7 ways to avoid bottle damage in your wine and spirits distribution warehouse

tips to reduce wine and spirits bottle breakage blog post header image
wine and spirits bottle damage blog header image

Product damage is a constant loss factor

The largest source of product loss in a wine and spirits distribution operation is undoubtedly bottle breakage and damage. Human error, product movement, and difficult storage methods can all be factors that result in damages.

In the case of one of Century’s wine and spirits clients, implementing our solutions resulted in a 75% decrease in product breakage. To give an example of how impactful that change is, imagine a distributor processing 30,000 cases a day. Each case, on average, is valued at $100 dollars. If their breakage rate is 1.25%, that’s $37,500 dollars lost on product damage from a total of $3,000,000.

A 75% decrease in the breakage rate would result in a much more manageable loss of $22,500- and that number can lower even more depending on the level of automation. That’s close to $5.5 million saved per year.

If your damage rate is on the higher end, it may be worth your time to evaluate your material handling operations. We have some valuable recommendations on where to look first.

  • Indexing Belt Accumulation
  • Warehouse Control Software
  • Cascading Release Function
  • Skewered Roller Design
  • Telescoping Extendables
  • Robotic Palletizing
  • ASRS

1. Indexing Belt Accumulation

An effective method of preventing product breakage is the use of an indexing belt accumulation conveyor. These powered conveyors do not allow products to touch each other, using an array of sensors to properly gap infeeding operations, and stopping when the accumulation zone is full.

The product can be placed normally on the conveyor, and it’ll automatically speed or slow down zones to achieve safe spacing between each package.

2. Warehouse Control Software

Setting the operating parameters on a system play an important part in preventing product breakage. The software, depending on the system manufacturer, controls conveyor zone functions like speed, braking, idling, and more. When a system is first installed, or being upgraded, these settings are fine-tuned for efficiency and safety and can be easily changed in the future if need be. Warehouse Control Systems are versatile and offer a variety of customized system settings.

3. Cascading Release Function

A cascade release function staggers conveyor zones as the product begins to move. This provides a small gap between each product when operations start and stop. This function helps exponentially with end-of-line operations where a truck is being loaded, and the product is accumulating as it’s being moved from the conveyor to the bay.

Instead of the product pushing against each other, the conveyor can stop and move when space is available, to maintain proper gapping so that product never touches.

4. Skewed Roller Design (Herringbone)

To increase product safety, a skewed roller (herringbone) design can be used to avoid product from making contact with side railing and guards.

Skewed rollers are pointed diagonally inward, keeping cases positioned in the middle of the conveyor. Advancements in the packaging of alcohol mean solutions must accommodate a variety of carton dimensions and material types. Skewed roller designs provide additional flexibility and stability in any automated warehouse operation.

5. Telescoping Extendable

Typically, a warehouse worker picks up packages from an outfeeding source, walks over to the truck, and loads it. Even in this simple operation, it’s where most breakage mistakes occur, as employees can drop or jostle cases.

The solution is to eliminate the extra risk of having the worker walk over to the truck. A telescoping extendable conveyor attaches to an outfeeding source and can be operated so it extends into and out of the trailer as the worker loads. This allows for a much more stable operation and minimizes product damage by conveying the product directly to the worker, who places it into the trailer. Extendables can be simple skateroller conveyors on mobile casters or powered units such as the Adjustoveyor.

6. Robotic Palletizing/Depalletizing

For warehouses that use pallets, robotic palletizing solutions automatically handle and can build or deconstruct pallets. A wide variety of robots and end of arm tooling can accommodate most carton sizes and complex layer build configurations for pallets.

The speed and stability of robotic palletizing greatly outpace that of manual pallet building and even lift trucks. For further automation, completed pallets can be conveyed from a robotic cell to an inline stretch wrap operation, replacing tedious manual wrapping.

7. Automatic Pallet Storage

In warehouses that store a high volume of products, stacking pallets is a common sight. The issue is when pallets are being stacked over two high. This creates stress for cartons on the bottom of the supporting pallet, which could compress cartons, cause leakage, or topple the stacked pallets. The risk extends further when considering possible operator error in the action of stacking, such as dropping the pallet from too high or placing it unevenly.

