Radio technology special at Woolworths

Woolworths has credited a rollout of radio frequency technology for some of the success of its new distribution centres around Australia.Woolworths and hardware vendor Intermec Technologies have rolled out 802.

Woolworths has credited a rollout of radio frequency technology for some of the success of its new distribution centres around Australia.

Woolworths and hardware vendor Intermec Technologies have rolled out 802.11b/g radio frequency infrastructure throughout the retailer's distribution centres over the last five years. Distribution centres store Woolworths products before they're transported to supermarkets.

The wireless network allows Woolworths' warehouse management system (WMS) to share data with ground staff in the centres on the location and transporting of pallets.

Staff use handheld devices or forklift-mounted terminals to receive instructions from the WMS. For example, a WMS request for a pallet of goods to be delivered to a Woolworths supermarket will direct a distribution centre employee to the desired pallet. The employee will then scan the pallet barcode and verify this over the network with the WMS. The pallet will then be transported.

The wireless technology has been a key part of Woolworths' supply chain this year as it consolidates distribution centres for efficiency gains.

The company had 20 to 30 distribution centres, but has recently reduced this to 11 national and regional centres, with rationalising still continuing, according to a Woolworths spokesperson.

In its recent annual report, Woolworths said technology was critical to the success of its new supply chain.

"We have now passed the high risk part of our IT application development and are now applying the systems throughout our company," the report said.

The radio frequency rollout has been part of Woolworth's supply chain and logistics systems overhaul, under the company-wide Project Refresh program.