by Karen Hailson Bouvier | Photo by Ty Kretser
Issue: May 2022
As we toured the gleaming, impeccably organized Fujitsu plant, Tammy Sherman, Senior Operations Manager, summarized the history of manufacturing at that location. Beginning at the facility in 1999 when it was Optimal Robotics, Sherman remained in management when Fujitsu acquired the operation in 2004. Twenty-two years later she has good reason to be proud, and the experience to continue to meet and exceed customer needs and expectations.
Although it is located in a modern building on a well-traveled strip of Route 3 in the Town of Plattsburgh, not many people know about this impressive manufacturing plant. Its 40,000 square feet of space is divided between warehouse and work space for Fujitsu U-SCAN self-checkout machine assembly, repair, quality assurance, packaging, and storage. The Price Chopper chain of grocery stores is one of its major clients.
WHAT ARE FUJITSU U-SCAN SCOS?
The Plattsburgh plant manufactures Fujitsu’s U-SCAN line of self-checkout machines, also known as SCOs. If you’ve ever skipped the checkout line at the grocery store, and processed your order yourself, you have used an SCO. They work by providing the customer a mechanism to complete their own transactions from a retailer without needing a traditional staffed checkout. Customers scan item barcodes, or, in the case of produce, they place the item on a scale and enter its four-digit code, if available, or use an alphabetical lookup to select the item and variety. (A touchscreen display with photos makes this intuitive.)
As customers are scanning items, they place them into a bagging area. The weight observed in the bagging area is verified against previously stored information to ensure the correct item is bagged, allowing the customer to proceed only if the observed and expected weights match. Once all the items are entered, customers are able to pay with cash, credit or debit cards.
Most self-checkout areas are supervised by a staff member who assists customers to process transactions, enter coupons and authorizes the sale of age-restricted products such as alcohol and tobacco, knives, and medicines.
SCOs not only reduce the amount of time a customer must wait in line, they offer the business many benefits as well. For example, a business is able to reduced labor costs. With the work of the cashier now being assumed by the customer, it takes only one attendant to oversee four to six checkout lanes. In addition, the dimensions of an SCO are smaller than a traditional checkout manned by a cashier. A business then has the option of using this saved space for more shelves, display cases or additional checkouts. And with reduced handling of money—a potential source of disease transmission—safety is increased for cashiers and customers.
Added to the benefit of quicker checkout, customers can have contact-free shopping, and, if they bring their own reusable bags, shopping can be a completely touchless experience.
A TOUR OF THE FUJITSU PLANT
As we walked down the aisle of workstations where employees were busy assembling, and then doing quality assurance on U-SCAN SCO machines, Sherman explained that everything — the database of products and bar codes, software, the images that appear on screen, and the reports generated in the self-checkout units — is specific to customers. The bill dispensers and bill recyclers are built at Fujitsu plants in Japan or the Philippines and incorporated into the machines made at the Plattsburgh facility. Each assembler has a cart with product specifications, timelines and parts selected from the warehouse.
“The challenge of this job is that each day varies,” said Sherman. “We don’t say no to customers. If they want a SCO tomorrow, we’ll do it. This means we must constantly adjust and respond to customer requests.”
Asked about her management style, Sherman said, “I depend on the staff and the other managers to do their job. I work hard and like to learn things. My staff does as well.” The Plattsburgh plant’s staff is currently at 45, and they are looking to hire more.
An important section of the workspace is devoted to repairs, an aspect of the business that was begun in Plattsburgh in 2017. Prior to that, machines had to be sent back to the home office in Japan. “Repairing machines here makes it more efficient and less expensive for our customers,” Sherman explained. Fujitsu also makes repair kits equipped with parts and tools, for customers who have their own service and repair staff.
THRIVING DESPITE THE PANDEMIC AND SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES
When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on business, Sherman replied, “Business has been good for us even through the pandemic. We shut down at first because that’s what everyone was doing, but that only lasted for two weeks. Even during that time, we had 12 key employees who came to work. After we officially re-opened, we implemented masking and social distancing guidelines, and kept moving forward.”
Rounding the corner as we continued our tour, Sherman showed me the other half of the facility – the warehouse, where parts and fully assembled U-SCAN SCO machines are stored. Warehouse workers pick the parts needed for assembly, place them on a cart and bring them to other side of the facility to the assemblers.
Completed SCOs, lined up in organized rows, also await shipment to customers. Here we met Dave Clark, Production Manager. A graduate of SUNY Canton with a degree in Civil Engineering, Clark has worked at Fujitsu for five years. “Not a lot of people know about this place,” said Clark with a big smile. “I really like working here because every day is different and most challenging.”
“We’ve been swamped the last four to five months,” added Sherman. “Supply chain issues mean materials do not arrive in a timely manner. We go as far as we can and then wait for more materials.”
SHIPPING FINISHED SCOS TO CUSTOMERS
As we viewed a collection of neatly placed, labeled and wrapped U-SCAN SCOs, Sherman explained that some customers, due to budgetary practices within their organizations, will order units and ask for them to be stored for future shipment. Depending on the amount of time they need to be stored, some SCOs are held off site. Later, when the customer requests them and they are retrieved, they go through a careful check before they are shipped.
A customer’s packaging and shipping requirements can be very specific and Sherman and her staff ensure their guidelines are met. Once the SCOs are properly packaged and labeled, arrangements are made for the timely pickup and safe delivery of the machines by working directly with trucking companies on the logistics.
As she was explaining this, we encountered a beaming Jose Montemayor. “I’m not much of a wrestler, but I’m a great boxer!” he joked. Responsible for packaging the repaired modules for delivery, he cares about the impression given when a box arrives. He also takes great pride in boxing the repaired modules so they arrive in pristine condition, and he pays attention to the specific instructions on where to place the packing labels and other requirements.
“He’s the neatest employee we have at this facility,” said Sherman as she showed me Montemayor’s well-organized, clean workspace full of boxes, labels and packing tape.
NEW VERSIONS, NEW TECHNOLOGY
As the technology evolves and more businesses begin to use SCOs, Fujitsu, under the leadership of Tammy Sherman and the conscientious work of the staff, are ready to provide customized solutions that will make shopping more convenient for all of us..
651 State Route 3
Plattsburgh, NY 12901