From Manual Handling to AutomationQuickly

Jan. 1, 2008
When your customer is Wal-Mart, speed, cooperation and productivity are top priorities. This supplier turned to a system integrator when it needed help.

Using pick-to-light modules, orders are quickly assembled and sent to packing stations.

Cousin Corporation of America (Largo,Fla.) is a major wholesaler of arts and crafts supplies to large retailers. It employs more than 100 people and does several million dollars in annual sales. Recently, it was given a mission that was simple—however, daunting.

As part of its continuing business plan, Wal-Mart, a major customer, asked it to undergo a workplace metamorphosis in the way it was doing business with the retail giant’s 3,500 stores and 43 distribution centers in the U.S.

Up to this time, the distributor had been receiving closeto 800 orders a day from Wal-Mart. These were printed on hard-copy pick sheets, selected in bulk, then shipped in SKUgroupings to Wal-Mart’s distribution centers. That was about to change.

The previous system was accurate—and slow. Using paper pick tickets and pallet jacks to consolidate orders, operators simply picked the orders and stacked them onto pallets. Pick tickets were then assembled and keyed in for advanced shipping notifications (ASNs) and packing slips created. Pallet loads were then wrapped and shipped to Wal-Mart distribution centers where they were sorted for redistribution and delivery to individual stores.

From Manual Handling to Automation
The major change included having Cousin switch to a direct store delivery consolidation (DSDC) system. The benefit of such a program would be to create more efficient channels for replenishing its stores with less than case-pack quantities.

Material handling managers knew the task would require integration expertise. They turned to Lakeland, Fla.-based TriFactor (formerly Advanced Handling Systems and recipient of Material Handling Management’s Value-Added Award in 2004). TriFactor is known for its integration of material handling systems.

Cousin was now faced with the daunting task of picking orders for 3,500 Wal-Mart stores individually, instead of in bulk, something that was simply not possible with its current operational mode. It recognized that, to secure and maintain Wal-Mart’s business, it had to make a major change in its picking process—and the deadline was only six months away.

“We were aware that this was comingwhen we first started working with Wal-Mart,” says Marty DiMura, vice president of operations at Cousin. “We knew that, eventually, they would want us to shift to a DSDC mode of operation. We made it clear that we wanted to continue to work and grow with them,” he says.

The Cousin managers knew their picking process was inadequate. “We could also see that our current system was flawed, because if you ship 12 packages of beads to the distribution center, and they have to break the carton—one to one store, three to another—it can create over-inventory, which did not reflect well on us,” DiMura says.

He also knew the company wouldnow have to monitor closely how many items each store was selling each week, so it could maintain correct inventory levels. “We had to watch it like a hawk,” says DiMura.

Knowing what you must do and knowing how to do are often quite different. DiMura and his team went to work researching various systems that could get the job done.

Their findings led them to believe systems were either too expensive or technologically too complex.

Ultimately, the decision was made to adopt a pick-to-light system. It was a paperless process that would increase accuracy and productivity.

Now managers had to make it happen—quickly.

An audit of product is done at the packing station before shipping.

The Integrator’s Solution
Fully aware of the time constraints, TriFactor’s engineering team, led by System Sales Engineer Greg Tuohy, began working on a comprehensiveneeds analysis of the operation to identify and understand the issues Cousinwas facing.

“What had to happenwould be a dramatic shift in how they had been doing business with Wal-Mart,” says Tuohy. “We wanted to make sure wedeveloped the proper picking and slotting concept to fit their needs. Also, we were introducing technology that was totally new to them.”

Using TriFactor’s design/build process and understanding how Wal-Mart and Cousin did things together were important firststeps. That meant dealing with different hardware and software companies while introducing the pick-to-light system.

The data from Wal-Mart had first to be put into a proper format so that it would translate smoothly into the order picking system software. “We knew we could handle the hardware integration—conveyors, racks, modular lights—but the software assimilation was a big challenge,” explains DiMura.

Once TriFactor and Cousin began working together to resolve the software issues, they discovered that the hardware installation would not be without its own challenges. They had to install a fully automated system, including a 24-volt, DC motorized roller conveyor, case erector, racking and pick module, along with controls and software, all while navigating an area filled with tight spaces and narrow aisles, and without interrupting the normal flow of business.

With one eye on the calendar and the other on the installation, the TriFactor team of engineers and technicians completed the project on time and on budget. Cousin was now able to process Wal-Mart orders through a pick-to-light system that received Wal-Mart’s electronic data interchange (EDI) each day.

How It’s Done
Each order is originated, labeled andscanned as it enters aconveyor line. Product is arranged in full-case and split-case lots. Zones are configured to maximize productivity and use pallet picking as well as carton flow lanes that are slotted to ensure pickers have their individual share of fast-, medium and slow-moving SKUs. Each carton is then transported from picker to picker in a pick-and-pass arrangement.

Once an order is completed, it is scanned and released via communication with the host WMS. Released orders are sealed automatically, then scanned to determine store destination. The carton is transferred automatically on a bi-directional, 90-degree transfer to one of two lanes. Queued cartons are palletized and wrapped for shipment to respective Wal-Mart stores.

Cousin benefits from improved speed and accuracy of orders as wellas reduced training time for new hires. More importantly, the new design allows for a more streamlined auditing process, which translates into additional savings and increased customer satisfaction.

“My estimate is that the ROI on the new system will probably be about one year,” Tuohy says.

The new system provides effective service for Wal-Mart, and other customers, should it be warranted in the future, says DiMura. “And, if a new customer comes on board, and they require a pick-to-light system, we’re now ahead of the game.”

For more information on partners in this installation, contact any of the following:

System Integration, TriFactor,;

Powered roller conveyor:
Intelligent Package Systems, a division of M2L Systems,;

Pick-to-light system: Lightning Pick,;

Carton flow lanes: Unex,;

Racking components: Interlake,;

Case sealers: Little David,;

Audit stands: IAC Industries,

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