Reducing breakage during storing and retrieving is best achieved by the usage of an ASRS (Automatic Storage and Retrieval System). An ASRS is a rack-supported structure with a track-mounted crane that can be programmed to navigate itself to a racking space to either remove or place a pallet. The advantages are clear, stacking does not need to be used, an automated crane is exponentially more accurate and stable than a forklift, and warehouse space is regained (as racking allows higher stacking, and the aisle for the cranes are thinner than typical racking structures).


Century Systems has extensive experience in integrating warehouse automation systems in the wine and spirits material handling industry. View the video below on a system we engineered and integrated with Fedway Associates.

7 Conveyance Solutions for Robust Handling of Various Product Types

ARB Solutions 2

Conveyor systems are versatile machines, working in tandem with a variety of material handling solutions, ensuring increase output and productivity. Besides the additions of machines in conjunction with a conveyance solution, there exists extended automation for the conveyor system itself.

Belting plays a critical role in how the product moves throughout the system, but typically, most operations use either a roller conveyor or a flat belt. What many do not realize is that belting can be upgraded to automatically position cartons in a way that simplifies various induction steps in the line.

ARB (Activated Roller Belt) technology revolutionizes the way a conveyor system functions by offering automatic aligning and positioning, precise gapping, high-speed sortation and diversion, uniform operator station package distribution, and more.

ARB equipment performs a variety of different functions on the product by utilizing free-spinning rollers that are embedded in plastic belt modules. The rollers can bi-directionally manipulate products in a variety of different angles and trajectories. The rollers can be bi-directional or omnidirectional depending on the usage of that specific belt space. The rollers reorientate themselves rapidly depending on the destination of the package.

ARB equipment can provide substantial throughput benefits while providing a quick return on investment by eliminating time-consuming manual labor and being flexible enough of a solution to apply to a variety of operations.

  • Sortation
  • Depalletizing
  • Singulators
  • Merges
  • Switching
  • Zone Picking
  • Infeeding and Outfeeding

1. Sortation Systems

DARB S4500 Sorting Belt

90-degree sortation

Bi-directional right-angle sortation that activates the belt rollers when the carton reaches its divert destination. This form of sortation is high speed, with rates up to 250 packages a minute, in a compact footprint. If your facility distributes a variety of packages, this sortation method can accommodate polybags, crates, top-heavy items, and more, along with typical flat-bottomed cartons.

ARB Sorter S7000

Bulk sortation

In facilities where a continuous flow of a mix of bulk packages is present, ARB equipment can be employed to sort an even volume of packages for downstream processing (operator stations, for example). Due to the bulk nature of the continuous induction, sortation rates can achieve up to 360 packages per minute, automatically avoiding jams.

2. Depalletizing Systems

ARB Pallet Layer Descrambling S400

Depalletizing can be a laborious operation if done manually. With ARB equipment in use, omnidirectional track rollers can descramble up to 6 pallet layers per minute and place them in a uniform line, ideal for scanning or picking. By alternating packages left and right on the ARB conveyor, and using the side railing as a guide, packages line up neatly for downstream applications.

3. Singulators

ARB Singulating Belt

Singulating, in this context, means to place the items in a single, congruent line. Depending on induction rates, this could be a continuous line, or broken up into segments (for example, one segment having four packages). ARB equipment moves the undistributed packages from left to right to acquire a straight line, using the railing of the support to gently align the items. This eliminates the need for manual clearing of side-by-sides, recirculation due to miss-sorts, and enables workers to place items on without concern for positioning.

4. Merges

Polybag ARB Merging

Polybag merging

In a polybag-focused operation, reliable merging from multiple infeeds is paramount to downstream processes. ARB conveyor solutions merges infeed conveyors with a high-speed directional belt, while maintaining gapping, and alignment, for later scanning and sortation operations. All of this is completed in a relatively small footprint, as an ARB conveyor is designed to quickly merge the lanes.

5. Switching

Polybag Switching and Aligning

Polybag destination switching

If lanes are not merging, but instead, crossing polybags over each other to their reach their destination lane, an ARB conveyor solution can achieve this efficiently. Much like the merging ARB conveyor, omnidirectional rollers quickly switch polybags into their respective destination outfeeds, while maintaining proper gapping and alignment.

