Tech Data: Taking WCS to the next level

WCS is transforming operations at Tech Data’s Fort Worth, Texas, facility

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Tech Data; Dallas/Fort Worth facility
Fort Worth, Texas
Size: 535,000 square feet
Products: Information technology equipment
SKUs: 40,000
Throughput: 4,000 orders per day
Employees: 120
Shifts per day/days per week: 3 shifts per day, 5 days per week

Tech Data’s 535,000-square-foot facility in Fort Worth, Texas, is just one of six U.S.-based distribution centers. However, it is a good representation of how a warehouse control system (WCS) is synchronizing warehousing and distribution activities in the DCs.

Receiving: The facility deploys two processes in the receiving area: One is for small parcel receiving (1) from the likes of UPS and FedEx, and the other is for palletized LTL and truckload deliveries (2). The facility receives approximately 450 small parcel containers and about 350 pallets of product each day.

Small parcel receiving (1) begins with a validation of the number of parcels in the container against the packing slip. A receiver then keys a purchase order (PO) number into a mobile computer to access the purchase order in the enterprise resource planning/warehouse management system (ERP/WMS). The receiver confirms the items and quantities against the PO.

Once validated and received, a second associate prepares the shipment for putaway in a small parcel processing area (3). The associate scans a bar code on a receipt slip. The WMS assigns the item to a storage location, which generates a bar code label for each putaway item. The associate applies the bar code labels and aggregates items into totes that are now ready for storage.

Receivers in the LTL and truckload receiving area (2) follow a similar process­—they’re just dealing with larger units. Once validated, full and partial pallets are labeled and staged (4) at an induction point at the end of the aisle designated for putaway.

Putaway: In the small parcel processing area (3), totes are inducted onto the conveyor system (5) that feeds three-level (6) and single-level (7) pick modules. When they reach the designated storage area, cartons are removed from the totes and scanned into the appropriate storage location. Empty plastic totes are recycled through the system for use on other receipts.

Pallets ready for storage are picked up at an induction point by a wire-guided turret truck and scanned into a reserve storage location in a narrow-aisle storage area (8). Large items, like printers and televisions that will be shipped in their original packaging are stored in conventional wide aisle and bulk storage and picking areas (9).

Picking: The Fort Worth facility uses paperless and paper-based picking, depending on the type of product and order being picked. Both types of orders are system-directed by the ERP/WMS system.

Repack picking: Items that are repackaged for shipment are picked to totes in a three-level (6) or single-level (7) pick module. When the orders are released by the WMS, they become visible to order selectors on their bar code scanners. After arriving at a pick location, the order selector scans the product and, if necessary, a serial number, to confirm the location. The system then indicates how many items to pick to a tote. Once the order selector completes the picks in that zone, the tote is placed on the conveyor and routed to another pick zone or to the packing area (11). In all, there are 26 possible pick zones. 

Original packaging picking: Large items that will ship in their original packaging are picked to a pallet. After being directed to a picking location in the wide aisle pallet storage area (9), the order selector scans the item to confirm the location and then picks the right quantity to the pallet. When all of the picks are complete, the packages are loaded onto a conveyor (10) and routed to a centralized packing area (11) for those items.

Batch picking: The system is also designed to consolidate, or batch pick, when a large number of one SKU has been ordered. Batching occurs when multiple orders call for the same SKU. The order selector is directed to a location in the pick modules (6, 7) for that SKU and picks the number indicated to a tote. Once picked, the tote is conveyed (10) to the packing area (11) where it is debatched into individual orders.

Paper-based picking: The above processes are designed for parcel shipments. The Fort Worth facility also uses a paper-based picking process for LTL and truck load shipments. In those instances, paper pick tickets are distributed to order selectors who pick from the narrow aisle (8) and wide aisle (9) storage areas. The pick tickets include a scannable bar code. Order selectors have the option of letting the system direct the picks or of choosing the order of the picks, based on their experience and familiarity with the facility. For instance, the order selector may want to pick heavier items first for the base of a pallet. To confirm the pick, the order selector scans the location and the product before picking it to the pallet. Once the pallet is complete, it is delivered to the shipping dock (12). There, it will be packed and stretch wrapped by a packer on the dock.

Packing/shipping: When a tote arrives at the pack area (11), the packer scans the bar code and views the order on a monitor at the pack station. If the quantity picked matches the quantity ordered, the system generates a shipping label; if the order is complete, the system also generates a packing slip. Next, the system determines the most appropriate box size for shipping. After loading the box, the packer applies the shipping label to the container. It is then conveyed to a central void fill area where paper is added to the container. It is then automatically sealed and conveyed by the packing sorter (13) to the shipping sorter (14) where it is scanned by an overhead scanner and sorted onto the outbound truck in shipping (12).

Orders shipping in the original packaging are scanned to generate the packing slip and shipping label. After applying the label, the items are placed on the conveyor, scanned by an overhead scanner and sorted (14) into the outbound truck (12).

Pallets are staged on the shipping dock (12). A packer scans a bar code to bring up the order on a mobile computer. With that information, the packer builds the pallets for an order. Once that is complete, the system generates a packing list and shipping labels and the pallet is loaded onto the outbound truck. 

System suppliers
Warehouse control system: Fortna
Conveyor and sortation: Hytrol
Turret and walkie lift trucks: Crown; Raymond
Mobile computing and scanning: Motorola Solutions
Rack and shelving: Elite Storage Solutions

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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