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Wilton puts icing on the distribution center cake

After a merger, Wilton Products consolidated its distribution processes in a redesigned DC that nearly tripled throughput.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
January 27, 2011

Doing more with less. That was the catalyst behind a major makeover last year at Wilton Products’ 691,000 square foot distribution center in Romeoville, Illinois.

Founded in 1929 as a manufacturer of cake decorating supplies, Wilton has the number one position in cake decorating and bakeware and offers the industry’s most comprehensive and innovative selection of baking, cake decorating, candy making, cookie making, wedding and seasonal products.  In August 2007, the family-owned business was sold to GTCR Golder Rauner, LLC. The Chicago-based private equity firm merged Wilton with three other companies also distributing their products to big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Michaels along with Mom and Pop hobby, craft and kitchen stores: EK Success and K&Company, two scrapbooking suppliers, and Dimension Holdings LLC, a maker and distributor of craft and hobby products.

“The question after the merger was how do we absorb these companies and build efficiencies,” says Tom Gibadlo, Wilton’s senior vice president of distribution. “When we looked at space, labor and freight costs, we decided it made the most sense to consolidate redundant facilities and bring the distribution operations for EK Success and K& Company to Chicago, where we had a total of 1.7 million sq ft of space.”

That included adding 10,000 new SKUs in the existing footprint in Romeoville, where Gibadlo had expanded by 250,000 sq ft of space prior to the merger to accommodate further growth.

The design included:

The conversion of 3 floor-level pick lines to three, three-level pick modules with a centralized order start location for each module, tripling the number of pick faces.

A pop-up wheel pack sorter with the capacity to handle 70 cases per minute. The sorter feeds four flow-through pack lanes, double the previous number. The system also featured a divert for value added services and a bypass divert for full case picks ready for shipping.

The ability to handle box sizes as small as 6-inches long by 5-inches wide on the new system to accommodate new SKUs.

Reworking the layout of the existing selective racks.

What’s more, Wilton put in place an aggressive time line to get the project up and running. The result was a project that went from concept to operation in 7-1/2 months. “We selected our conveyor and sortation vendor (Intelligrated Material Handling Solutions & Services, 513-701-7300, http://www.intelligrated.com) right before Christmas of 2007,” says Gibadlo. “We began building each pick module one at a time beginning in mid March. A phased production approach allowed us to ship out of each completed pick module while the next was under construction. Our first pick module was commissioned in the beginning May and our last in mid July.

Better yet, productivity increased from under 30,000 lines per day (a line represents one trip to a pick face by an employee) with a total facility staff of 80 to more than 80,000 lines per day with a staff total facility of 210. “We were shooting for 180 lines per man-hour, and we have achieved that number,” says Gibadlo.

The icing on the cake: The company is on pace to beat the 2-1/2 year payback estimate.

Picking the low-hanging fruit
Automation, including the conveyor and sortation system, plays an important role in Wilton’s distribution success in Romeoville. But the real star of the project may be the way Gibadlo and his team picked the low-hanging fruit to optimize the design.

“Our goal was to leverage our current building, our existing conveyor and sortation system, our management staff and our warehouse management system,” says Gibadlo.

The first step was to use a software application to simulate the SKU throughput. Using throughput requirements and product cube information, they were able to calculate how much real estate was needed for all activities. That lead to the amount of pallet shelving and carton flow rack required for storage and picking. The outcome was to redesign the picking areas and to add a two-level mezzanine above each existing floor level pick line.

Next was to look at the best way to stage product for picking. While the newly-merged companies distributed different product lines than Wilton, they were shipping to many of the same customers. For that reason, Wilton grouped programs together – all the products shipped to a specific retailer – in modules. The first module built, for instance, was designed to handle Wal-Mart and Michaels stores.

In addition to grouping programs together, careful attention was paid to product profiling – or slotting – within the pick modules to create more picking efficiencies. Gibadlo’s team ran the sales history for each SKU through a slotting software application. The system determined the best way to position product within the line to reduce travel time and the number of pickers required to fill a batch of orders.

“That was a big part of garnering efficiencies from this project,” says Gibadlo. “When you have the amount of SKUs that we have now, the efficiencies you gain from slotting are tremendous.”

In addition, attention was paid to the layout of the conveyor system servicing the pick modules and the shipping sorter. “We needed to have wide enough aisles between the modules so that conventional lift trucks could drop off the product on the mezzanines for replenishment,” says Gibadlo. As a result, one of the pick modules saves space by using elevators, rather than conveyors, to deliver shipping cartons from the floor to the second and third levels. 

The bottom line: “In putting this together, the work we did around layout, design and slotting was every bit as important as the hardware and software systems we implemented,” says Gibadlo.

Slotting, meanwhile, is an ongoing best practice. “Based on the success we had setting up the facility, we purchased slotting software and put a profiling manager in place,” says Gibadlo. “We continue to use the sales forecasts to determine where we’re going to position product.” 

Built for speed
After fitting all those new SKUs into an existing facility, the second challenge faced by Wilton was an aggressive timeline for completing the project. What’s more, the facility needed to continue filling and shipping customer orders while the new construction was going on.

The expanded picking modules were constructed over existing picking lines during off hours. Major conveyor cut-ins were performed on Sundays and holidays. All told, the build out began in mid-March 2008; by the end of May, the first module was up and shipping the largest orders in the company’s history. The whole project was completed by mid-July. “This was a very tight time schedule,” says Gibadlo. “To stick to the plan, we would stock the pick faces as soon as we had a module built and begin picking just days later.”

Just six months after going live, Wilton judge’s the project a success. For starts, the company was able to close facilities in New Jersey and Kansas City and do more work in a smaller overall footprint. “The bottom line on this project is that we are able to service our customer better, while becoming more efficient and saving money in both labor costs and on freight by merging and shipping our customers from one point,” says Gibadlo.

This story first appeared in the March 2009 issue of Modern Materials Handling


Wilton plans for distribution success
Regular slotting ensures the efficient movement of product and orders through Wilton’s DC.

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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