This is a company on a steady growth trajectory. Its four main business units — the line of baking and cake decorating products, kitchen utensils, designer photo frames, and fine kitchenware — have all recorded big volume increases over the past few years.
Inevitably, this kind of growth brings with it some operating challenges, one of the toughest being how to keep pace with booming order volume. The company is meeting that challenge at its enterprises unit with a streamlined new Hytrol conveyor system from a Hytrol Integration Partner. That system, combined with a new RF-based paperless picking operation and a sophisticated Warehouse Management System (WMS), is helping them achieve record levels of productivity, with the capacity to achieve even higher levels in the future.
"Our primary objectives were to increase throughput and accuracy," says the vice president of operations. "Since the installation was completed in June of last year, we've made great gains in throughput and now we're beginning to see some significant improvement in accuracy as well." says the director of logistics, and their team worked hand-in-hand with the Hytrol Integration Partner in designing and installing the new system.
Prior to installation of the new conveyor system, the facility faced a number of inhibitors to peak productivity. For one thing, none of the existing conveyor lines in the picking areas were connected. Orders had to be moved by hand around the facility to the appropriate pallets and then loaded onto the trucks. This resulted in throughput levels that were less than optimum. It also meant that shipping cartons were not being filled to their optimum weight, which often translated to higher shipping costs.
The new operation addresses these problems... and more. An integrated conveyor system, incorporating belt, gravity, sawtooth merge, and horizontal accumulating units with the EZ-Logic feature, expedites the flow of orders throughout the 143,000 square foot facility. The conveyors connect three picking areas for less-than-case picks, a separate case pick module, and a mezzanine picking area for mail orders. All of these lines flow into a computer-controlled sortation system, which sends the cartons down the correct shipping lines.
Order fulfillment is quick and efficient in all of the pick areas. In the full-case and less-than-case pick modules on the ground floor, an automated RF system directs the picking activity, replacing the old paper-based method. The order picker first scans the bar-coded shipping label on the carton. The RF unit directs the picker to the right bin location. The picker then scans the bin location to verify location accuracy before proceeding with the actual order picking.
The workers complete picking in one zone before moving the carton on gravity conveyors to the next zone. In the less-than-case area, when all of the picks are completed in one line, the cartons are placed on powered horizontal conveyors and moved on to the next picking module. There the process is repeated until the order is complete.
When the orders are completely filled in the ground floor picking areas, they are placed on a powered conveyor for transport to the tape packing machines. Packing material is inserted into the cartons and the case is sealed. The shipping carton then passes over a weigh-in-motion scale that captures the carton weight for manifesting. Scanners direct the cartons from the main picking areas and the mezzanine down four powered takeaway conveyors with the EZ Logic accumulation feature and through a sawtooth merge to the sortation area.
The sortation system is a critical element of the operation. It currently processes 18 cases a minute and has the capacity to handle 30. The sortation system diverts the shipping cartons down to the appropriate shipping line. Several of these lines, called "fluid load lines," extend directly into the outbound truck.
The last shipping carton of each order is diverted to a packing list area. Here the carton is scanned and a packing list of the order is produced and applied to the carton. With the packing list applied, the shipping carton is re-inducted into the sorter via a re-circulation conveyor and diverted down to the proper line. All in all, it's a streamlined and efficient system.
In combination with the WMS and paperless picking, the new conveyors began boosting productivity almost from the very beginning. Today, throughput is up by more than 20% in the case pick area alone. Importantly, the design allows for easy expansion of the pick modules and sortation system if required.
In addition, the average weight of the parcels shipped is up from 13 to 19 pounds thanks to conveyor integration of the picking lines. This has resulted in lower overall carton volume as well as a significant reduction in shipping costs.
One other benefit bears mentioning here, too. The installation was completed without a single shift having to shut down. "I credit the Hytrol Integration Partner for making this happen," says the vice president. "They worked closely with us to ensure that we had no loss of productivity.
Completed orders picked in the less-than-case pick lines on the ground floor move up on belt conveyors to the taping and sealing stations. Orders in the case pick module are taped and sealed on the ground floor before moving up. All of these cartons, along with orders from the mezzanine, pass though the sawtooth merge enroute to the sortation area. The sortation system diverts the shipping cartons down to the appropriate shipping line. The new system enables "live loading" of the trucks for added productivity.