PDAs and Parking Lots

Imagine misplacing your car in one of Disney World's 15,000-space parking lots. Now imagine that you finally remembered that your red Kia Rio was parked in the Daffy Duck section, but so are 500 other red Kia Rios.

That's the type of challenge facing employees at Auto Warehousing Co. in Tacoma, Wash., a staging area for Japanese- and Korean-made automobiles entering the U.S. At any given time, 25,000 cars fill the lot. When a dealer places an order for a car to be accessorized, workers find the vehicle and then take it to a warehouse to be processed and shipped via truck or rail.

Intermec Technologies' Intermec 751

Intermec Technologies' Intermec 751

To identify the right cars, employees use Intermec 750 Color Series mobile computers/scanners from Intermec Technologies Corp. in Everett, Wash., that support the 802.11b wireless standard. The devices scan the car's vehicle identification number and then link to an Auto Warehousing database that tells the worker where the car should go and what accessories to add.

"The Intermec scanners have definitely made my job a lot easier," says Leroy Stubblefeld, rail operations lead and an Intermec end user. "They are very easy to use, and we haven't had any problems with coverage around the yard. I like the fact that the screens are bright enough to be seen in the direct sunlight, and they hold up well when dropped or used in the rain. The software is very easy to use and has helped us reduce our rail shipping errors to almost zero."

The scanner signal travels to the facility's database via 17 access points -- a mix of powered and nonpowered antennas -- spread over the 144-acre facility. But even that blanket coverage doesn't prevent some signal issues.

"You may have some directional issues when you kneel between two solid metal vehicles and try to maintain your signal strength," explains CIO Dale Frantz. "The ability to have better antenna or receiving capabilities on the scanners ... would be helpful," but Frantz says he is willing to wait for those improvements.

A radio frequency application, for instance, provides a more powerful signal, "but it introduces a bunch of other problems," he says. Because Auto Warehousing is a port facility, national security issues come into play, and it's difficult to obtain the appropriate licenses from the Federal Communications Commission.

"Each generation of [802.11b scanner] equipment seems to improve connectivity," Frantz says. "In a couple of years, Intermec's next generation of equipment will presumably be better than the last."

And as for finding an application to more easily locate that specific car in a sea of red Kia Rios, "We're exploring RFID tags right now," Frantz says. While active radio frequency identification tags have been too expensive for his company, Frantz is working with Intermec on passive tags that would bring the per-unit cost down. "That would be really helpful for us."

See the complete Faces of Mobile IT special report.

Special Report

The Faces of Mobile IT

Different types of mobile workers, such as road warriors, telecommuters and blue-collar workers, need different forms of IT support.

Stories in this report:

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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