Bar code system improves visibility into product and equipment
February 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial
Yeo Valley Farms operates a national distribution center in Highbridge, England, where all dairy products produced at five local factories are consolidated before being picked for dispatch to major supermarkets in the United Kingdom. The 120,000-square-foot refrigerated facility operates 24 hours a day and 364 days per year. By installing forklift-mounted cameras and ceiling-mounted bar codes, facility managers were able to increase visibility into product location, equipment utilization, and overall productivity.
The Highbridge facility receives and handles 4,000 pallets per day, and ground floor pick locations are used to pick mixed-product pallets. According to Martin Morris, Yeo Valley’s general manager, the key objectives were to improve the productivity of his team of lift truck drivers and identify ways to improve the accuracy of pick face replenishment.
With 20 lift trucks deployed across three warehouse units, Morris and his team were having difficulties identifying just where and when productivity could be improved. They launched an initiative titled “Right Pallet, Right Place, First Time, Every Time” to record the accuracy of pick face replenishment. Results showed that they were putting the product in the correct pick location only about 90% of the time.
Yeo Valley Farms selected a lift truck monitoring solution (TotalTrax, totaltraxinc.com) that uses a grid of 2D bar codes strung across the warehouse ceiling. Each lift truck is fitted with an upward facing camera to track the vehicle’s exact location, direction and speed by the second, to the inch. A second camera on the forklift automatically reads and communicates the label of the pallet being acquired by the driver. A pallet detector and lift height sensor provide the exact X, Y and Z location of every pallet when it is moved.
Comprehensive and continuous monitoring of stock movements also delivers continuous tracking of warehouse productivity, enabling managers to reduce warehouse costs. Not only did the new system reduce the time drivers spent hand-scanning pallet labels and location IDs, but pick face replenishment is now 100% accurate, with the drivers advised on a touchscreen if they are replenishing the wrong pick face.
Now, all activity in the warehouses is monitored continuously, including the idle time when forklift drivers are not moving pallets or driving to the next location to start a new task. It is now possible for the management team to see exactly how much spare capacity can be re-deployed. In one area, where the system was first installed, the number of reach trucks has been reduced by 33%. Data collected from counter balanced trucks has allowed drivers to be reassigned to picking part-time as needed, for an equipment reduction of 25%.
“Frugal farmers are not known for spending significant sums on logistics,” says Morris. “But this solution has transformed our business and enabled us to identify exactly how many driver hours it takes to operate the warehouses efficiently.” He adds that the savings have been significant and justifying the capital expenditure for the project has been simple. As a result of the initial improvements, Yeo Valley Farms has decided to deploy the solution on the remaining lift trucks at its distribution centers.