DC Dental Scales Warehousing Operations for Growth with Automation
A startup company founded in 2002, DC Dental has shaken up the dental supply industry with their commitment to value, delivery speed and high quality customer service. They are the fastest growing, full service dental supplier in the country, delivering competitively priced supplies to dental professionals in the mid-Atlantic region.
Using a flexible, client-oriented business approach they are able to create more personalized relationships with the dentists they serve. To support this, DC Dental inventories over 20,000 of the most commonly used dental products – from burs to bibs to curing lights - in their Baltimore, MD warehouse. Their success is dependent on getting the correct product from the warehouse to the dentist as quickly as possible while maintaining the best price.
DC Dental uses the latest warehouse and distribution technologies and innovative systems to keep efficiencies high and overhead low, allowing them to pass these cost savings along to their customers. They hit a bump in the road after a 2012 acquisition increased warehouse volume by 54% overnight. As their existing 30,000 square foot facility was quickly nearing capacity and product began to fill the aisles in the warehouse, Howie Friedman, CFO/COO, set out to find a solution. “We considered outsourcing to a 3PL, but it was important to us to keep distribution in house to ensure we maintain our customer commitments of speed and value that have made us successful,” said Friedman.
Not wanting to partner with a 3PL provider, Friedman narrowed in on automated storage and retrieval solutions to fill the gap between what people and software could accomplish. The integrated solution utilizes a pick and pass fulfillment strategy with a 20 position batch cart that moves between three zones (zone one - two 21 foot tall Shuttle Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs), zone two – four 56 foot long horizontal carousels and zone three - carton flow rack), all managed by Power Pick Global inventory management software. Since the DC Dental has handled a 54% volume increase with 67% less labor and 73% floor space savings.
The warehouse picks an average 2,500 lines per day to fill roughly 480 orders using only 4 order pickers (compared to 12 order pickers previously required). “The system has the ability to handle up to 3,500 lines per hour with our current labor resources, but we haven’t needed it yet,” says Friedman. Important for a fast growing company like DC Dental, the system is designed to handle extreme scale. “We could double in size and only need to add about 3 additional people in our warehouse,” said Friedman.
Due to productivity gains, DC Dental was able to extend order cutoff time by an hour. “Orders placed before 4:00 pm EST ship out the same day, furthering our commitment to our customers with even faster delivery,” said Friedman.
Using Space Savings as Justification
Using automated storage and retrieval systems, roughly 13,000 square feet of shelving was consolidated into 3,500 square feet, a 73% space savings. This recovered floor space allowed DC Dental to reduce the overall footprint of the facility from 30,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet. They resigned their lease, saving nearly $1 million dollars in rent and utilities over the next 10 years. Combining this savings with the 67% labor savings, ROI justification for this project was easy.
Fast & Accurate Orders
Using light directed technology for picking and putting activities in addition to a scan verification step has increased pick accuracy from 94% to 99.5%. The combination of these measures has created a strong image for DC Dental in the market place as a supplier that provides quick and accurate orders.
In addition, DC Dental installed cameras above each put station so that every single item put into a customer order is recorded. Cameras were also installed above the shipping stations, so each package is captured just prior to being sealed along with the shipping labels being applied. This provides great control and insight into the picking and shipping process. “When a customer called to say a box was damaged, I was able to pull up the entire 4 box order with just a few clicks to see what went wrong and quickly fix it,” said Friedman.
Orders are fulfilled in batches of 20. The batch cart is designed to hold 20 boxes. An order operator sorts the waiting orders in Power Pick Global by box size and manually selects the first batch of orders (4 large, 10 medium and 6 small) to be filled.
The batch cart manually moves between 3 pick zones gathering the parts required for each order. The VLM zone manages roughly 12,000 SKUs, the horizontal carousel zone manages roughly 7,000 SKUs and the carton flow zone manages roughly 850 SKUs.
Picks in each zone are date and time stamped to provide traceability and accountability. Once the orders are completed they are taken to shipping.
At shipping, the original pick label is scanned and an invoice is generated if required by the customer.