6. Zone Picking

Zone picking

Pick and pass order fulfillment zones can also benefit from ARB equipment inclusion. Manual picking stations can be added to a central conveyor merge, utilizing an omnidirectional sorter to easily pick packages from the main line to be processed, and then re-introduced back to that same conveyor. Order fulfillment can be completed at rates greater than 25 packages per minute, and only needs one 24-volt motor to drive the rollers.

7. Infeeding and Outfeeding

Infeeding and Outfeeding ARB

Used in conjunction with an automatic storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), this ARB conveyor combines both infeeding and outfeeding operations. Packages can both be sent to storage, while simultaneously accepting packages coming from storage. This is achieved by utilizing omnidirectional sorters in conjunction with right angle diverters, with alternating flow directions that activate depending on the carton’s destination. Sortation can achieve excess of 30 packages per minute, while infeed/outfeed rates to an AS/RS can reach 1,800 cases or totes per hour.

Intralox equipment has been successfully implemented by retail, grocery, manufacturing, and direct-to-consumer e-commerce distribution centers. The technology brings value in many applications ranging from high-speed 90-degree sorting to AS/RS infeeding and outfeeding. From increased throughput to flexible package handling and efficiency, Intralox’s conveyance technologies pick up where traditional technologies end.


Century is a longtime partner and integrator of Intralox, utilizing its innovative ARB equipment technologies throughout a wide range of clients. Together, a truly efficient system can be designed, engineered, and installed to increase output, accuracy, and ROI.

Post-COVID Parcel Customer Expectations

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How automation solutions fulfill today’s parcel shipping demands

post covid parcel expectations automation solutions

Parcel delivery expectations have increased exponentially, exacerbated by the effects on consumers of the pandemic, and the movement of large E-commerce players offering 1-day or even same-day shipping. Consumers expect quick shipping in comparison to a decade ago when a speedy delivery was a premium option.

In a recent report by McKinsey & Co., online product categories have experienced a 15% to 40% increase in user growth during 2020. That increase of users means higher expectations for faster shipping speeds, and in turn, carriers and shippers will be expected to offer and fulfill such services.

To accommodate the demand, automation has been utilized to rapidly speed up processing and sortation operations. Forgoing manual labor opens the door to quick shipment offerings, a tantalizing benefit to any prospective client. Automated solutions typically depend on the conveyor and divert systems, which need to be versatile enough to handle small parcels like letters and polybags, to larger carton packages. Belt conveyors are used, versus roller, as smaller items could get stuck in between rollers if the weight is undistributed across incorrectly. Where automation differs, is in its sortation method:

Tilt-tray

Tilt-tray sortation uses order consolidation chutes to sort items in a batch-pick environment. Cartons are scanned before being inducted onto a tilt-tray carousel, where it will sit on a moving platform until it reaches its destination chute.  The tray will tilt either left or right depending on where it’s being sorted and slide down a chute onto a conveyor to be loaded.

Tilt-tray applications are effective for high-speed sortation.

Cross-belt

Functioning similar to the tilt-tray, cross-belt sortation differs by using bi-directional belts to divert items into destination chutes. Packages are inducted onto the cross-belt conveyor carousel and sorted accordingly. Each belt section can hold one package, but multiple belt sections can be combined and used in tandem to divert larger items.

Narrow-belt

A series of narrow belts, each with its own take-up, span the length of the conveyor. High friction divert wheels rise between the belts, diverting product to its destination.

Narrow belts are typically used for larger, heavier packages that need heavy-duty forms of sortation. Smaller packages would not be ideal for this application, as they would fall in-between the belting segments.

Shoe Sorter

High-speed sorter utilizing aluminum slats that have plastic shoes that slide across them to divert cartons either left or right (bi-directional) to required sort destinations.

The advantage this provides over the similar functions of the tilt-tray is that the shoe is incorporated as part of the central induction conveyor. This eliminates the need for a separate sortation application, like the aforementioned tilt-tray carousel.

Split-tray Sorter

Sometimes also referred to as a bomb-bay sorter, dual split tray sorters have the ability to sort two smaller items within the same tray, at higher throughput speeds.

Split-tray sections have a bottom platform that opens to drop items gently into chutes, totes, or cartons below. This method is space-saving, as the item discharge area drops below vs being conveyed.

