When strolling through the Muscatine, IA, headquarters of Hon Industries Inc., the word most frequently mentioned is "flexible." The company is a domestic manufacturer of middle-market office furniture. It offers a variety of style, fabric and frame choices for each customer.

To have as much manufacturing flexibility in its plants as it offers in its furniture, the company is shifting to an open-source Linux operating system and wireless manufacturing. Although the transition to wireless has given the company more control over its production process, the real impact has been in shortened lead Arial and reduced operating costs.

Malcolm Fields, Ph.D., Hon’s chief information officer, says that when the company decided to make the shop floor more flexible, the first step was upgrading the bar code equipment. Hon is rolling out the 5055 stationary, wireless and touch screen PC from Intermec Technologies Corp. (Everett,WA) for pack-out and quality verification functions in 18 of the company’s locations throughout the United States and Mexico. The implementation also includes ScanPlus 1800 Vista wireless handheld bar code scanners to replace tethered bar code wands, 4400 bar code printers and label media.

When building a piece to order, such as a chair, an employee records the color and pattern of the seat upholstery by moving a scanner over the bar code that corresponds with fabric samples on a workstation guide. The scan verifies that a particular chair has the correct combination of fabric, color and pattern. After the chair is built, manufacturing data are transferred wirelessly to the database.

After verification, the data are used to generate a unique bar code label, which is affixed to the product as it is boxed. With this bar code label, the company can track the product’s journey from the manufacturing line to the warehouse. The wireless system tracks custom details, location and delivery status for each product through the supply chain and makes this information known.

The company also uses Volution software from Caldera Systems Inc. (Lindon, UT) that allows it to exploit the capabilities of Linux without sacrificing centralized data control. "At first, we thought that to make Linux work for us, we’d have to write our own support software," says Fields. "This a complete Linux management tool that allows us to centrally manage the system."

"There are many potential points of failure in a wired network," says Fields. "Using wireless technology has reduced this risk. The benefits of instant, accessible data are simple. It allows you the ability to produce exactly what the customer wants, when needed, and to track the entire process."

For more information about wireless data capture, call 800-934-3163 or visit www.intermec.com.

For more information about Linux management software, call 801-765-4999 or visit www.caldera.com.