Shuttle XP VLMs Support Precision Machine Manufacturer
Since 1953 Park Industries, located in St. Cloud, MN has manufactured stone working machines that cut, polish and edge stone into slabs for commercial and home use. Driven partly by the granite/quartz countertop trend, as well as entering the metal cutting industry by introducing CNC plasma machines; Park Industries has experienced rapid growth over the last five years - putting a squeeze on the warehouse – literally.
Previously their warehouse utilized a manual paper picking process with associates pushing picking carts up and down aisles of shelving collecting parts. “It was very messy – the aisles were so crowded with parts it was difficult to maneuver the carts down the aisles, and when the aisle was clear - finding parts was tough,” said Elaine Ohman, Inventory Control Manager, “We were bursting at the seams.”
Polishing Up The Warehouse
Knowing they needed to expand warehouse efficiencies to support their growth, Park Industries turned to automation. Specifically, they were looking for an automated solution that would meet a set of six criteria they set out at the start of the project. They wanted a solution: 1 – to utilize the vertical height in their facility creating additional capacity; 2 – to deliver parts to the worker automatically to eliminate wasted walk time; 3 – that could be easily expanded to handle future growth; 4 – to integrate and communicate with their current ERP; 5 – to provide easy access to data and reporting; and 6 – that was user friendly. Overall, they were looking for a total solution – a combination of hardware and software – to improve their warehouse fulfillment operations.
The warehouse today has 4 Shuttle XP Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) from Kardex Remstar; with pick to light technology integrated Power Pick Global (PPG) inventory management software. They installed the automated material handling solution in stages - starting with two VLMs, adding a third VLM two years later, and a fourth VLM just recently. Within the same footprint and using the same labor requirements, the warehouse now fulfills twice the number of orders and has doubled inventory capacity.
The warehouse receives two types of orders – roughly half are service orders for repair parts to be shipped to customers while the other half are work orders to be delivered to support the production line. Work orders are fulfilled a day ahead of production while service orders are fulfilled on the same day. All orders are entered into the system by the service team through their ERP system– JDE. Orders are automatically pushed into the PPG inventory management software which drives the fulfillment process at the VLMs.
The warehouse operator selects the order(s) they want to fill from the PPG software and with a click of a button the VLMs start to move to deliver parts to the operator. As the VLM presents the tray of items for picking, the Transaction Information Center (TIC) light bar on the front of the unit directs the operator to the exact location of the pick and indicates the part number and quantity to pick.
The operator confirms the pick at the VLM and turns to place them among the order(s) as indicated on the pick ticket. Completed work orders are delivered to the production cell to be used the next day and completed service orders are sent to the shipping area where they are rechecked, packaged and shipped to the customer.
There are some larger bulk items held in a separate pallet rack zone within the warehouse. When an order requires parts from the pallet rack, these parts are picked and combined with the parts from the VLM zone before the order is delivered to production or shipping.
Reaching Capacity – and Expanding
At the core of Park Industries customer service is their parts policy – boasting over 5,000+ unique machine parts in stock with a next day delivery guarantee. This level of customer commitment requires a highly organized and efficient warehouse behind it. “It’s critical we manage all parts efficiently – fast, medium and slow moving SKUs – when a customer needs it, we have to find it,” said Mark Shankey, Warehouse Supervisor and Training “and it needs to be in clean, usable, working condition.”
When additional inventory is added, the warehouse can handle it without compromising the valuable slow moving parts that are still important to support older customers. Each VLM was purchased with additional capacity, and when capacity is reached, Park Industries simply adds another VLM. “We have introduced 5 new product lines since installing the first VLMs,” said Ohman, “we couldn’t have done it without the VLMs – an investment in technology was critical to supporting our growth.”
With the ability to find parts quickly at the heart of their parts policy, cycle counting is a focus in the warehouse. “Previously our inventory accuracy was about 90%,” said Shankey, “now with the VLMs and a cycle counting process in place we are at 98% - meaning we know what we have and more importantly where it is.” The warehouse cycle counts every day, counting roughly 15% of their inventory each month to avoid an all consuming yearend inventory count.
To improve productivity even further, the warehouse has started to execute an inventory slotting strategy. Driven by parts and usage data, they have begun to move or slot parts used to produce the same machine closer to one another. For example, parts for the most popular machine were previously stored across 50 different trays are now stored within 8 trays. This allows the operator to pick and fill orders faster with less time needed for tray delivery.
New employees can now be trained in a day or two, making it easier for Park Industries to utilize temporary summer help. “The VLMs tell them exactly what to do,” said Shankey, “We don’t have to teach new employees manual bin locations – it’s much faster.”