment the staff at Data Collection Specialists Inc., the Conroe, Texas, manufacturer, has made to customize it for the concrete industry.

The key is a weather-resistant barcode label. Demolding crews affix the rugged label to each element after stripping. This information is customized for each producer and contains a unique identification number for each element. The producer usually lists the project name, delivery address, and drawing number.

Data tracking

Interfacing with a producer's accounting system is easy. This unique number can also be linked to the mix number, purchase order number, and other important links in the process. It tracks data such as quality control requirements, mix formulas and amounts, and product repair.

In practice, the CTS inventory system replaces the traditional paint and clipboard approach to product tracking. Stockyard attendants scan the labels of elements moved from the production floor to the stockyard using a rugged version of a hand-held device similar to those used in supermarkets. The inventory data is wirelessly transmitted to the CTS database via a wireless LAN network.

Before shipping, the customer service manager can create a pick list using this product number. When the product is shipped, the loading operator scans the label, verifying it's the correct item and that it corresponds to the delivery ticket.

The handheld mobile computer screen displays each item scanned and validates that it belongs on the load being shipped.

Weights of each product are also calculated as the truck is being loaded, eliminating overload issues. It creates a shipping document with the required information printed near the shipping area. Some precast producers use the shipping document as the trigger for billing, confirming it with the signed delivery receipt.

CTS adapts to producers' needs. For example, one producer in the Northwest used it to track the delivery of precast tunnel segments. Each segment was made up of eight individual castings. The system tracked not only each segment, but also each individual subset. This was helpful at the jobsite for staging product in the correct order.

The reports the system generates are even more useful. Managers can track daily inventory levels. Sales staff can track progress of projects. QC personnel can obtain information for a DOT and other project requirements. And accounting can provide the value of work-in-progress to their customers, all in real time.

Visitwww.datacollections.comfor more information, or visit MCPX booth #2130.