Swivel Wheel Sorter

Swivel wheel sorters utilize a platform of omni-directional rollers to divert items quickly. When a product reaches the divert, the wheels orientate to direct the item to its destination. This sortation method works best for systems that have a conveyor junction, rather than a gradual merge or curve.

Push-tray Sorter

A high-speed sorter with tray segments utilizing a positive divert to gently push items or polybags off the tray and slide them into a sortation chute.

Depending on the dimensions of the parcel processed, each conveyor sortation method varies slightly, and one solution may work better than another one. It’s a function of careful engineering and planning to discover which one would work best. Regardless, any conveyor sorter will far exceed manual labor.

Parcel Customer Expectation

pullquote graphic parcel industy automation

Mainly attributed to the increase in e-commerce usage, the courier, express, and parcel (CEP) market is expected to exhibit a CAGR of over 6% from 2021-2026 (source). To adjust to this substantial demand increase, automation and technology are taking center stage to provide future solutions. Parcel distributors have their work cut out for them, as operations need to accommodate for the increase, as well as deliver to customers within 1-2 days.

ShipStation’s report “Last Touch, Lasting Impact” highlighted insightful statistics in how consumers view various topics concerning shipping. A few pertaining to parcel shipping expectations include:

  • 86% say a poor shipping experience negatively impacts their perception of the retailer.
  • 87% say that shipping and delivery experience directly impacts their decision to shop with the merchant again.
  • 47% of customers are more likely to pay for express shipping now than they were pre-COVID.
parcel industry customer shipping expectation stats

Clients strive to uphold the best delivery experience for their customers, and that expectation extends to their parcel handling partner. Recurring slow shipping speeds and errors in sortation can spur negative consumer sentiment or increase returns, something clients work very hard to avoid.

The parcel industry is a constantly evolving sector, as automation technology continues to provide solutions for quick handling and delivery of packages. The post-COVID explosion of online shopping has led many forward-thinking parcel shippers to evaluate their current operations and develop an integration plan.


Century Systems understands how critical effective parcel operations are to maintain customer delivery satisfaction. Our primary focus is to engineer an automated solution that provides a profitable output and is curated specifically to your warehouse layout.

5 Economical Ways to Avoid Conveyor System Downtime

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Conveyor system downtime is a constant threat to a continuously profitable operation. The importance of proper maintenance and ongoing support is paramount to keeping orders shipped on time and clients satisfied. Unplanned downtime can cost companies up to $250,000 per hour, with 82% of businesses experiencing at least one system outage over the past three years (source).

system downtime costs quote

How do you avoid those monumental losses? Here are a few options your business can take to proactively prepare against downtime.

  • Preventative Maintenance Service Plans
  • Hotline Support Agreements
  • On-site Repair Services
  • Spare Parts Inventory Management Programs
  • System Retrofits & Modernizations

1. Preventative Maintenance Service Plan

Some systems run 24/7 and are vital to keeping your operations effective. With hundreds of moving parts and sometimes a complex controls network, it is inevitable something will need to be replaced or repaired, often at the worst possible time.

Avoid the costs and frustrations of downtime and schedule a system audit followed by a comprehensive quarterly, or bi-yearly preventive maintenance program.

A team of experienced certified technicians will walk through your system validating each unit/component, age and condition, available working hours, and more during the initial audit. An optimized Preventative Maintenance plan and associated cost will then be developed for review and implementation.

2. Hotline Live Support (24/7)

Certain integrators may offer live digital support, to guide your designated controls engineer to a solution. This can be achieved by using a VPN to remotely control your system, allowing the support agent to view all error codes, make corrections, and guide your team accordingly.

For example, if an emergency stop cord is pulled, it is a relatively easy fix via the control system, but only if your controller can identify the issue. Instead of sending out a maintenance team, a support agent can remotely clear the codes and restore the system quickly.

When contracting with an integrator, ensure that they have this service as part of the proposal. Century Conveyor Systems includes a year of hotline support with every solution purchase, as well as multi-tiered options depending on the complexity.

