Thinking Inside the Box

May 13, 2009
Consolidating operations leads to innovative space solutions. A mezzanine and material lift help maximize space.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Ferguson Supply and Box sought to bring its manufacturing and distribution functions into one modern facility.

For 46 years, the company has made and distributed custom and stock corrugated boxes, containers, displays, bags, packaging supplies and foam products, and provides graphic art and design services. With the company’s in-house structure and graphic design team, Ferguson has the ability to take a packaging concept from an idea to the retail shelf or safely into customers’ hands.

The company’s facilities were previously divided between two locations, totaling approximately 212,000 square feet. After rethinking their processes, organizational methods and material flow, managers elected to consolidate operations into one 185,000-square foot modern facility and implement a “core” operation philosophy.

With increasing business and a 27,000-square foot reduction in total building space, achieving maximum efficiency and organization was essential. Ferguson reached out to Wildeck Inc. to provide the necessary components to facilitate the reduction in square footage.

One important solution was to locate a mezzanine that functions as a “core” area for supplies close to manufacturing. With Ferguson’s focus on maximizing organization and shifting all operations to a smaller facility, the added space was integral to material flow.

“The core location of the mezzanine maximizes our efficiency and keeps everything within easy reach,” explains Terry Pridgen, Ferguson’s plant superintendent. “The easy access allows operators to quickly switch over jobs while protecting and moving printing plates and cutting dies.”

He claims the added space and efficiency provided by the mezzanine and vertical reciprocating conveyor (VRC) is providing numerous operational benefits. They include:

• Tooling storage for the converting machines, printing plates and dies. These delicate items damage easily and are costly to replace. The mezzanine level protects and stores, while the VRC easily transports material to the manufacturing level.

• Space optimization. The goal of manufacturing is to keep overhead costs low and maximize profitability. The cost of a Wildeck mezzanine versus the cost of increasing building floor space is dramatically different. Economically, it is more advantageous to use existing overhead space. Mezzanines also qualify for accelerated capital equipment depreciation, compared to longer terms associated with permanent building improvements.

• Central core location. In keeping with the organization’s philosophy, the improvements have kept necessary materials and components close to the manufacturing area, thereby maximizing production efficiency.

• Time savings. Ferguson prides itself on organization, which greatly reduces the amount of time on each job. The new process requires only one hour of training. Now, managers do not have to rely on someone’s memory to locate specific materials.

• Aesthetic appeal of the plant. This is an often overlooked benefit of mezzanines and lifts, but to Ferguson Box, it is a huge advantage. Ferguson Box frequently invites its “A-list” clientele to tour the facility, and first impressions matter. The tour showcases the facility, which creates trusting relationships and increases business. An organized and uncluttered feel to the operations and facility convinces guests to trust Ferguson with their work.

A smooth running and organized operation helps to showcase Ferguson’s quality and production efficiency. The tour promotes Ferguson Box’s strong customer service and validates the company as a perfect fit for the customer.

According to Pridgen and Gene Massey, plant manager, the mezzanine and material lift contributes to the success of Ferguson’s operation in several ways.

• Safe storage. The mezzanine stores several key production items, including thousands of cutting dies that tell the machines where, when and how the boxes need to be cut and perforated. Delicate printing plates are also stored on the mezzanine. These two items are critical to customers’ production yet are easily damaged and prone to accidents. With some 4,000 of these items to keep safe at any time, Pridgen has plans to relocate to a new tool storage area to consolidate and maximize inventory space.

• Easy access. The VRC material lift operates frequently every day. Tooling is stored on the mezzanine, and when the tooling technician pulls items for the production schedule, items are brought down on the material lift. Some of the box cutting dies can weigh thousands of pounds, so employees use a special cart to transport them onto the lift and to the machine. The space below the mezzanine is also maximized to its fullest potential. There are several defined areas that contribute to the centralized “core” operation philosophy Ferguson Box embraces. By focusing on the different aspects of certain areas, it has dramatically increased the efficiency of the maintenance shop, ink kitchen and fulfillment area where orders are packed and shipped.

Ferguson Box’s unique ink station allows the company to make its own ink. By having the ink on location, it is able to fill customer orders faster and reduce ink inventory. “The location of the mezzanine factored into the location of the ink in our operation,” Pridgen explains. “With the ink isolated and organized, it is easy to determine the inventory, control costs, and analyze the amount used on each job.”

At this point, Ferguson Box operates efficiently with two shifts using the space it currently has. Growth will fill the current operations, and when a third shift is added, space will have to be assessed, adjusted and increased to accommodate the additional business.

“The mezzanine and lift have provided our new facility with the space and efficiency we need to accomplish our goals,” says Pridgen. “We are able to have our dies and materials readily available for use. As a result, we are able to maximize our efficiency in an organized fashion, that greatly adds to our bottom line.”