Turning a Warehouse into a Profit Center: HAN-TEK Delivers Complete ROI in One Year

Oct. 1, 2008
This case history about HAN-TEK comes courtesy of Rockwell Automation, Inc. It has been selected and edited by the MHM editorial staff for clarity, content

This case history about HAN-TEK comes courtesy of Rockwell Automation, Inc. It has been selected and edited by the MHM editorial staff for clarity, content and style.

End manufacturers can be reluctant to employ new technology in a material-handling solution not only because the technology is unfamiliar, but also because it’s a big financial investment. As manufacturing and production equipment often represent a company’s single largest capital investment, replacing, or even upgrading, components of a material-handling and logistics process can be a difficult cost for a company of any size to justify.

However, HAN-TEK, a material-handling solutions provider headquartered in Victor, N.Y., has been able to reduce such risk by employing proven technology from Rockwell Automation in its machinery. Through a series of cost-benefit analyses, HAN-TEK is able to demonstrate to its customers that their new palletizing system can deliver on business goals and return financial investments.

Dirt Devil, a customer of HAN-TEK, is a manufacturer of household appliances including upright vacuums, hand vacuums and carpet shampooers. As part of the packaging process at its Glenwillow, Ohio, distribution facility, workers had been required to manually palletize all the company’s products for distribution to retail outlets.

The process required employees to unload boxed products from trailers, place them on conveyors, sort them by product type, and stack them on pallets. They would then have to wrap the pallets in plastic and use forklifts to move the wrapped pallets back onto trucks for delivery to retailers.

“This process was extremely inefficient and costly,” said Han-Tek’s senior vice president of operations Todd VandeSande. “Workers needed to determine instinctively how to configure
these boxes on pallets, but with widely varying box sizes, errors in configuring the pallets were common and the process was slow.”

Dirt Devil decided to invest in a new palletizing system for their warehouse – one that could load up to 50 different products into as many as 150 different pallet configurations. The company also wanted to meet its other business goals of reducing labor costs, improving throughput and reducing product-handling damages.

“More importantly, all of this needed to be accomplished under the corporate mandate that any investment in a new system must pay for itself within 12 months,” said VandeSande.

Working with Horizon, a Rockwell Automation distributor, HAN-TEK developed its Robotic Case Palletizing solution with Dirt Devil’s project goals in mind. The new machinery employs a robotic vacuum-ended arm to pick up each box and stack it on the pallet for maximum efficiency. Then, an out-feed pallet conveyor moves the filled pallet to another staging area where an automatic stretch wrapper seals the loaded pallet in plastic.

Key to the solution is the use of an Allen-Bradley® SLC™ 5/05 programmable controller and Rockwell Software® RSView®32™ operator interface software. The RSView32 allows operators at Dirt Devil to easily program a customer’s order, enter the product dimensions, and select the best possible pallet configuration for the product from a series of predetermined options.

This automated solution also brings a new level of communication to the distribution facility. Through Ethernet networks, SLC 5/05 processors can communicate warehouse data, supervisory control, program management, statistical quality control, maintenance management, production scheduling, and material-tracking applications. Operators and plant managers also can access information using any PC with a network connection. This allows them to monitor the system from their home offices or even from across the country.

Using the HAN-TEK Robotic Palletizing solution – programmed to process up to 150 pallet configurations – Dirt Devil now has significantly expanded the volume and diversity of the products it can run on the line. It can accept additional products, allowing the customer to upload specifications and test run any new item within an hour.

With the new palletizing solution, Dirt Devil’s distribution center experienced a labor savings of more than 70 percent. In addition, job redesign has minimized ergonomic issues of warehouse workers by eliminating the majority of physically stressful labor.

When operating on two lines, Dirt Devil was able to increase its throughput to 1,440 boxes palletized per hour – up from an average of 1,010 boxes without any impact on quality. The Allen-Bradley controller’s program also includes a series of fault codes to stop the line when a problem occurs at the robot, such as missing a package or adding an extra one. This reduces the number of serious problems that could occur further down the line.

Perhaps the biggest success of all was the quick return on investment that Dirt Devil experienced with the new system. Dirt Devil invested approximately $500,000, and due to the efficiency of the new system, the company was able to shift employees to other areas of the facility. As a result, labor savings alone were enough to deliver a payback in less than 12 months, not to mention the expected reduction in costs attributed to fewer repetitive stress and other physical injuries.

“The use of advanced control technology enabled us to deliver a system that offers increased flexibility and greater cost savings, which opens up new windows of opportunity for us, as well as for our customers,” said VandeSande. “In this case, our customer has a solution that allows it to expand its business and improve efficiency, and we have a product that we can market to new customers.”

The results mentioned above are specific to HAN-TEK’s use of Rockwell Automation products in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

Allen-Bradley® SLC™ 5/05 Programmable Controller
Allows for up to 50 different products into as many as 150 different pallet configurations.
Rockwell Software® RSView®32™
Allows end users to easily program customers’ orders and determine optimal pallet configurations.
Brings a new level of communication to warehouses and distribution facilities.

Reduced Labor Costs
The efficiency of the new system has allowed Dirt Devil to reduce the labor required in the palletizing function of the facility.
Increased Throughput
Dirt Devil increased its palletizing capacity from an average of 1,010 boxes per hour to 1,440 boxes per hour.
Fast Return on Investment
Through labor savings alone, Dirt Devil saw a payback in its investment in the HAN-TEK system in less than 12 months.

MHMonline.com welcomes relevant, exclusive case histories that explain in specific detail the business benefits that new software and material-handling equipment has provided to specific users. Send submissions to Mary Aichlmayr([email protected]), MHM Editor. All submissions will be edited for clarity, content and style.