"We're now efficiently processing more than 7,000 units a week, and that's at only about 30 percent capacity, under the old system, we struggled to process even 2,500 units at 80 percent capacity."
- Manager of the Configuration Center
Case Study Focus: Desktop Computer Configuration Center
Key System Solutions: Computer Configuration, Inspection, Shipping
Product Handled: Computer Systems
This company had a problem that a lot of companies would envy. The company was growing so fast that it was pushing the limits of a distribution facility built two years earlier.
They are a provider of custom configured computer systems and technical support. The company had already outgrown one facility, so it decided to add another 70,000 square feet-20,000 square feet of which was devoted to a new configuration and channel assembly center.
Configuration is at the heart of the business. The company is widely known for its ability to configure business computer systems to exact customer specifications-including all the hardware, software, and peripherals that may be involved. They also provide full technical support for its systems.
Design of the new configuration center was a joint effort between the company and a local Hytrol Integration Partner. The design team focused on certain key objectives. For one thing, they wanted the configuration technicians to be able to concentrate on their primary job-providing value-added systems to the customer. They did not want them to get bogged down in materials handling activities like unboxing the computers in order to work on them-and then reboxing them when they were done. This was what the technicians had to do in the existing configuration center, a cramped 4,000 square-foot work area.
They also wanted a system that would smoothly and efficiently bring the computers (without the boxes) to the configuration and quality assurance technicians at their workstations. And they wanted a design that could be easily expanded or reconfigured without major disruption to the operation.
The solution came in a simple but effective approach utilizing basic Hytrol conveyor equipment. Using powered "spool" and gravity conveyors, the company has been able to achieve its major objectives. The skilled technicians now can focus on what they do best. Boxing and reboxing activities have been taken out of the configuration center and relocated to the shipping area. In addition, they can readily expand the conveyorized system as needed.
Productivity has increased dramatically since the installation. "We're now efficiently processing more than 7,000 units a week, and that's at only about 30 percent capacity," reports the manager of the configuration center. "Under the old system, we struggled to process even 2,500 units at 80 percent capacity."
A Streamlined Process Flow
The material flow process works flawlessly. Computers to be figured, along with any components or peripherals required for configuration or channel assembly, are moved from the warehouse to the induction point just outside of the 20,000 square feet configuration area. They are removed from their boxes and placed onto conveyorable ESD (electrostatic dissipation) trays, which help control and minimize electrostatic charges.
Each tray contains an identification tag that corresponds to a shelf location in the induction area where the computer boxes are stored. The box and the computer will be reunited at the end of the order-fulfillment process.
The ESD trays are placed on a powered spool accumulation conveyor (190-SPA) that leads into the configuration area. A production coordinator at a central workstation diverts the trays down one of four lanes in the configuration area. Lane selection is based on a number of factors including the customer, nature of the work to be done, and particular expertise of the technicians. In the future, the company plans to automate this process through enhanced computer controls. It also plans to expand the number of conveyors and workstations in the configuration area.
After the technicians have completed the customized configurations at their workstations, they place the trays back on the lane conveyors that lead to a perpendicular takeaway conveyor. This powered unit takes the configured units to the quality assurance area. Here technicians work off three short conveyor lines, pulling on average one of every five units for a thorough inspection.
Any orders not passing the inspection is sent back to the configuration technicians for appropriate corrective action. All others travel onto a takeaway conveyor that leads out of the enclosed configuration section and onto the shipping area. Here the units are manually diverted down one of four gravity conveyor lanes.
Operators at this final stage of the order-flow process rebox the computer in the appropriate carton, paying careful attention to match the computer identification number to the box I.D. The orders now are ready for delivery to their customers via surface parcel, air express, or LTL.
The Engine for Growth
For a fast-growing company, the new conveyor system is an excellent fit. It responds effectively to today's demand, while allowing for rapid expansion as business needs dictate. In addition, the system is straightforward and easy to maintain, thus ensuring maximum uptime. "When we do have a problem our Hytrol Integration Partner has been there with quick and consistent service."
In the final analysis, the ability to provide high-quality systems and support is the engine that will continue to drive this company's growth in the future.
The Distribution Center
Computer units are take out of the induction point outside of the configuration room and placed on ESD trays. The boxes are shelved here, to be reunited with the computer at the end of the order fulfillment process. A powered spool conveyor transports the computer and related parts/peripherals past a production coordinator who diverts the trays to the appropriate configuration line. After the configuration technicians complete their work, they place the computer back on the conveyor lane, which connects with the perpendicular powered conveyor. Orders then move to the quality assurance area, where one of five units is pulled off for inspection. Completed units travel on takeaway conveyors to the shipping area. They are diverted to one of four gravity lines and repackaged in their original box, ready for shipment.
- Facility Size: 210,000 square feet
- Employees: 150 (distribution center operations)
- Product Handled: Computer systems
- Throughput: 7,000 units per week
- Types of Conveyors: Live roller, Belt Incline, Gravity, Skatewheel, Spool, Overhead Paddle Diverters