Wirtz Beverage: A hybrid approach

Wirtz Beverage uses both cutting edge automation and conventional processes to move product through its new facility.

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Wirtz Beverage Cicero, Ill.
Size: 555,449 square feet of warehouse and distribution space
Products: Wine, spirits and beer
SKUs: 7,500+
Throughput: 84,000 cases per night
Shifts: 3 shifts, 4 days a week in picking and shipping; 1 shift, 5 days per week in receiving

Starting with a clean sheet of paper, Wirtz Beverage Illinois designed a beverage distribution center that brings together automated technologies and conventional processes. The combination provides the speed and throughput Wirtz needs to meet today’s demands with room to support the distributor’s plans for future growth.

Receiving: Incoming product is received five days a week. Receipts are scheduled and the docks (1) located near the automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) (2) to streamline storage. Pallets are unloaded and processed in a staging area located underneath the accumulation conveyor (3) that services cartons picked in the AS/RS. After pallets are scanned into the warehouse management system (WMS), the WMS generates a license plate bar code label that will be used to track the pallet throughout the facility. Pallets are now ready for storage.

Storage: The WMS directs putaway operations. The top 780 fastest-moving SKUs are stored in the AS/RS (2). Two associates deliver pallets to the conveyors at the AS/RS induction station (4). Once the bar codes are scanned and the pallets are automatically measured, the warehouse control system (WCS) assumes the responsibility for that pallet while it is in the AS/RS. The WCS determines a storage location and signals to one of the three cranes that the load is ready for putaway. Each crane can move two pallets at a time into and out of storage.

Slower moving SKUs are stored in one of several reserve storage (5) locations. These locations include the following technologies:
• a six pallet high bay storage system,
• a conventional four pallet high rack system, and
• a shelving area that holds product stored in quantities of less than five cases.

The facility also features a cool room (6) for temperature sensitive products, such as fine wines, and a bulk storage area (7) where product is stored on the floor. The WMS directs lift truck operators to a storage location. Operators confirm the putaway by scanning the license plate bar code on the pallet and a location bar code label on the storage unit. Those cases are now available to fill orders.

Picking: Picking takes place in several different areas.

Fast-moving SKUs:
The fastest-moving SKUs are picked in integrated pick-to-belt modules (8) in the AS/RS. Pick faces are replenished by the AS/RS cranes which deposit pallets onto pallet flow lanes. Associates pick by label and place cartons on belt conveyors that deliver them to the inbound accumulation conveyor (3).

Split-case picking: Split-case picks are managed in a bottle room (9) where individual bottles are picked by voice. Associates receive picking instructions by voice and pick to shipping cartons that are pushed down the line on a manual conveyor. Orders that are completed in the floor level area enter an express line that delivers them to the outbound accumulation conveyor (10). Incomplete orders are conveyed to the second floor where slow-moving items are stored. Once the carton is complete, it is conveyed to the outbound accumulation conveyor (10).

Slower-moving full case SKUs: The remaining SKUs are picked from two double-level pick modules (11) and pallet rack locations in reserve storage (5). Cases are delivered to an accumulation area (12) for full case shipping. 

Packing and shipping: Once the shipping process begins, cartons are conveyed from the various accumulation areas to the shipping sorter (13). To prepare cartons for the sorter, three pre-merges (14) consolidate the inputs from a total of 14 infeeds. A high-speed combiner (15) then creates a single line of cartons with the appropriate gap for the shipping sorter. A sliding shoe sorter diverts cartons to one of 23 shipping lanes. In addition to automatically scanning bar code labels, Wirtz Beverage implemented a vision capture system that takes a picture of the cartons to verify that the right product is being shipped. Once the loading process begins, cartons are delivered into the trailers in the shipping area (16) on extendable conveyors for easy loading. Cartons are loaded in reverse stop order; the last cartons to go on the truck are the first that will be delivered.

System suppliers
Systems integration and monitoring software: W&H Systems, whsystems.com
Automated storage and retrieval system and associated software: Westfalia, westfaliausa.com
Warehouse management system: Manhattan Associates, manh.com
ERP: Microsoft Dynamics, microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/erp.aspx
ERP/WMS systems integrator: Blue Horseshoe, bhsolutions.com
Wave planning system: Contech Systems
Voice picking system: Lucas Systems, lucasware.com
Conveyor and sortation equipment: Intelligrated, intelligrated.com
Spiral conveyor: AmbaFlex, ambaflex.com
Adjustable conveyor: Stewart Glapat, adjustoveyor.com
Fixed scanners: SICK, sickusa.com
Vision capture system: Numina Group, numinagroup.com
Mobile computing and handheld scanning: Motorola, motorolasolutions.com;  Intermec, intermec.com
Lift trucks: order pickers & reach trucks, Crown, crown.com; high bay order pickers, reach trucks and walkie riders, Jungheinrich, jungheinrich.com; forklifts, Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America, http://www.mcfa.com/_mcfa/index.cfm

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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