3. On-call Emergency Repair

System downtime can occur due to factors often outside the control of normal operations. Life cycle wear, operator errors, power fluctuations, etc. cannot be predicted from an occurrence perspective. Even with an internal maintenance team, a specialist may be needed to address and remedy the situation.

Century can dispatch a team of certified technicians to your location in 24-48 hours and when layered with a Hotline Support Agreement, may even be able to resolve the problem within hours.

Our emergency repair service is within a call away as a safety net in the event of a system failure.

4. Spare Parts Optimization Programs

Downtime is typically the issue of a single component failing, bringing operations to a stop. Like a chain, if one link is broken, nothing works. Now you are scrambling to order a new part from the manufacturer, and then need to get it installed. Unfortunately, depending on the part, you could be waiting weeks or even months.

The solution? Allocate some space in your warehouse (ideally a small section of shelving) towards spare parts. Proactively order components and replenish anything that is used. This can span from common cables and photo eyes to large motors and compressors.

The upfront cost of a spare part is negligible compared to the monetary loss of a system shutdown until the part is received and installed.

If you’re looking to stock up on spare conveyor parts, we may be able to help out.

5. System Retrofits and Modernization

The business drivers of a facility operation are constantly changing with things like labor shortages, SKU proliferation, and the shift to e-commerce fulfillment changing order profiles and product handling requirements. This often requires adjustments to existing systems to accommodate these changes.

Technology is always advancing very rapidly in the material handling industry. Automation is constantly being upgraded to something faster, more efficient & accurate providing improved throughput and functionality.

As demand for distribution efficiency increases due to many influencing factors, now may be the time to evaluate your system. Adjustments can be made piecemeal to keep overall system costs lower, but still benefit the functionality and efficiency of your system.


Don’t find your operations stalled and unable to produce the scheduled output. Build a maintenance plan, explore support and emergency options, keep a spare parts supply stock, and retrofit older systems. Century Conveyor Systems is dedicated to the integrity of your operations. We offer all these services and more as a full-service automation integrator. Bring us your problems and we will work towards an innovative solution, together.

Our Conveyor Systems & Services Help Companies Maximize their Potential.

“Exceeding customer expectations is the key to our success. We’re not satisfied with simply selling conveyor systems, we want to help you grow your company to reach its full potential.”

office

Century Conveyor Systems, Inc. is a nationwide systems integrator that has been providing Material Handling Systems, Installation, and Conveyor technical services since our founding in 1981. In 2017, Century Conveyor Systems was acquired by Lafayette Engineering Inc., which enabled us to grow and become an even more capable company with the ability to self-perform most of the work required for turnkey automated system solutions.

 As a turn-key system integrator with many successful projects under our belt, we serve a variety of industries including: warehouse/ distribution centers, ecommerce facilities, beverage distribution, retail DC’s, plants, pharmaceutical, and various other manufacturing facilities. Our solutions are second to none allowing us to offer you a full-service approach for every project.

 Through combined strategic planning and resource allocation with Lafayette Engineering, we are able to provide full project life cycle services that include System Design, Concepts, Project Implementation, and Operational/Technical Support based on specific client needs. We also offer a variety of in-house solutions such as PLC Controls (Programmable Logic Controller), Warehouse Control Systems for Semiconductor Processes Automation Consultations, or Installation. All projects come equipped with 24-7 On Site Service by qualified engineers who can get there quickly when you need them most.

Century Conveyor Systems, Inc continues to be a top engineering and integration company for material handling applications and systems in the U.S., with our strong dedication to ethical business practices and customer satisfaction. We work hard every day to maintain this status by producing valuable products that are essential for today’s leading manufacturing and distribution businesses.

With so many people buying online, the e-commerce industry is booming. This may be time to update your facility and increase efficiency. Call us for a quote today.

Fedway Associates

Background

Fedway Associates is a New Jersey-based wine and spirits wholesaler with a rich history. The company got its start in 1933 after prohibition. Today, it services licensed package stores, restaurants, and bars throughout the state. The company currently operates in a state-of-the-art 539,000-square-foot distribution facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Challenge

The company had been working with a nearly 20-year-old Hytrol system. They were looking to update that system in 2012. However, Hurricane Sandy would hit New Jersey later that year which compelled the company to find a new facility, thus a new conveyor system and Warehouse Control System (WCS) would need to be integrated.

