As anyone who's ever unpacked and set up a home computer knows navigating through unfamiliar hardware software and manuals to get everything working is no picnic. So imagine what large retail chains face when they must install thousands of computer-like point-of-sale (POS) terminals in dozens if not hundreds of locations. POS terminals-essentially computers that have supplanted cash registers for department stores drug stores and other large chains-include many of the same components as a personal computer: keyboard CPU or logic unit printer monitor even a bar code scanner. IBM a major manufacturer of POS terminals had shipped its products much the way its competitors did-each component in its own box. While such packaging provides ample product protection retailer customers need a lot of manpower to unpack set up and configure the terminals. All this led IBM's packaging people to wonder if the POS terminals could be shipped fully set up so that customers could simply remove them from the box and plug them in. Simple in concept it was a radical idea that proved a challenge to carry out. POS terminals are big bulky and awkward machines whose assembled profiles thwart elegant packaging design. Foam-in-place was ruled out after IBM tested such a pack from a competitor. The customer who had shown IBM the all-in-one FIP pack liked the idea of integration but didn't care for the damages experienced with that particular foam-in-place pack. "We tested it here and it failed miserably" confirms Nicolle Dutts packaging engineer at IBM's Custom Solutions Manufacturing Div. in Charlotte NC. To make matters more challenging IBM's POS terminals are available in several hundred configurations due to different sized monitors cash drawers and logic units. After six months of endless design/test/back-to-the-drawing-board cycles and subsequent fine-tuning the package was released to the field a year and a half ago. The response? PW spoke with Dave Falkenhagen a project manager with Control Data System's Technology Deployment group. Falkenhagen headed a team that recently finished installing 7 IBM terminals for Mervyn's a national clothing retailer. How long did it really take to unpack and set up each terminal? "A couple of minutes" says Falkenhagen. "They were truly plug and play. You lift it out of the box and plug it into the wall." He says it takes closer to 30 minutes to set up traditionally packaged terminals. "Plus we could get by with using lesser skilled people so that brought the price down for Mervyn's" he adds. "Overall it was a cost benefit and a time benefit." The response from other customers has been similarly positive. IBM now offers this pre-assembly service as an option for which it charges extra to cover its costs though the charge is said to be nominal.