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Bardwil Industries adds pick-to-light

With new picking technologies, Bardwil doubled its throughput rates to meet faster order turnaround times.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
February 24, 2011

Bardwil Industries Inc., Jersey City, NJ
Facility size: 150,000 sq ft
Employees: One shift, five days
Products handled: Table linens, including table cloths, place mats and napkins
Pallet locations: 6,500
Order volume: 400,000 cartons per year

If you set your Thanksgiving table with a linen tablecloth, place mats or napkins from a retailer like Kohls, JCPenney, Linens ‘n Things, or Bed Bath & Beyond, there’s a good chance they were manufactured by Bardwil Industries, a leading supplier of linens to major retailers across the country.

And when it came to filling that order, there’s also a good chance that Bardwil had a week or less to accept the order and get it out the door. “We used to get a month to send an order to a retailer’s DC, and they would allocate the inventory to their stores,” explains Ed Bracconeri, Jr., Bardwil’s vice president for domestic operations and the manager of fulfillment operations at the company’s 150,000 sq ft distribution center in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Now, their inventory is right here. We get a week to fill a replenishment order for a store. If we can’t make the ship window, we’ll lose the order, or they’ll hit us with a charge-back fee.”

To meet those shorter lead times without increasing the number of associates filling orders, Bardwil replaced bar code scanning in the active pick areas with a pick-to-light order picking system (AL Systems, http://www.alsysinc.com/). The system uses lights to direct associates to the right picking location and to identify the number of items to be picked to a shipping container. Just three months after going live, Bardwil increased throughput from an estimated 100 to 150 units per hour to nearly 300 units per hour with no addition to head count.

“We received an order last week for 3,400 cartons that we picked in 3-1/2 days,” says Bracconeri. “If we were using the old system, we’d still be scanning the order today and would’ve missed the ship window.”

That’s not to say that Bardwil has replaced all scanning processes. Bar codes still drive receiving, directed putaway, and shipping, which are managed by the DC’s warehouse management system (WMS).

The combination of technologies, however, has enabled Bardwil to meet more stringent customer demands and to control its distribution costs.

Changing demand
In many ways, Bardwil’s story is a microcosm of the changing landscape for US manufacturers and distributors, especially in the retail supply chain.

Bardwil’s manufacturing roots run deep. Still family owned and managed, the company was founded nearly 100 years ago by a pair of brothers who immigrated to America as traveling salesmen. According to the company history, they originally imported linens and lace from Europe and the Orient. Over time, they added their own manufacturing lines in the Jersey City facility.

Today, Bardwil is the largest and broadest based table linen manufacturer in the U.S. However, as with many other US-based manufacturing companies, nearly all of Bardwil’s production has moved off-shore. The space in the Jersey City facility once devoted to sewing machines is now used for pallet racks and storage.

Distribution processes also evolved. Until recently, Bardwil shipped full pallets of a single stock keeping unit (SKU) to a retailer’s DC; the retailer would then break the shipment down and allocate it to individual stores. Today, Bardwil is picking orders to replenish stores. “We’re getting shorter lead times, we’re shipping every week, and we’re shipping smaller quantities in a box,” says Bracconeri. “That means we’re shipping more cartons, and shipping them more frequently, to move the same amount of product.”

It’s not uncommon, for instance, for an order to include a carton with just six placemats of a certain color for an individual store. When those cartons hit the retailer’s DC, they’ll be cross-docked directly to an outbound truck with other cartons for that store. For that reason, Bardwil’s biggest challenge is getting goods to the customer as soon as possible after a container arrives at the DC. “Once the goods hit our distribution center, our customers want them in a matter of five or ten days,” says Bracconeri.

As lead times shortened, traditional bar code scanning was too time consuming for order picking. “We weren’t getting things out the door quick enough, especially during August, September and October, which are our busiest months,” says Bracconeri. “Business was also ramping up. We needed to improve our picking processes if we were going to keep up with the increase in business.”

Improving picking
That’s where pick-to-light came into play. Scanning required an associate to pick up a gun to scan a bar code and confirm a pick. That was suitable for receiving, putaway and shipping operations, which involved relatively lower volumes. But it took too much time for high-volume picking.

Pick-to-light, by contrast, enables mostly hands-free picking. The light bar on the –flow rack lights up to indicate which carton product should be picked from, and indicates how many items should be picked. An associate confirms the pick by pressing a button while on the way to the next pick. “We have nearly doubled productivity,” says Bracconeri. “It’s been a home run.”

In fact, now that the system is up and running in selected areas of the warehouse, Bardwil is looking to expand its use for further productivity improvements.

As part of the learning curve, Bracconeri adds, accuracy has dipped slightly. Most of those errors are caught at the scales in the shipping department, which identify cartons that are out of weight tolerance. “However, we are putting in an audit station to do random audits that will catch those mistakes,” Bracconeri says.

In addition, Bardwil is investigating the addition of stretch wrap machines to replace manual wrapping in the shipping department for further productivity improvements.

“This is all aimed at giving us the ability to get orders out the door closer to the ship date than the cancel date,” Bracconeri says. “As we continue to improve our customer service, we expect to see some sales benefit as well.” 

Systems suppliers
Pick-to-light technology: AL Systems, 973-586-8500, http://www.alsysinc.com/
Warehouse management system: Manhattan Associates, 770-955-7070, http://www.manh.com 
Pallet and carton flow rack: Frazier Industrial, 973-728-1428, http://www.frazier.com
Mobile computing and bar code scanning: Motorola, http://www.motorola.com
Bar code label printers: Monarch, 800-337-2927, http://www.paxar.com/products/barcodeRFID/ 
Conveyor: Dematic, http://www.dematic.us
Lift Trucks: Raymond, http://www.raymondcorp.com 

This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of MMH.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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