A vital part of Werner Electric Supply’s goal to double sales to US$500 million by 2020 is its 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art distribution centre in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Not long ago, the distributor of electrical, lighting, datacomm, pneumatic, safety, and automation solutions, a top 30 electrical distributor in North America, had a 100,000 sq ft facility and was leasing additional warehouse space. It was time to expand.
“We built the new facility to add inventory and services to meet our sales goal, as well as get our inventory back under one roof,” says Lloyd Fabry, Werner Electric Supply’s Regional Distribution Center manager.
The new facility holds 28,000 SKUs in inventory. This includes everything from nuts and bolts to 20-foot conduit lengths and 7,000-pound reels of wire on the electrical supply part of the business. It also includes items such as drives, PLCs, actuators, and safety equipment.
The new facility’s custom pick module, design, and warehouse management system were carefully crafted to provide a competitive advantage. Pick module systems combine dynamic racking with conveyors or other flow components to increase productivity and decrease costs for broken-pallet or broken-carton order-filling operations. When designed as a multi-level rack-supported system, pick modules also allow dense storage of products, reduced material handling, and the ability to quickly fulfill multiple-SKU customer shipments.
The warehouse layout incorporates selective rack, serviced by high reach trucks, and some narrow-aisle, wire-guided reach trucks.
Custom pick module
But the custom, four-level, pick module system is key to its efficient distribution.
“Our zone route, pick and pass, pick module, along with a new warehouse management system and weigh scale to capture picking errors, essentially eliminate our secondary packing process,” says Fabry. “It is designed to handle from 70 to 80 percent of our volume. It allows us to place more locations at ground level so we can pick more items on foot. That means we need less equipment and training, and are able to avoid disruption if equipment breaks down.”
According to Kyle Arndt, a Werner Electric Supply project manager, three options were originally considered for the pick module, but only one was feasible. Constructing a permanent mezzanine-supported structure was too costly because it required adding building columns, footings, and fire protection. A shelf-supported structure was also ruled out because no vendor could go as high or support the weight they needed.
“We ended up going with a custom Steel King rack-supported pick module because it met our requirements for strength, operational flexibility, and cost effectiveness,” Arndt says.
The pick module has rack all the way around on four sides, with a walkable catwalk along the inside perimeter.
To construct the pick module, SK2000 pallet rack, a boltless, closed tubular upright was chosen. All beams are constructed of high-strength (55,000 psi minimum) steel, and holes are placed on the column’s face, not the corners, minimizing loss of strength. Compared to open-back roll-formed columns, the closed tubular uprights are 44 times more torsion/twist resistant, with 250 percent greater frontal impact resistance and 68 percent greater side impact resistance.
Boltless assembly of the system means Werner is ready for future adjustments. “Depending on future needs, with boltless assembly we could add to the pick module, move it, or build another one as needed,” says Arndt.
For similar reasons, the boltless rack was used, but with larger 4-inch by 3-inch posts, to construct custom reel-rack with additional storage above. This rack is designed to hold up to two 7,000-pound reels in a hanging position, so wire can be pulled off and cut to the customer’s needs.
“The reel-rack design challenge was unique not only because of the weight of the reels, but also because their load is dynamic, not static, when the wire comes off the reel,” says Arndt. “Oversize base plates were installed that helped with stability and function, while our keeping floor design cost effective.”
Since the new warehouse is 45 feet tall with an FSR sprinkler system, the storage racking manufacturer also custom designed and built 35-foot-high cantilever rack with 25 arm levels for storing conduit. With no front column in the way, the cantilever rack is faster to load and unload, reducing handling time and costs. The lack of a front column also saves horizontal space normally lost to rack structure, and handling clearance is improved.
“Steel King worked with us to maximize our storage within our warehouse footprint,” says Fabry. “So we’re able to efficiently store and access the conduit we need to satisfy our customers.”
To protect people, racks, and the building structure a number of guardrail systems were also installed for safety.
A modular guardrail was used to separate people from lift-truck traffic, while presenting a more robust visual barrier than handrail, but at similar cost. Safety guardrail was also used to prevent end-row pallet-rack damage from lift trucks, at a fraction of the cost of upright replacement and consequent downtime. Heavy-duty guardrail was similarly used to protect building columns, conveyor systems, and other vulnerable areas from lift trucks.
“With the new facility, we’re capable of taking orders later in the day, filling the orders, and having them delivered to our customers across Wisconsin and upper Michigan by our fleet before 6:00 AM the next day,” says Fabry. “We’re achieving a zero order backlog at end of each day.”
With the new distribution centre now ready to help Werner Electric Supply achieve its ambitious goal, Fabry offers perspective on partnering with a vendor to get the greatest ROI in designing and implementing such a project. For the pick module, reel rack, cantilever rack, selective rack, and safety guardrail, as well as rack design engineering help the company turned to Steel King Industries, a manufacturer of material handling and storage racking products.
“At every stage of the process, it is important to have a partner that is willing to work with you,” concludes Fabry. “To meet our rack requirements, that sometimes meant double-posting up to the first beam, hitting the beam adjustment increments, and being flexible with different beam sizes to help control our costs. They worked with us to tweak the final solution at the most competitive price.”