Goals

  • Increase product accuracy and throughput
  • Incorporate a WCS
  • Decrease product breakage

System Specifications

  • Additional 106,000 SF mezzanine
  • Double-stacked roll transfer
  • 60-ft sliding shoe sorter

Results

Fedway Associates was able to reduce product breakage by more than 70 percent with the new system. An increase in throughput rate reduced the number of hours taken to process cases. The state-of-the-art WCS helped with product traceability and inventory accuracy which ensures the correct cartons are shipped.

  • Reduced product breakage by more than 70%
  • Increased throughput
  • Increase product traceability
  • Increased inventory accuracy
  • Warehouse control system incorporated

 

Salson Logistics

Background

Salson Logistics is a port-to-shelf 3PL logistics services provider, servicing large retailers and consumer brand products. Their customer-focused capabilities and their desire to provide and accommodate their customer’s needs led them to seek a more automated solution for their warehousing operation.

Salson determined that their most pressing requirements were to increase accuracy and provide not only greater throughput but to be able to accommodate various carton identifiers, while still employing a common software system solution.  The Material Handling system solution provided by Century Conveyor provided for an accurate read and receipt of inbound merchandise leading to a cross-dock sortation application, allowing hand palletization as well as direct truck fluid loading. 

Challenge

Prior to the automated system, Salson had employed a rather manual process, with very limited conveyor automation. Upon receipt, labels were manually applied. Scanning and sortation were performed manually. All products were then hand palletized prior to disposition. Despite the reliance on manual operations, and multiple shifts, Salson was able to achieve daily volumes of up to 20,000 cartons per day. 

Goals

  • Increase throughput
  • Increase accuracy
  • Grow business

System Specifications

  • 5-lane receiving area
  • Hytrol Prosort 400 Sortation conveyor
  • Hytrol EZLogic gapping

Integration

The Century team solution provided for all aspects for turn-key development, including such key functions as the warehouse control system, material handling hardware, physical implementation, controls, software, and the engineering and project management disciplines necessary to ensure a timely and correct final commissioning, startup and turnover.

 

Some of the features of this system include traversing trailer unloaders, allowing five traversing unload conveyors the ability to service multiple inbound dock doors, Receiving scan tunnels, on each pair of receiving lines that allow for the capture of all carton received merchandise, ( can scan all sides of carton except bottom) along with no read divert for correction, right at scan location. 16 cartons per minute rate at each receiving location. Upon receipt, cartons accumulate and are queued up on indexing slug belts prior to a merge point. Five accumulation lanes feeding a merge, provide for an outbound rate of 95 per minute.

 

Merge releases to a bi-directional slat sorter where cartons are read. Thru the WMS/WCS communication, 95 cartons per minute run through the bidirectional sorter which has 23 left hand palletizing divert lanes and 12 right-hand fluid load truck fill lanes, along with another 10 hand palletizing lanes. Palletizing lanes having provisions for hand scanning with label generation for manifesting.

The Result

The solution Century provided for all aspects of turn-key development, including such key functions as the warehouse control system, material handling hardware, physical implementation, controls, software, and the engineering and project management disciplines necessary to ensure a timely and correct final commissioning, startup and turnover.

SalSon Logistics no longer has to rely on their labor force to sort, scan, and deliver products. Now with an automated system, the company is about to process 100,000 cartons compared to the 20,000 their labor force alone could do. This innovation and others in the system offered savings in labor, speed and accuracy.

Barnes & Noble

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barnes and noble case study header image

Background

Barnes & Noble, a Fortune 500 company, is the world’s largest bookseller. In addition to extensive eCommerce sales, they operate at the time of writing they operated approximately 800 stores in 50 states. The logistics of timely store replenishment and rapid, accurate fulfillment of Internet orders presents an enormous challenge at this level of business.

Century Conveyor Systems, Inc., a New Jersey-based Hytrol systems integrator, was awarded the contract for integration and supply of the carton and tote materials handling system. The design team, now joined by Century Conveyor Systems, Inc., finalized the operational details and implementation plan for the new system. At the same time, the construction of the 1.2 million square foot facility was underway and on target for a December 2004 completion.

