Like most Maine companies, Hancock Lumber knows how to stretch the life cycle of a technology product. Since transitioning to MillTech Solutions inventory management software in 2008, the company has used the industrial handheld product that was available at the time: LXE MX-7 handhelds running the Windows CE operating system, with custom software developed by a 3rd party on behalf of Milltech. With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, consumer handheld technology accelerated quickly, and the Hancock Lumber technology team began to pay close attention to how the two handheld markets were playing off of one another.
“As the iPhone became more accepted by users, we became less interested in spending thousands of dollars on outdated equipment and operating systems to replace our yard handhelds,” said Kevin Murphy, General Manager of Technology for the Sawmill Division. “But the right combination of hardware and software just didn’t exist. We could see the potential, but the industrial products weren’t developing at the same pace as the consumer market.
While the handheld market was evolving at its own pace, Hancock Lumber’s in-house application development was gathering speed. The team at Hancock has been developing its own mobile and desktop apps using the FileMaker platform for over 15 years, and their deployment of the database product has grown right alongside FileMaker’s emergence as the world’s preeminent Workplace Innovation Platform. While the core of Hancock Lumber runs on vertical platforms firmly rooted in enterprise database standards, day-to-day operations are supported by dozens of applications built in-house on FileMaker Pro and its mobile component, FileMaker Go. With every release, FileMaker has
made it easier for companies the size of Hancock Lumber to deploy custom apps without huge investments, and Hancock Lumber has been an enthusiastic consumer of FileMaker’s products in every aspect of its business.
“The software was definitely ready before the hardware was. All the pieces were in place, but we needed somebody to help us bring them all together,” notes Murphy.
Attending the Modex show in Atlanta during the spring of 2018, Murphy discovered that the industrial handheld market had finally begun to shift away from Windows CE-based handhelds towards newer operating systems with updated scanning technology. It was there that he encountered Cognex, who was promoting their next entry into the mobile scanning business in the MX-1502, an industrial-grade rugged mobile terminal that allows customers to blend their iOS or Android handset hardware of choice with Cognex’s extended range scanning
The Cognex platform was the game-changer Hancock Lumber was looking for. Combining their knowledge of the iOS platform, along with a tight integration between enterprise systems and FileMaker, the team at Hancock was able to produce a custom-built application that fully replaces and enhances the aging original, Windows CE-based tool. The company has recently completed the initial rollout of their FileMaker Go-driven Cognex/iOS hardware at all three of their sawmill yards, and users have been very receptive to the new tools.
“I’ve been ready for this for a while. Having the scanner makes loading trucks and organizing our yard so much easier.”
-William Friend, Pittsfield Sawmill Yard Manager
Within days of deployment, users had already provided feedback that led to enhancements to the application. Leveraging the FileMaker platform, the team was able to respond to user feedback in days rather than weeks, without the need to provide change orders and make additional expenditures to a third party. Other uses for the new scanners have been identified, and the company is working closely with its partners to extend the capabilities of the platform even deeper into the inventory management process.
“Application integration used to be exclusive to companies with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend just on developing the software. Today, technology is much more accessible, and data exchange standards are so stable that the effort required is within reach of even small IT departments like ours,” says Murphy. “It’s a great time to be involved in business technology integration.”