Exchange: Keeping up with peak demand

Lift trucks, stretch wrap and floor storage are at the heart of the Exchange.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
May 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial

The Exchange; Waco, Texas
Size: 650,000 square feet
Products: General merchandise
SKUs: 18,000
Throughput: Ships 25,000 cases per day
Shifts: 2 shifts a day/5 days per week
Employees: 400

A new conveyor and sortation system and pick-to-light technology are the power behind the order fulfillment system at the Exchange’s 650,000-square-foot distribution center in Waco, Texas.

Receiving: At the receiving dock (1), the receiving team palletizes and scans new products into the warehouse management system (WMS) by stock keeping unit (SKU). Receivers also enter any relevant expiration dates into the WMS. Once completed, a license plate bar code is applied to a pallet, which is then stretch wrapped and staged for putaway into one of several reserve storage areas (2), (3), (4).

Storage: To start the putaway process, a storage team member scans the license plate bar code label on one of the pallets. The WMS indicates whether the pallet will go to reserve storage or be handled in a different manner. Items are stored in a bulk location on the floor (2); in a reserve storage location in a high-bay storage area served by turret trucks (3); or in an area for non-conveyable products (4). The putaway location is confirmed by scanning the license plate bar code label and a location label. 

Crossdocking and active picking: While most inbound products will go into storage, some merchandise can be used immediately to fill orders. Between 2,500 and 3,500 cases can be crossdocked into an outbound trailer or sent directly to one of the nine pick modules for temporary storage. Crossdocked cases are first conveyed to a print-and-apply station (5) where a shipping label is applied that identifies the destination. From there, the carton is conveyed to an inbound crossdocking conveyor system (6). Following an automatic scan of the shipping label, the carton is sorted to its next destination. If the trailer is loading, the carton is sorted (7) to a shipping lane and loaded into an outbound trailer for shipment (8). If the trailer isn’t ready to load, a pop-up diverter sorts the carton to a pick module (6) underneath the crossdocking conveyor system where it is temporarily placed on a pallet. Once the active loading process begins, a light signals the associate to put cartons back on the crossdock conveyor. The shipping labels are scanned and the cartons are sorted (7) to the right shipping lane (8).

Picking: Replenishment orders are received from the stores served by the Exchange the night before they are shipped. Distribution planners choose shipping lanes and create picking waves based on the time of day an order must ship. After the waves have been created, the WMS prints pick tickets that are distributed when the picking team arrives at 7 a.m. Associates are then disbursed to one of the picking modules to complete their work. Orders are picked in a variety of ways.

Non-conveyable items (4) are picked by an associate on a man-aboard lift truck or pallet truck. Picks are confirmed by scanning the bar code label on the carton. Once all picks have been completed, the associate drives the orders to the shipping area (8).

Full cartons are picked in pallet flow (9) and carton flow (10) pick modules. Cartons are conveyed to a spiral conveyor at the end of each module (11) and then enter an outbound conveyor. From there, they travel to a merge where they enter the shipping sorter (7).

Mixed SKU or less-than-full cases are picked in a split-case picking, or repack, area (12). This area is designated for stores that can’t use a full case of material. An associate selects a shipping container based on the size of the order. The pick-to-light system identifies the items that are placed in the box. Once complete, the shipping container is placed on the outbound conveyor.

High-security items, such as cameras, are stored and picked from vertical lift modules (13). Items are delivered to an associate who packs them in a shipping container that is then placed on an outbound conveyor. 

Liquor and other flammable products are stored and picked from three pick modules (14) equipped for beverage cartons.

Packing and shipping: Once cartons are merged onto to the shipping conveyor (7), most will be sorted by a sliding shoe sorter down a shipping lane. They are conveyed directly into an outbound trailer (8). Trailers are loaded on a first-in/first-out basis; the cartons in the nose of a trailer represent the last stop of a multi-stop delivery. The remaining cartons are conveyed to a palletizing area. There, cartons are loaded onto a pallets designated for specific facilities. Once the pallets are complete, they are loaded into a trailer. Completed loads are confirmed by scanning a bar code label at the dock door.

System suppliers
System integration, warehouse control system, conveyor & sliding shoe sorter: Intelligrated
Pick-to-light: Real Time Solutions,
Network design & supply chain consulting: Tompkins International
Vertical lift modules: Kardex Remstar
Spiral conveyor: AmbaFlex
Pallet & case flow rack: Interlake Mecalux
Truck loading conveyor: Flexible Material Handling
Lift trucks: Crown Equipment Corp., ; Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America
WMS: Developed in-house
Mobile computing & bar code scanning: Intermec
Fixed bar code scanner: Sick
Print & apply: ID Technology

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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