January 2008 | Case Studies | DC Solutions

High-Speed Sortation Picks Up The Pace

Tags: Warehousing

ATS's new cross-docking facility keeps shipments moving and customers smiling.

While many companies claim that the "customer is king," they sometimes fall short in the delivery. That's not the case for Canada-based Andlauer Transportation Services (ATS), a full-service transportation solutions provider with a business model that keeps customers coming back.

In fact, more than 50 percent of customers have been with ATS for at least eight years. ATS maintains that loyalty by running an efficient cross-docking operation dedicated to customer service.

The company moves approximately 3.7 million pounds of freight daily and has posted double-digit growth annually since its inception 16 years ago. Its customers vary widely, often by region. In Montreal and Toronto, for instance, ATS focuses on the health care, cosmetics, and retail industries.

To meet demanding delivery schedules, ATS has mastered the art of moving large volumes of freight quickly using a state-of-the-art cross-docking strategy. It also continuously evaluates and updates its facilities and technology. To that end, ATS recently expanded and upgraded its cross-docking facility in Montreal.

ATS operates 23 cross-docking facilities throughout Canada. When it became clear that the Montreal facility needed more infrastructure to keep up with growing freight volumes, the company made plans for a new facility that, at 125,000 square feet, is roughly double the size of the old one.

The Montreal facility is designed to meet the needs of pharmaceutical, entertainment, and retail industry customers. In fact, the facility ships 100 percent of Canada's DVDs from studios to stores.

ATS Your Service

True to its dedication to customer service, ATS was adamant that this new facility feature equipment that would allow it to keep up with a variety of demands - the facility had to be temperature controlled, for example, to service pharmaceutical customers.

ATS realized it would achieve maximum results by investing in the most up-to-date materials handling technology. After undergoing a bidding process to zero in on the right technology provider, the company selected FKI Logistex, a systems integrator based in St. Louis.

"FKI has been our principal conveyor supplier over the years, so we were already familiar with it," says Mike Beard, director of marketing for ATS. "FKI also offered a solution that best met our needs, so we selected it for the cross-docking project."

Working together, ATS and FKI designed the new facility to successfully flow through products at a rapid pace. A variety of integrated equipment facilitates the new layout and processes.

As pallets arrive at the loading docks, forklifts and pump trucks move them to staging areas. ATS workers then take the packages off the pallets and set them onto one of three FKI belt conveyors, where they travel to the facility's upper platform.

Man Your Stations

The three belt conveyors merge into two lines of an accumulation roller conveyor, which directs the packages through weighing, cubing, and bar-code scanning stations.

A recirculation line coming back from the sorter joins the other two lines and the three merge into a single line, which pushes the packages through a scanner on the lower level.

By communicating with the cubing system, the scanner directs the sorter to send packages to the correct destination line.

At the center of the operations sits FKI's BOSS PC-based control system, which is integrated with ATS's information systems. ATS's delivery information system also integrates with customers' shipping software so that most parcels arrive affixed with ATS bar-code labels.

A sliding shoe sorter then sends the packages to one of 38 destination lanes with an extra line for recirculation. Each shipping method for each destination is assigned to its own lane. Any parcel that cannot be sorted properly on the first pass is recirculated.

Of the 38 lanes, 36 are gravity-roller conveyors and two are powered-belt conveyors. As the gravity-roller conveyors feed staging areas for hand-palletization and shrink-wrap, the powered-belt conveyors feed high-volume deliveries to specific dock doors.

Before moving into the new facility and installing the new equipment, ATS and FKI conducted extensive testing.

"We built this facility with the capacity for growth in mind," says Beard. "By doing upfront work and by having enough capacity to manage the move, it only took about 18 months from design to move-in."

The new facility has provided ATS with two major benefits, according to Beard. "One, we've been able to reduce our sort window significantly, which has led to shorter work shifts and a decrease in labor," he explains. "Two, we've reduced mis-sorts 25 percent by shifting from manual to automated operations."

ATS's operations were a perfect fit for FKI's products, according to Arnold Cunje, FKI's national accounts manager.

"ATS has been growing at such a rapid pace that we designed the facility not only to meet its needs today, but also for the future," he says. "The company can add more inbound or outbound lanes as needed, which provides a great deal of flexibility."

So successful was the Montreal implementation that ATS opened a replica facility in Vancouver. The company hopes to achieve the same productivity results in this facility, along with a similar return on investment.

In Toronto, the company opened a facility that uses technology similar to the Montreal system but is twice the size. ATS plans to bring the same technology to most of its other facilities across Canada.

The company intends to continue maintaining its high level of customer service as it grows, and doesn't anticipate the need to add labor.

"ATS appreciates what technology can do," says Cunje. "Our long-term partnership helped bring this project together, and now ATS can grow into the future."

Beard agrees that the partnership with FKI has been key to the success of ATS's new facilities.

"Companies in growth mode, such as ATS, need to align with a good systems integrator and builder," he says. "The devil is in the details, and you need to depend on a partner who will successfully work with you through the implementation process."