A Believer in Automation, Vac-Con Needed to Clean Up
Vac-Con, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of industrial trucks for sewer and drain cleaning. Serving both public and private sectors, Vac-Con has manufactured more than 7,777 custom- built trucks since 1986. Vac-Con employs over 300 people at their headquarter facility in Green Cove Springs, FL. In addition to their team, they work through a dealer network supporting customers both in North America and around the world.
To manufacture one custom truck it takes on average 4,000 parts. Vac-Con usually begins one to two new truck builds per day – which is 8,000 parts per day needing to be pulled from inventory. With thousands and thousands of SKUs (stock keeping units) in inventory, Vac-Con was using one warehouse to store purchased parts and another for manufactured parts. These parts would travel separately to manufacturing be matched up for production. The space and cost required to manage these two separate inventories, and transport them to manufacturing when needed was draining efficiencies.
With the current manufacturing facility at capacity and a new building design under way, Vac-Con seized the opportunity to consolidate purchased and manufactured parts inventory into one facility. Familiar with automation, this gave Vac-Con the chance to explore new storage technology. The new 29,200 square foot warehouse was built with 45’ ceilings – plenty of space to take parts storage vertical.
Inventory Under One Roof
Vac-Con installed six, 40’ tall Kardex Remstar Shuttle XP Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) integrated with Power Pick Global (PPG) inventory management software, pick to light technology and a 12 position batch station. The previous warehouse buildings were 71,000 square feet combined. This new 29,200 square foot warehouse reduced the footprint of the parts storage facilities by 58%!
Storing More with Less
Previously, the inventory was segregated by type. Purchased parts were stored in one warehouse and manufactured inventory were stored in another. When all of the inventory was consolidated into six Shuttle XP VLMs, there was greater capacity to keep even more parts on hand. “We are a manufacturing facility and the goal is to get the right part to the correct place at the correct time,” says Beattie. As a result, Vac-Con was able to increase capacity in smaller footprint within just one warehouse.
Increasing the Fleet
Prior to installing the VLMs, Vac-Con was restricted in the amount of trucks they could produce. Inventory from the purchased parts warehouse and manufactured warehouse would be transported separately to be matched in the production bays. This time consuming process meant they were at capacity with their space limitations and picking productivity.
With the introduction of the VLMs, time spent walking around multiple warehouses tracking down parts was eliminated. In the previous system, operators also needed to bend down to pick parts stored low or use ladders to reach the higher items. Both manufactured and purchased parts are now stored within the six VLMs and inventory is brought directly to the operator at an ergonomically positioned access opening. This has allowed Vac-Con to meet their strategic goals of increasing production.
Vac-Con receives orders for new truck builds in their MRP system, where a work order is created and automatically passed to the PPG software. The orders are arranged by department so materials can be quickly delivered to the appropriate locations. PPG manages all of the inventory in the warehouse, including the larger items which are stored on racking next to the VLMs.
Once a work order has been created, the batch station is set up for picking. The operator assigns individual totes to each position on the batch station via barcode scan. Next, the VLMs are driven by the PPG software and trays are delivered to the ergonomically positioned access openings. Directed by the Transaction Information Center (TIC) pick to light technology, the operator picks the required parts from the VLMs. After each pick, the operator bags the part and tags it with a work order or part number, customer name and number, and delivery location and puts it in the proper location on the batch station. This continues until all parts are picked from the VLMs.
Next, a cage positioned next to the batch station is loaded with the totes for each department from the batch table. The cage is then delivered to one of the production bays in the warehouse. The larger, heavier materials stored on racking, are picked next. They are delivered via forklift to the same production bay as the previous materials. After the work order is entered as complete, the large items are removed from the MRP system via PPG to ensure accurate inventory counts in the rack areas just as in the VLMs. After all of the parts have been delivered to the production bay, the truck assembly process begins.
In addition to the orders for manufacturing, the warehouse receives orders for aftermarket parts from dealers and customers. These orders are brought to the VLMs manually from the shipping department. To interrupt the batch picking process where thousands of parts are being picked, the operator specifies a hot pick within PPG. This module in the software allows the operators to pause the batch picking, pick the one or two parts needed for the hot pick and resume the batch picking process once complete. These manual picks are only 5% of the orders processed monthly at Vac-Con.