Nike Tennessee Breaks Throughput Record
New equipment helps this sports apparel giant boostcapacity and increase flexibility.
Edited by Leslie Langnau, senior technical editor
Likethe commercials say, sometimes you have to push your limits to achieve yourgoals. Thus, when management at Nike Tennessee Inc., a division of theBeaverton, Oregon-based Nike Inc., needed to increase throughput at thedistribution center, they pushed it.
Theseven-building, 1.25 million square-foot facility in Memphis serves as acustomer service center, handling apparel and equipment distribution. Onebuilding is dedicated to receiving and customer/consumer returns — half of it is pallet storage.Two other buildings are also used for pallet storage, one building for cartonstorage, one for the packing area and value-added services, one for activepicking (unit pick) and shipping support, and one for shipping and some cartonstorage.
“Wemeasure by unit volume,” said Mark Dennington, director of operations.“Through two eight-hour production shifts, we were averaging 350,000 to400,000 units shipped per day, with a peak of about 550,000.
“Butthat wasn’t enough,” he continued. “We’ve experiencedhuge growth over the past few years, specifically in our outbound shippingvolumes. Consequently, we needed an internal system to help us increase ourthroughput capacity to one million garments in a 24-hour window.”
Thatmeant almost doubling throughput. Nike was able to do this with a boost fromMathews Conveyor, Danville, Kentucky. As a member company of FKI Logistex,Mathews designs and manufactures material handling systems that integrateconveyors, sorters, controls and custom equipment. Nike Tennessee had beenusing Mathews product since the facility opened in 1991. “We had 13 milesof Mathews conveyor before the new project,” said Dennington. “Wedoubled that to 26 miles.”
The newequipment consisted of live roller conveyor curves, gravity roller conveyor,gravity wheel conveyor, controlled flow (CFC) zone accumulation conveyor (withsensor rollers), belt merges, live roller merges, sliding shoe slat sorters,swivel wheel diverters, and trash removal conveyors.
Othermaterial handling equipment was also added, including two large sorters fromCrisplant Inc. of Frederick, Maryland (another member company of FKI Logistex).The sorters interface with the accumulation conveyor in the staging phase ofthe order process. The tilt tray system, which is in the processing area, isthe heart of the operation and the interface.
Theequipment, in place more than a year, has helped Nike Tennessee double itsoutbound throughput, increasing productivity by 60 percent. Order accuracy hasgone up to 99.8 percent. Further, the equipment is both ergonomic and muchquieter than earlier equipment.
KurtSalmon Associates, a consulting firm, oversaw the entire project. SaidDennington, “It was very unlikely that we would try to integrateequipment from a new material handling equipment provider considering ouroriginal equipment was from Mathews, and we were happy with it. Plus,we’ve had a long relationship with them, one that we valuehighly.”
Theupgrade proceeded while Nike continued its business. “We didn’tshut down; we were continually shipping product,” said Dennington.“The new building helped us establish functional areas to support thebusiness, which allowed us to come back into the existing buildings andretrofit them. We limped along on our ‘legacy system’ while wecreated new systems such as the receiving system and new bulk storage. Thisallowed us to go into the older buildings, empty them, and have a vacantbuilding for the construction.”
But that was just part of the logistical challenges. Anumber of vendors had to coordinate their efforts — sometimes workingaround the clock. Crisplant, for example, was building tilt tray sorters butMathews couldn’t wait until the sorters were complete. The engineersattached the conveyor to those sorters while they were being installed.
Other components that speed throughput
TheAnswer System, from Mathews, is a software system that tracks cartons anddivert information. The new receiving system includes a sizer that dynamicallydetermines the cube of a carton. It helps Nike maximize space usage in thebuilding.
Thecontrolled flow (CFC) zone accumulation conveyor moves the full case picksdirectly to shipping once they have been through a labeling station. This liveroller conveyor permits accumulation in one direction of items without build-upof line pressure, which causes product damage or jams. Single-item release letsone load exit at a time following an electrical remote signal. Multiple-loadrelease lets product exit in a progressive fashion following a maintainedelectrical signal. The direction of these conveyors may also be reversed toserve as transport conveyors.
Thesliding shoe sorter handles full case picks from the pallet flow racks andsingle carton areas once they have been labeled for shipping. Its bumper bandscushion impact and prevent slipback, while the “plow” designeliminates damaging jams in discharge spurs. Sorting capacity is up to 540 feetper minute, and it can sort as many as 230 cartons per minute, based on an18-inch average box length.
“Ourinstallation is much more dynamic now,” Dennington stated. “Wedon’t have to do as much pre-planning in regard to where things will gowith the newer equipment, due to the combination of the software system and thecontrol systems in both the Crisplant and Mathews Conveyor equipment.” MHM