What do you get when you combine a warehouse redesign with a new rack system, voice recognition technology and a warehouse management system (WMS)? If you’re A.B. Beverage, a beer, wine and spirits distributor near Augusta, Ga., the answer is: a lot. The distributor saw a nearly 45% increase in picking productivity, from 225 to 330 cases per hour, along with better utilization of warehouse space to accommodate the increasing number of SKUs in the craft beer industry—the fastest-growing segment of the distributor’s business.
“Before this project, we were operating three shifts per day, had people working overtime and we still could barely get trucks built to leave on time in the morning,” says Doug Varnadore, vice president and general manager of A.B. Beverage, which has been in the same family since the end of prohibition. “We’re now able to get our work done on two shifts, and we rarely have overtime.”
Along with impressive results, the project is a reminder that while we all love to focus on high levels of automation, there are still thousands of smaller, conventional warehouses that can realize impressive benefits by rethinking their processes; optimizing the layouts of their facilities; and implementing basic warehousing tools. In this case, the transition was from a bare-bones operation that relied primarily on floor storage, with pallets stacked one pallet high and paper-based order picking to carts, to a facility using a variety of rack solutions (Twinlode); a new WMS; and bar code scanning and voice-directed picking.
In A.B. Beverage’s case, the variety of rack storage made all the difference. While the facility still relies on floor storage for reserve storage and fast-moving SKUs, pick modules were re-done with a combination of single-deep pallet rack; push-back rack for high-volume items; case flow for low-volume products; and keg rack for draft beer. Hands-free, voice-directed pick to pallet on pallet jacks and walkies replaced paper-based pick manual processes, including pick to cart and pick to pallet on sit down rider lift trucks. And, a WMS designed for the beverage industry manages inventory and optimizes picking to build the best pallets for the route trucks.
Warehouse manager Terry Wicklum notes that since initiating the project, the distributor has nearly quadrupled the number of SKUs it’s managing in the 50,000-square-foot facility, from 330 to nearly 1,200. “There’s no way we could have added that many SKUs under the old system,” he says.
Varnadore adds that order selectors are paid to work 40 hours a week but can leave early if they get their work done. “They haven’t had to work 40 hours yet. We’ve reduced the number of people we need, and we have better pallets and better accuracy.”