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Setting the pace: key characteristics in companies that that push the innovation envelope

February 01, 2010

This year’s Productivity Achievement Award winners perfectly define the pioneering spirit that Modern promotes in its monthly System Report. In fact, I would say that the winners we’re celebrating on page 23 embody the two key characteristics that we tend to find in companies that that push the innovation envelope inside and outside of the four walls.

First, each of these visionaries has made advanced materials handling and distribution a core component of the company’s greater supply chain mission. And second, each of this year’s winners has a history of continuous innovation inside their operations—even during the worst economy of their lifetimes.

Kroger, the winner in this year’s Warehousing/Distribution category, rang in as one of my favorite case studies over the course of 2009—and hit a high note with our editorial advisory board as well. In this tale, the grocery giant shares how it has embraced automation and revolutionized its distribution process to the point that it’s building store-ready mixed pallets with very little human intervention.

One of my favorite parts of the Kroger story is that the end result—a fully automated, truly “lights out” facility— was the culmination of over more than eight years of consistent improvement projects with a defined, long-term goal in mind.

This year’s Manufacturing winner, Fisher Nuts, is a terrific example of a forward-thinking company that made conventional use of materials handling technologies and unconventional use of its warehouse management system (WMS). While the company manages inventory and directs warehouse employee activity with its WMS, it’s also putting the technology to work to synchronize deliveries and track lot numbers to keep close tabs on the raw nuts, spices, and oils that go into each specific batch.

Fisher now boasts 99.7% inventory accuracy in the warehouse and 99% on the factory floor. It’s also been able to eliminate two of four physical inventories a year. So, not only has its WMS improved productivity, but the enhanced accuracy has become the foundation of one of the better allergen and contamination prevention programs in the industry.

Our Innovation winner, The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), is not only the feel-good story of the year, but it exemplifies the positive impact that materials handing and smart facility design can have on a community.

After realizing the GBFB was running out of space, chief operation officer Carol Tienken made a commitment to stay put in the Boston community and create a facility that would help the organization do a better job while respecting the environment and its workforce. Tienken and her group created a distinctive, energy-conscious DC packed with cutting-edge automation and data collection technology. This advanced facility now distributes between 600,000 and 700,000 pounds of food a week to 600 non-profit food providers in eastern Massachusetts—enough to feed 83,000 people a week.

“This year, our winners stood out for the diversity of the solutions they employed, everything from automated materials handling to warehouse management software to a design focused on sustainability,” said Modern executive editor Bob Trebilcock and the author of these three System Reports. “These stories highlight the creativity that is a hallmark of our industry.”

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About the Author

Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at [email protected]

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