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  June 15, 2016
Improved Productivity and Throughput Jumps With Integrated Conveyor System Combined with Paperless Picking and WMS
by Thomas R. Cutler

Wilton Industries is a company on a steady growth trajectory. Its four main business units-the Wilton Enterprises line of baking and cake decorating products, Rowoco kitchen utensils, the Weston Gallery of designer photo frames, and Copco fine kitchenware-have all recorded big volume increases over the past few years.

Inevitably, this kind of growth brings with it some operating challenges-one of the toughest being how to keep pace with booming order volume. The company is meeting that challenge at its Wilton Enterprises unit at Woodridge, IL, with a streamlined new Hytrol conveyor system from Conveyor Solutions, Inc. That system, combined with RF-based paperless picking operation and a sophisticated Warehouse Management System (WMS), helped Woodridge achieve record levels of productivity-with the capacity to achieve even higher levels in the future.

The primary objective was to increase throughput and accuracy and that was accomplished by working with Hytrol integration partner, Conveyor Solutions, based in Schaumburg, IL.

Upgrading and Improving

Prior to installation of the new conveyor system, the Woodridge facility faced a number of inhibitors to peak productivity. None of the existing conveyor lines in the picking areas were connected and orders had to be moved by hand around the facility to the appropriate pallets and then loaded onto the trucks. This resulted in less optimal throughput levels and it also meant that shipping cartons were filled to their optimum weight; this translated to higher shipping costs.

The new operation addressed these problems. An integrated conveyor system-incorporating belt, gravity, sawtooth merge, and horizontal accumulating units with the EZ-Logic feature-expedited the flow of orders throughout the 143,000 square-foot facility. The conveyors connect three picking areas for less-than-case picks, a separate case pick module, and a mezzanine picking area for mail orders. All of these lines flow into a computer-controlled sortation system, which sends the cartons down the correct shipping lines.

Order fulfillment is now quick and efficient in all of the pick areas. In the full-case and less-than case pick modules on the ground floor, an automated RE system directs the picking activity, replacing the old paper-based method. The order picker first scans the bar-coded shipping label on the carton. The RF unit directs the picker to the right bin location. The picker then scans the bin location to verify location accuracy before proceeding with the actual order.

The workers complete picking in one zone before moving the carton on gravity conveyors to the next zone. In the less-than-case area, when all of the picks are completed in one line, the cartons are placed on powered horizontal conveyors and moved on to the next picking module. There the process is repeated until the order is complete.

When the orders are completely filled in the ground floor picking areas, they are placed on a powered conveyor for transport to the tape packing machines. Packing material is inserted into the cartons and the case is sealed. The shipping carton then passes over a weigh-in-motion scale that captures the carton weight for manifesting. Scanners direct the cartons from the main picking areas and the mezzanine down four powered takeaway conveyors with the EZ Logic accumulation feature and through a sawtooth merge to the sortation area.

The sortation system is a critical element of the Woodridge operation. It processes 18 cases a minute and has the capacity to handle 30. The sortation system diverts the shipping cartons down to the appropriate shipping line. Several of these lines, called "fluid load lines," extend directly into the outbound truck.

The last shipping carton of each order is diverted to a packing list area; the carton is scanned and a packing list of the order is produced and applied to the carton. With the packing list applied, the shipping carton is re-inducted into the sorter via a re-circulation conveyor and diverted down to the proper line.

Counting the Benefits

In combination with the WMS and paperless picking, the new conveyors began boosting productivity at Woodridge almost from the very beginning. Throughput has increased by more than 20% in the case pick area alone. The design allows for easy expansion of the pick modules and sortation system if required. In addition, the average weight of the parcels shipped is up from 13 to 19 pounds thanks to the conveyor integration of the picking lines. This has resulted in lower overall carton volume as well as a significant reduction in shipping costs.

The installation was completed without a single shift having to shut down. Scott Lee and the team at Conveyor Solutions worked closely with Wilton Industries to ensure no loss of productivity.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide and is now the host of Kanbanversation, a weekly episodic video discussion. Cutler can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler. See More Details.

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