Casebook 2011: Fastenal finds shortest path to shipping success

Mini-load system cuts steps in materials handling process for national distributor.
By Josh Bond, Senior Editor
January 06, 2011 - MMH Editorial

From a single store launched in 1967, Minnesota-based Fastenal has grown into one of the nation’s largest distributors of industrial fasteners. To accommodate that growth, Fastenal transformed its 530,000-square-foot Great Lakes distribution center in Indianapolis from a regional DC serving 275 stores into a master DC that stocks 163,000 SKUs and replenishes the company’s 13 other distribution centers around the country.

At the heart of the system is a goods-to-person picking system powered by a mini-load automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS; TGW Systems, 231-798-4547, With 126,000 storage locations and 12 fast, double-handling cranes, the mini-load delivers totes to workstations where operators select orders in an ergonomic and efficient environment.

Mini-load technology handles the medium to medium-fast moving SKUs in a facility that offers same-day order processing. To fill orders received from the warehouse management system, the mini-load AS/RS retrieves totes from storage based on the departure times of the trucks. The totes are conveyed and sorted to an operator at a workstation, who scans the tote to verify the product.

The system is processing an estimated 16,000 packages per day while picking from as many as 100,000 unique SKUs each month.
Through the use of mini-load technology, the company has reduced the number of times it touches a product in the distribution center from as many as 12 to as few as two. In between, all of the handling is executed by automation. The company reports the mini-load has also improved inventory accuracy and eliminated errors.

About the Author

Josh Bond
Senior Editor

Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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