"We have the capacity to handle a significant increase in our business, we're looking forward to doubling our throughput here."
- Director of Operations
Case Study Focus: Wholesale & Retail Liquor Distribution
Key System Solutions: Multi-Area Picking, Truck Load Consolidation
Product Handled: Liquor, Beer, Wine, Non-alcoholic Beverages
When this wine & spirits company purchased two distributorships it faced all of the challenges inherent in any such acquisition. One of the most pressing was to upgrade the existing warehousing and distribution capabilities. The four existing facilities were inadequate for current and projected customer demand. In three of those warehouses automation was non-existent. Product was moved manually with hand trucks and pull carts. In the fourth, there was just a single conveyor line.
As part of its market strategy, the company decided to consolidate the four existing warehouses into a modern, automated distribution center. With the help of Hytrol conveyor equipment, and some advanced computer controls, the company successfully achieved that consolidation objective. They then began operations at its new 217,000 square-foot distribution center.
The EZ Solution
The company distributes a wide range of liquors, beers, wines, and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the state. Customers include restaurants and bars, hotels, retail liquor stores, and airlines. It's a high-volume operation; the company will handle an estimated 1.5 million cases this year.
They had a number of goals in mind for the conveyor system that would go into its new facility. For one, it wanted to eliminate unnecessary manual handling at all points in the order-fulfillment process. For another, it desired high throughput productivity and the capacity to expand with customer demand. Finally, it needed to minimize breakage-a costly problem in the wholesale wine and liquor business.
The streamlined conveyor system, custom designed by a Hytrol Integration Partner, responds to all of those needs. The design approach makes maximum use of Hytrol's EZ Logic Accumulation Modules. The EZ Logic system automatically senses product presence and controls accumulation and release of product from zone to zone. It's ideal for any installation where breakage or product fragility is an issue.
Installation went quickly and smoothly. The work was completed in a four-month period, just in time for the busy holiday season.
Controlling The Flow
The new conveyor operation is helping handle more orders more efficiently, reports Director of Operations. Orders are processed throughout the day and sent via computer to the four pick locations throughout the facility. Those four picking areas are the speed line for high-volume items (25 or more cases a day); the carton flow line for product in the 15-25 case range; a consolidated "odd ball" pick area for low-volume and seasonal items; and a bottle room for less-than-case picks. The speed line is on the mezzanine level; the other pick stations are on the ground floor.
The pick areas are connected by an integrated series of conveyors-primarily skatewheel, zero pressure belt, live roller, and gravity. In each of these areas, the orders are picked for two trucks at a time on side-by-side conveyor lines. This dual approach results in higher throughput productivity.
The orders from the ground floor pick stations travel on incline conveyors to the mezzanine level, where they link up with the high-volume orders. Four powered conveyor lines on the mezzanine lead to each of two checker stations. Operators at these stations check orders against a matching pick ticket. The completed orders then are released through a series of foot-operated controls to one of four shipping doors, depending on the delivery route. The cases then are loaded onto trucks for customer delivery.
In total, the distribution center has more than two miles of PLC-controlled EZ Logic conveyors. The control program, supplied by a Hytrol Integration Partner, automatically tells the checkers if a line has stopped and pinpoints the location. Any necessary corrective action can then take place immediately.
Counting The Benefits
The converyorized operation has brought a host of benefits. First and foremost, it enabled the distributor to quickly and cost-efficiently increase throughput. During peak holiday season, the company now moves more than 1,900 cases an hour-a volume that would have been impossible before without the addition of dozens of workers. The heightened productivity, coupled with the consolidation of the warehouses into one modern facility, has also meant more efficient scheduling and loading of the delivery trucks. In fact, the company has been able to reduce its fleet from 54 trucks to 33.
Thanks to the EZ Logic system, breakage has been reduced to about $2,000 a month, considered extremely low in this industry. Another cost-avoidance feature of the EZ Logic units is that they go to "sleep" when not in use. "This results in less wear and tear on the conveyor parts," says the Operations Director, "which adds to the longevity of the equipment and reduces maintenance costs."
Perhaps most important, the new system helps effectively respond to today's customer demands while positioning itself for the future. "We have the capacity to handle a significant increase in our business," says the Operations Director. "We're looking forward to doubling our throughput here."
The Distribution Center
The 217,000-square foot distribution center has four pick areas-three on the ground floor, and one on the mezzanine. Orders are picked on side-by-side conveyor lines for two trucks at a time. Cases from the ground level move on incline conveyors to the mezzanine. Powered units at this level move the product to the two checker stations, where operators review the orders and release them to the shipping area. Hytrol's EZ Logic technology is incorporated throughout the facility. EZ Logic conveyors automatically sense product presence and control release and accumulation of orders from zone to zone. The distribution center has the capacity to handle 2,500 cases per hour.
- Facility Size: 217,000 square feet
- Employees: 220 (total personnel)
- Product Handled: Liquor, beer, wine, non-alcoholic beverages
- Throughput: 2,500 cases per hour (capacity)
- Types of Conveyors: Live roller and accumulating