Ridge Tool Company needed a new facility for one simple reason. Growth. A change in the customer base, new products and order profiles demanded a larger facility.
Ridge Tool, a division of Emerson Electric (St. Louis), produces the "Ridgid" tool brand, professional-quality pipe and tube working tools serving the plumbing, mechanical, construction, HVAC and facility maintenance industries. Its headquarters and main manufacturing plant are in Elyria, Ohio. A smaller manufacturing facility is in Orange, Va. It also has manufacturing plants in Switzerland, China, Germany, and a foundry in Erie, Pa. Its new 128,000 sq.-ft. North American distribution center in Cambridge, Ohio, ships to industrial tool suppliers throughout North America and to distributors in 45 countries.
The company decided to build a new facility because limitations imposed by the existing site plan and equipment layout made expansion uneconomical. A new building would make it possible to improve product flow and provide operating space for receiving, staging and shipping.
Planning for success
Long-range planning is a part of Emerson Electric's corporate culture. Ridge Tool embraces the philosophy and carefully planned and executed its recent DC project. Planning for the new DC started in 2003 two years before its lease expired. "Ultimately, when the final decision was made, we were comfortable from a cost standpoint that every 'T' was crossed and every 'I' dotted," says Brian Shanahan, operations manager.
The company broke ground for the new DC in October 2004; the first product shipped in October 2005. Unforgiving winter storms added three months to the original eight-month construction plan. The October warehouse move date was at the start of Ridge Tool's first quarter of 2006. It turned out to be a record-breaking quarter for the company—sales showed a double-digit increase.
"It's a nice problem to have, but we were chartered with not only completing the move, but servicing our customers during that time period. That was the biggest hurdle [during the move] to overcome," Shanahan says.
Shipments remained on schedule during the move because its workers already knew how to operate the new conveyor system software, Pyramid Control, and pick methodology. The company operated the old and new systems in parallel for several months at the old building.
"We did not want to introduce anything that employees were not previously trained on," Shanahan explains. "We went through the expense of simulating the new conveyor control system to work in parallel with the old system so that workers would be familiar with how the new system operated and there would be no surprises when they got to the new building."
Ridge Tool received training funds from the state of Ohio. The training included classroom sessions, which familiarized employees at all levels with how the new software operated, and what the paperwork and commands on handheld radio-frequency (RF) terminals would look like.
Staying close to home
Ridge Tool partnered with facility planner, Trommer and Associates (Akron, Ohio), to find a site for the new DC. Many sites were considered. In the end, it chose to relocate on a larger site less than a mile away from its old building in Cambridge.
Cambridge is at the intersection of U.S. I-77 and U.S. I-70, two major shipping corridors. This location places the Ridge Tool DC at the center of its supply and customer base. The DC is in a free-trade zone that has a small airport and rail line. FTZ status and transportation access has attracted other companies to the business park. Ridge Tool's neighbors include FedEx and Colgate. "The local community was instrumental as cooperation between the county, city and township helped to keep Ridge in Cambridge," says Shanahan.
The company's new 16-acre site gives it space to expand. The location also puts Ridge Tool in the position to possibly take on other distribution activities for Emerson. "That's the growth opportunity that lies out there for us," Shanahan says.
What's more, he adds, the location "positions us to take a look at international consolidation programs, bringing that work in here and distributing it to our other sister divisions."
Ridge Tool's new DC was designed to increase the speed at which product is received, picked and shipped. The new DC receives about 8,000 line items and ships around 100,000 line items per month. The new warehouse design reduced order turnaround time from 48 to 24 hours.
New work areas including end-of-aisle display build, kitting, and labeling, was the result of Ridge's penetration into the retail market.
Most of the equipment in the DC is new. However, rack from the old building is being reused. Order processing is now a flow-through system where zones are picked simultaneously. It previously used a batch system where orders were moved sequentially from pick zone to pick zone. Mechanized conveyors and sortation software consolidates the product from each zone to one packer.
In the new facility, picking is faster thanks to the use of an Interlake pick module, Percon handheld RF terminals and integrated DC Link scanning software and JD Edwards One World WMS. Product is scanned into the WMS when it is putaway. Orders are initiated by scanning the bar code on the paper order. The WMS sends text commands to the RF terminals that tell workers what to pick and the quantity. Bar codes on products are scanned to verify orders.
Small conveyable items are hand picked and placed in totes. Bulkier product is picked with lift trucks. Crown reach trucks are used in nine-ft. aisles to replenish and back stock areas on the TGW-Ermanco conveyor systems. Turret trucks are used for pallet pick items in the six-ft. very narrow aisles.
The new DC's Wildeck mezzanine is approximately 10,100 sq ft. and has two sections. The first is closest to the sortation conveyor. The main floor under this part of the mezzanine is split between bin units and carton flow rack. The upper level is composed of bins and a pallet-flow conveyor. The second part of the mezzanine is at the rear of the building. Both levels have hand stock decked rack units and pallet-flow rack.
A center tri-lane conveyor on the main floor of each mezzanine is used to pick orders and transport completed cartons or totes to sortation and packing. Orders are picked to totes stored on the conveyor. Completed orders are manually pushed onto a gravity spiral, which transports the tote or carton to the lower conveyor for transport to the sortation and packing conveyor. Empty totes travel back on a new hanging tote return line. This piece of equipment is a productivity gain, Shanahan says. Previously, totes were manually returned to the pick area.
"One of the biggest changes we have seen is that an order does not sit in a staged or queued up position very long," Shanahan reports. "We've noticed some significant productivity gains by just flowing orders through, in addition to helping us meet that 24-hour ship window."
Main floor picking conveyor services small parts bin storage and carton flow rack.
LTL and National Accounts order consolidation.