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Oh brother, where art thou?

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As one of the largest suppliers in Australia of office printers, fax machines plus accessories and spare parts, Brother International had grown quickly to fill four separate facilities in Sydney. Control of stocks became a nightmare, distribution channels were ineffective and costs were escalating.

Handling and control of inventory over four sites often led to stocks being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Transfer of goods from port to reserve storage warehouse and then onto the main pick warehouse at North Ryde generated high transport costs that could be eliminated through amalgamation to a centralised facility.

Brother decided to consolidate the Sydney warehouses into a single national distribution centre. A new 6,400 sq m warehouse at Camellia was leased and during the next five months a complete fitout, relocation and establishment of the facility was needed. The site at Camellia was chosen for its proximity to main transport corridors. The high bay warehouse was ideal with large clear span structure and early suppression, fast response (ESFR) fire sprinkler system. This conformed to most recent building codes to permit roof only sprinkler protection for Brother’s stocks thus eliminating the need for in rack sprinklers. High bay design also permitted Brother to store pallets to top of rack height of 9m.

DC design

Tom Frair, director for operations and administration at Brother called in Henderson Logistics early in the process. Hendersons were engaged because of their reputation for independent advice, strong background in design and utilisation of distribution centres, as well as experience in project managing tight timeframes in implementation.

Hendersons carried out a detailed analysis and design study to develop the layout and upgraded operation for the new facility. This highlighted several important considerations:

Reserve storage for printers required higher rack openings to accommodate pallets up to 2,000 mm in height.

This impacted on design to conform to fire sprinkler installation in the new facility.

Order assembly in existing arrangement was poor and called for better methods.

The new facility would be planned to accommodate RF technology.

Allowance was needed for future growth and variation in stock range.

Customer service had to be maintained during the relocation.

The design provided for 5,100 pallet spaces with scope for planned future expansion. The new warehouse layout incorporated extensive use of double deep racking for reserve storage and a new pallet live storage system at floor level within the rack. A mix of double deep and selective racking was suited to Brother range as printers and faxes are big volume lines with high throughput activity. Increased high density storage shelving was installed for smaller items and well configured staging zones were planned for receipt and despatch.

Pallet live storage

Pallet live storage (PLS) was designed for the faster moving office machine range. More efficient flow and improved pick performance resulted, thus reducing the need for constant replenishment and eliminating order assembly delays. Some items were allocated multiple slots, which provided up to eight pallets for immediate picking. Previously only one pallet slot was available. Replenishment frequency was reduced from several single pallet movements each day to a single multi-pallet replenishment once or twice a week. Throughput analysis had confirmed that the top 20 volume lines were best suited to PLS picking and design has included planned capacity for future growth.

The PLS consists of heavy duty roller conveyor pallet lanes which will transfer standard Australian pallets from the rear replenishment aisle to the front picking aisle. Each lane is four pallets deep and is designed to control pallet speed for operator safety. The lanes are fitted with a centrifugal braking system to limit pallet speed independent of pallet weight. This is an advantage to Brother as pallet weights were highly variable. The lanes are replenished from the rear aisle, eliminating the need for forklifts to operate in the same aisle as the pedestrian order picker thus reducing congestion. This is an added advantage.

Better picking

New double deep electric reach forklifts were leased to service the racking layout. Lift heights to 9.3m will maximise the available headroom in the facility with storage to around 11.0m. Programmable height selection is included to assist in operator performance. This will position the pallet at the ideal height for pick up or placement within the rack structure.

Small items were segregated into a separate pick zone that combined carton live storage (CLS), standard shelving and conveyor order assembly processes. Introduction of CLS for small items, such as inkjet cartridges, significantly improved pick density and reduced replenishment frequency. The new layout incorporated CLS for fast moving smaller consumables and parts with standard shelving for slower moving range. A gravity roller conveyor mounted to the front of the CLS linked the two storage types. The conveyor assisted in item selection and in transfer of completed orders to packing bench for final preparation for despatch.

Secure installations

Henderson Logistics conducted a tender process for the warehouse and office fitout. The equipment needs for the new facility were specified in detail, allowing a fair comparison of offers from potential suppliers. Brother and Hendersons selected Schaeffer Systems International as primary equipment supplier for the installation.

Office and amenities for the new facility were also planned with lunchroom and distribution facilities located on ground floor. Customer service staff were also relocated from North Ryde to new upper level offices. Plans for fitout included conference rooms and amenities plus data and communications needs. Security for Brother is a high priority and the latest in movement sensors and other security devices were also provided for in the installation.

Detailed designs were prepared for construction and issues such as positioning of prestressed cables in concrete floor were examined for impact on rack locations. An implementation plan was developed with Terry Bagnall, national supply chain manager for the fitout and relocation. This allowed Brother to phase in the transition, thus reducing the impact on customer service during the final move. Terry had joined Brother prior to the relocation and was charged with the task of ensuring that the relocation went smoothly. Terry developed a team approach with Hendersons and his enthusiastic staff, thus keeping the move on schedule.

Record breaking orders

Distribution operations in the Camellia Distribution Centre commenced within five months with office and warehouse fitout complete and all stock relocated. The new layout enabled Brother to break the previous record for orders processed in one day within two weeks of commencing operations in the new facility.

In a slow period Brother average over 4,500 picks per day from around 400 orders. During a more active period this climbs to nearly 5,000 machines and 8,000 small items per day. This profile demanded that the layout provide efficiency and flexibility.

Four months later, productivity improvements have resulted in personnel reduction from 25 at the old North Ryde facility down to 18 and new records are still being set. Customer service levels have also lifted with Brother receiving compliments from major customers. Daily carryover orders have reduced from around 50 per day to nil and staff morale is high.

RF scanning and barcoded location based picking will be introduced with implementation of the new computer system. This will further improve pick accuracy and performance. All locations in the new facility are fitted with barcode and human readable labels. Positioning of stocks was also planned to account for individual SKU activity to minimise operator travel and improve picking performance plus accuracy. n

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