Challenge

Barnes & Noble, a Fortune 500 company, is the world’s largest bookseller. In addition to extensive Internet sales, they operate at the time of writing they operated approximately 800 stores in 50 states. The logistics of timely store replenishment and rapid, accurate fulfillment of Internet orders presents an enormous challenge at this level of business.

The Solution

The distribution center houses over 1 million book titles in quantities ranging from multiple trailer loads of popular titles to one or two volumes of very obscure books. Accordingly, inventory storage media varies from high-rise, narrow aisle pallet rack to flow rack and finally to acres of multi-level shelving.

Virtually all aspects of the distribution process are automated. Tracking labels are generated and automatically applied to cartons at receiving. Multiple sortation systems deliver inventory to storage and picking locations. Batch picking is directed by RF interface and routed through zones by scanner directed diverters. Book orders are simultaneously assembled from each picking batch by tilt tray sorters.

Over 13 miles of Hytrol conveyor carries cartons and totes through all of the distribution processes, from receiving to shipping. The entire system is monitored from a central control room equipped with displays that indicate the status of all areas of operation.

Receiving

For receipts of less than pallet load quantities, inbound cartons are conveyed to a mezzanine above the receiving dock where they are scanned and matched to a database of purchases. A 380-foot long Hytrol Prosort shoe sorter directs cartons to a series of receipt processing and audit stations. After processing, cartons are reintroduced into the receiving sorter for routing to pick locations, cross-dock, or active order fulfillment. Sortation is performed at rates up to 140 cartons per minute.

Inventory Replenishment

Forward pick locations and shelving mezzanines are supplied by a series of conveyors and sorters that deliver replenishment inventory. Cartons arriving from either bulk storage or the receiving subsystem are sorted to the three levels, and then by specific zone within each module for put-away to dynamic primary pick locations.

Picking

Each of the eight picking modules in the system is three levels high. Order selectors are given location and quantity instructions through scanner equipped radio frequency devices. Within each level, a series of scanners and diverters automatically direct cartons to only those zones where picks are required. Orders that can be completed within a single 3-tier pick module are conveyed directly to carton sealing and labeling stations. Batch picked cartons and totes containing books needed to fill multiple orders are conveyed to the packing sorter.

Order Consolidation

The packing sortation system is a tilt tray design. Individual books are placed on belts at induction stations and are sorted to chutes that each represents a single order. Indicator lights at the discharge of the chutes direct packers to remove the chute contents for packing as orders are completed. Chutes are reassigned to new orders as subsequent batches or waves arrive at the tilt tray induct stations.

Packing

Open cartons, containing completed orders, are conveyed to a series of taping and print & apply stations. Cartons are sealed, weighed, and labeled before they are automatically inducted into the shipping system. Single book orders, selected by batch into totes, are sorted to specially equipped packaging stations for quality inspection, packaging, and labeling before being sent to manifesting and shipping lines.

Shipping

The shipping sorter is a single loop tilt tray design, capable of sorting up to 170 cartons per. minute to shipping doors and small package Gaylord positions. Shipping door positions are equipped with flexible, extendible conveyors for truck loading.

The Result

“Barnes & Noble had previous experience with Hytrol and Century Conveyor Systems, Inc. and we knew Hytrol produced a quality and reliable conveyor. This previous experience was always very positive. Century and Hytrol stood behind their products and services and had become good partners through the years.”

“We had visited the Hytrol plant several years before when we were just starting the project. Meeting the Hytrol team that was going to be working with us on the system gave us a good comfort level.”

“Hytrol and Century made good on all their promises. The product was delivered when we needed it and it all worked out very well timewise. There have been so many advantages to the new system in place. The accuracy, the speed, and the throughput Hytrol affords us has improved our services to our customers. We are very happy with Hytrol.”

-William Duffy, ( Former) Executive Vice President of Distribution and Logistics, Barnes & Noble

AmerisourceBergen

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amerisource bergen warehouse diagram

Background

New picking technology combines with integrated conveyor system to help AmeriSource distribution center reach new levels of productivity and order accuracy.

When you’re in the business that AmeriSource Corporation is in, you have to be fast, efficient, and accurate.

This Malvern, Pennsylvania-based company is one of the country’s largest wholesale distributors of pharmaceuticals and related healthcare products and services.

