Distributing Glass with Class
Retailers and manufacturers are discovering that using athird-party logistics provider creates a winning proposition for everyone.
byClyde E. Witt, executive editor
Alltrista,a spin-off company of the Ball Company, is a diversified manufacturer. Itsproduct lines include glass jars as well as thermoformed and injection-moldedplastic items. Stocking up by home canning is not a vestige of the 1970sback-to-the-land movement. It’s big business, today. When it comes todistribution of tens of thousands of canning supplies, particularly glass jars,to its retailers through the U.S., Alltrista turns to DIY Group, a Muncie,Indiana, contract packaging and warehouse company.
DIYGroup is a family-owned and family-operated business. Currently, Philip Durham,the third generation of owners, is vice president.
“Ourrelationship with Alltrista began several years ago when we started packagingglass containers for it,” says Durham. “We were working in a54,000-square-foot building. Four years later we’ve expanded to 396,000square feet, mostly to accommodate Alltrista’s business.”
PreviouslyAlltrista would package glass containers at the point of manufacture. Toincrease the speed of production, it was decided to ship the glass containers,in bulk, to a third-party logistics provider for repackaging into cases. If youthink a glass jar is just a glass jar, a quick look around this massivedistribution center reveals an array of 280 stock keeping units (SKUs) thatmust be repackaged from huge bulk carriers into case lots. The repackagedcontainers leave the distribution center at Muncie in anything from single-caseshipments to multiple truckload orders, destined for retail stores throughoutthe country. A similar distribution center has now been established in Reno,Nevada, to accommodate West Coast customers.
Learning some lessons
Twoyears ago when DIY integrated and implemented its warehouse management system(WMS), some strange things began to happen that should not have.
“Whatwe learned,” recalls Steve Bragg, warehouse manager, “was thatpeople were using the system as they understood it, not necessarily the way itwas meant to be used.”
Withoutpointing any fingers, Bragg began to retrain the employees, mostly on aone-to-one informal basis. He knocked out shortcuts in order processing andpicking that had developed.
“It’sa matter of re-educating people not only on what is supposed to be done, butwhy,” he emphasizes.
Managersalso learned how to better use the data they had been collecting. By enteringinformation for a particular stock location in the warehouse in the software,and running data over specified dates, they can see all that has happened atthat particular location.
“Itwas a learning curve thing for us,” says Durham. “Some things youjust can’t anticipate until you’re actually doing it. Wedidn’t know what we needed to know!”
Now DIYfinds itself constantly making modifications to its inventory managementsystem. As new retail customers of Alltrista come on-line they have differingneeds for information and requirements for EDI reports.
“We’vealways sent advance shipping notices back to Alltrista,” explains Bragg.“And now we’re sending those ASNs directly to some of the largerretailers.”
DIY hasalso added Internet connectivity with Alltrista. Using a specific Web address,Alltrista’s managers can access specific inventory reports, see what hasbeen shipped and received and when. Via the Web, says Bragg, Alltrista can seethe same inventory management that DIY sees in its daily business.
How it works
Earningrespect from your peers is always rewarding. And when, for the past two years,you’re chosen Supplier of the Year and Partner of the Year by yourlargest customer, it’s even more rewarding. That’s the positionBragg finds himself in.
“Anysuccessful warehouse project, no matter how automated, begins and ends with thepeople doing the job,” says Bragg. “We’ve had a core group ofpeople whom we work with, often one-on-one, to train and learn the system.”
Braggnotes that once people in the warehouse became familiar with the operations ofthe software, glitches could be removed. He operates the warehouse with about20 employees, expanding the number during the busy spring months.
Thedepalletizing and packaging operations are highly automated. Incoming bulkloads of glass jars are depalletized, layer by layer, with automatic equipment.Glass containers move via gravity feed conveyors to the packaging area. Caseerectors set up the carton selected for the particular SKU being packaged, andcorrugated inserters are used to separate the glass containers. Automaticpacking machines put the glass containers into the corrugated cartons, andautomatic case sealers close and seal the cartons.
Palletizersbuild unit loads that will pass through automated stretchwrappers. After theload passes through the stretchwrapper, an operator places bar code labels onthe sides of the load.
Theunit load then moves, via roller conveyor, a short distance from the stretchwrappersto a pickup station, where it is met by a lift truck operator. At the pickuppoint, the operator scans the label to notify the software that the load hasbeen picked up.
Radiofrequency (RF) data collection terminals are used throughout the facility onall lift trucks and orderpicker trucks.
“Theactivity of scanning the load’s label changes the status of the inventoryin the system’s software,” explains Bragg, “from‘new’ to ‘available.’”
As faras the software is concerned, the location of that load is now on theoperator’s lift truck. It will remain at that location (in the software)until the load is placed in another, valid warehouse location and theappropriate labels scanned.
Orderselection is done via RF instructions similar to order putaway. Directed by theRF terminal mounted on the lift truck, the order selector goes to an aisledestination, scans the rack location bar code and the palletload bar code.Order pickers select full pallets first, then partial pallets or case lots asthey build the load. Orders are staged at the shipping dock. Recently, toaccommodate more load-staging activity, racks were removed from the shippingarea. The shipping area has now been expanded to handle staging points for 40trailers.
Serving two masters
A lotof glass moves through this facility in a short period of time — withlittle breakage. The canning business, by nature, is seasonal, so when thebeans and peppers are ready, the retailers have to be ready. Bragg says thedistribution center has received orders (via EDI from Alltrista) for anythingfrom a single case of jars up to a retailer’s single order that filled 70trailers.
Lastyear the error rate was almost impossible to measure. When your inventoryaccuracy is 99.999, you’re doing something right. Bragg says every orderpicked and shipped is checked by three pairs of eyes along with the help of barcode label scanning. And it’s not just the internal measures that showhow accurate this group is at order picking. Bragg says that Alltrista does anannual inventory of finished goods, and last year found the DIY system to bewithin $1,000 on a multi-million dollar inventory.
Braggsays as a third-party logistics provider, DIY finds itself between twocustomers: the manufacturer and the retailer. “The retailer and theretailer’s customer don’t see us,” he says. “They seeAlltrista. And our competency is always spawning more trust by Alltrista so ourbusiness grows. Our sense of how we should do business — providing the bestservice possible — is why they put faith in us.” MHM
Formore information on material handling equipment vendors in this article, pleasecall or visit the following Web sites:
CombiPackaging Systems, combi.com, case packers;
ElliottManufacturing, elliott-mfg.com, case sealers;
ISConsulting, goisc.com, system integration;
LXE,lxe.com, data collection terminals;
Orion,orionpackaging.com, stretch wrappers;
ProgressiveHandling, (616) 530-8770, system integration;
Raymond,raymondcorp.com, lift trucks;
Yale,yale.com, lift trucks.