Fast Throughput Gives Retailer's DC a Competitive Edge

Sept. 1, 2006
O'Reilly Auto Parts increased the throughput of its new Indianapolis DC by installing a faster conveyor in a well-designed facility.

To stay ahead in the fast-paced automotive aftermarket industry, retailers need distribution centers with fast throughput. Springfield, Mo.-based O'Reilly Auto Parts increased the speed of its new Indianapolis DC by equipping it with a series of new conveyors from Hytrol Inc. (Jonesboro, Ark.).

The new DC supplies O'Reilly Auto Parts retail stores within a 250-mile radius of the city. It opened in June 2006. The new facility is helping the company to optimize capacity in other markets by shifting stores in the region to a closer DC and opening the door to expansion, explains David McCready, senior v.p. of distribution. "Indy allows us a great foothold into many great Midwest markets," he says.

O'Reilly Auto Parts' expanding distribution network has played a major role in the company's overall success. The company's first-quarter 2006 earnings statement reported a 19% increase in gross profit over the same period of the previous year. "The increase of gross profit as a percentage of product sales is the result of improvements in distribution," company executives stated.

When it reaches full capacity in two to three years, the new Indianapolis facility will ship six to seven million parts per month and process five to six million orders per month. In the automotive aftermarket orders can be for a single wiper motor or a case of oil filters that is broken down and shipped individually. The company worked closely with systems integrator, Fortna, Inc. (Brentwood, Tenn.), to design and integrate the distribution system.

Throughput and efficiency were improved at the new facility with the installation of a new conveyor system, in particular, a new Hytrol ProSort 431 Shoe Sorter that runs at 600 ft/min., twice the speed of a pop-up wheel sorter used in other O'Reilly DCs.

"This is our first sliding shoe sorter. Our previous sorters had a different diverter that pushed totes off onto the correct lane," McCready explains.

"The throughput [of the new sorter] is substantially higher than the sorters we previously used. It gives a more accurate delivery as well, but our main interest was in getting the additional speed to gain more throughput. This is one of our larger facilities. The previous sorter just would not have handled the kind of throughput that we needed."

Managing Flow
The new DC has almost four miles of powered and gravity conveyor that move more than 100,000 SKUs. The conveyors start in the facility's four pick modules, which include bins, carton flow, wire deck, pallet flow and a combination of specialty racking as well as a hazardous materials area. There is no conveyor in receiving to assist with putaway.

All picking is voice driven using equipment from Vocollect Inc. (Pittsburgh, Order fillers pick into plastic totes. A gravity side lane is used to push totes during the pick process. When orders are complete, the totes are moved to the powered roller conveyors for transport to the shipping dock. When exiting the module, totes travel on a combination of powered spirals, belt-incline conveyors onto ABEZ zero pressure conveyor, which feeds a highspeed sawtooth merge.

The accumulation conveyor allows for the proper metering of totes. After passing through the merge, totes destined for local delivery are diverted off using a small shoe sorter. The balance of the totes are directed to the high-speed shoe sorter that diverts totes onto accumulation conveyors feeding gravity spiral conveyors down to five shipping consolidation lanes.

The scanners on the conveyors make sure that full parcels and totes move from the picking area to the front shipping area. RF handheld devices are used in the quality assurance area to audit the pick accuracy.

Fortna Plus Warehouse Control software from Fortna controls the conveyor system, including sorters and scanners that it installed for O'Reilly. The software integrates with O'Reilly's warehouse management system (WMS) from Manhattan Associates (Atlanta, for sortation and shipping confirmation. There are no PLCs in the system. Sorting in the shipping area is done by scanning bar code labels on the side of the totes.

Maintenance, Training, and Safety
O'Reilly has a well-trained maintenance team at the new DC. "Some staff members have been through Hytrol's usertraining program, which helps provide the education for us to develop a strong preventative maintenance regimen as well as be prepared to respond to downtime issues. We meet or exceed the recommended maintenance tasks and intervals prescribed by Hytrol and Fortna," McCready says.

Conveyor safety is part of every new DC-floor team members' orientation. Safety reviews continue through on-the-job training. The company managers communicate important issues with employees on an ongoing-basis through periodic safety huddles and weekly internal publications to keep safety awareness high.

"We work hard to 'walk as well as talk' safety by placing a high level of accountability on everyone following established, well-communicated safety practices," McCready adds.

"We've had no accidents directly related to our conveyor assets that I am aware of. Our best defense is great planning," he says. "We work very hard in the design and selection before any metal is installed to build a facility that minimizes accident opportunities in a fast paced environment."

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