From a network that includes 19 distribution centers around the country, AmeriSource ships these critical products to hospitals, healthcare facilities, and retail outlets that range from independent drug stores to the big mass merchandisers.

One of these centers-the regional D.C. in Thorofare, N.J., near Philadelphia-recently underwent a major expansion and upgrade to ensure the needed productivity and accuracy

Challenge

The new distribution center actually is a 156,000 square-foot expansion to an existing warehouse. That original facility, now used as a replenishment and full-case storage area, was a largely manual operation. But with AmeriSource’s business growing steadily, it had been struggling to keep pace with order demand.

In creating the new distribution center, management wanted to automate a large portion of the picking process and at the same time streamline order flow. Those objectives were accomplished through the combination of advanced computer controls, automated picking equipment, and a network of Hytrol conveyors that feature the EZ Logic accumulation system.

Facts

  • Location: Thorofare, NJ
  • Facility: Distribution center
  • Solution: Hytrol liver roller and accumulating conveyor
  • Product handled: Pharmaceuticals and health care products

Figures

  • 156,000 sqf
  • 168 employees
  • 3,000 totes a day
  • 2,300 cases a day

Automation Integration

The order-fulfillment process begins in the order origination area where operators scan the packing slips and select one of three types of totes depending on order size. Each tote carries a permanent bar-coded license plate that will direct it throughout the order-fulfillment process.

The totes are inducted into the system on a powered conveyor where a shipping label is generated. After scanning, the totes travel on a belt conveyor to a deflector arm that moves them to one of three accumulation conveyer lines (Model 190-SPEZ). These units have the EZ Logic feature, which senses product presence and controls the accumulation and release of product from zone to zone. The three lines provide the ability to segregate the totes by order size, manual or machine pick, replenishment priority, and so forth.

The totes then merge onto another accumulation conveyor prior to being sent to one of two picking areas in the main building. Totes containing orders to be picked manually travel on a powered takeaway unit for entry into the manual pick area. Totes with orders for machine-pick are diverted to the left by a pneumatic pusher and travel onto an accumulating conveyor to the “A-Frame” automated picker.

The manual picking area consists of a loop of powered conveyor that directs the totes to the right picking zones. Each of the eight zones consists of a series of flow rack and shelving units housing a variety of SKUs.

Once the manual picking is completed, the totes move onto an accumulation conveyer and head toward the machine picking area. A scanner identifies which orders are complete and which need further picking in the A-Frame. Completed orders are diverted by pneumatic pusher toward the weighing and strapping machines. The remaining totes travel straight ahead onto an accumulation conveyor where they enter a queue triggering the selection process in the A-Frame.

All completed orders pass through automated weighing and strapping stations. Once the totes are secured, they move on an elevated belt conveyor en route to the shipping sortation area.

The shipping system consists of a re-circulating loop of elevated power conveyors and a series of nine powered and gravity dispatch lines. The main live roller unit has nine high-speed diverts that direct the orders down the shipping lines. One important feature of the shipping area is the full-line sensing photo-cell. If a dispatch line becomes too full, the photo-cell automatically senses this and directs the order to the recirculation conveyor until the congestion eases up.

In addition to the two main picking areas, the AmeriSource facility includes a replenishment and full-case line picking section in the adjacent original warehouse. A powered roller conveyor brings these items through an opening in the wall and on to either the replenishment areas or to shipping. These cases accumulate in the shipping section where they can be merged with the tote orders.

The operation is not only streamlined and accurate, it’s also clean. An overhead trash takeaway conveyor from Hytrol (TH model) runs through the picking and replenishment areas efficiently removing corrugated and packing material from the work areas.

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Outcome

Thanks to the advanced picking technology and the smooth-running conveyor operations, the Thorofare distribution center has been able to keep on top of the steadily growing order volume ever since it went into operation in late 1997. This high growth pattern is not expected to change anytime soon. But as systems manager Bob Fillman points out, that should not pose any problems.

“This operation could easily handle double the current volume,” he says. “We have the system and controls in place. It would mostly be a matter of adding some additional people.”

In addition to being well positioned for the future-and performing at that 99.9 percent order-accuracy level right now-AmeriSource has enjoyed another benefit. Payback on the new distribution center has been realized in a short 15 months.