DC Has Logistics Down Cold

A cool deal between a trucker and a warehouse creates a refrigerated facility that does it all.

Like ice cream and cones or the beach and summer vacation, transportation and warehousing are made for each other.

So when DJ Franzen Trucking, a long-time provider of transportation services, heard that local public refrigerated warehousing company Crystal Distribution Services was interested in joining forces to put together a “one-stop shop” for transportation and warehousing, it jumped at the opportunity.

DJ Franzen brought transportation services to the table, while Crystal provided 25 years of refrigerated warehousing expertise. In December 2003, the marriage was made and the newly formed Iowa Cold Storage opened a 100,000-square-foot distribution center in Altoona, Iowa, just outside Des Moines.

The freezer/cooler facility is located “at the crossroads of the nation,” according to General Manager Jamey Franzen. The facility was built from the ground up during the summer of 2003.

While Iowa Cold Storage is its own operation, “sister” company Crystal serves as mentor and advisor. “We’re two separate companies, but Crystal has the experience to help guide us in our operations,” says Franzen. “We provide the trucking, so our customers have one-stop service. We can receive and store the product, then make sure it gets to the final customer in top condition.”

The new distribution center was built with growth in mind. “We own 150 acres adjacent to the facility, so we can expand to 300,000 square feet in the future,” says Franzen. “We also have waste treatment capacity on site so food processors can locate here at some point.”

Handling the Orders

Currently, 15 full-time employees work one shift each day. In addition, the company brings in up to 25 temps during peak periods. Iowa Cold Storage plans to eventually add a second shift as its customer base grows, Franzen says.

The staff handles 200 SKUs and processes about 20 orders each day. The DC can handle in excess of 100 orders per day, however, if demand dictates it, according to Franzen.

When designing the DC, Iowa Cold Storage added a 60-foot deep refrigerated dock. “This provides us with efficient loading and unloading so products are kept at the right temperature,” Franzen says. “We also put in an efficient racking system that allows for quick picking as needed.”

Iowa Cold Storage offers a range of services especially designed for companies that need freezer/cooler capabilities. While the DC can receive, store, retrieve, and ship a variety of food products, the majority of current customers are from the meat industry. Focusing on the meat industry was a decision driven primarily by Crystal, which saw the need to enhance service to this niche market.

“We provide a variety of services to meat customers,” says Franzen. Among those services is the ability to blast-freeze, vacuum-pack, and store meat as it arrives, at temperatures ranging from 45 to -35 degrees.

In addition, the company has a specialized defrost room. “We can bring product out of the freezer and put it in the defrost room. There we can divide products into different cells to defrost at different temperatures,” explains Franzen. “Forced air is drawn through the product to bring it quickly to the proper temperature.”

The company can also package the meat to customer specifications, such as putting product into boxes or vacuum-packed bags. Each container of meat goes through inspection before leaving the DC, then is loaded quickly on waiting refrigerated trucks.

With its variety of temperature options, the company is set up to service “any cold customer,” says Franzen. “We have multiple rooms with a wide range of temperatures that we can control as needed.”

The DC in Action

Many operations at Iowa Cold Storage are carried out manually. For instance, the company outfitted its DC with new racking, which is 27 feet tall and two pallet sizes deep. It then invested in new forklifts to help warehouse workers with the new racking.

But technology also plays a key role. The company uses supply chain execution software provided by software vendor Delfour Corporation, headquartered in Ontario, Canada. The software product, SmartEnterprise 2, includes an EDI solution and connectivity software that enables instantaneous computer-to-computer document exchange between Iowa Cold Storage and its customers.

Several modules make up the software package. These include:

  • WarehouseLogic, a comprehensive automated warehouse management platform designed to enable 3PL providers to manage all aspects of warehouse operations, administration, receiving, and shipping for multiple customers concurrently.
  • e-Vista, which provides warehouse users with round-the-clock supply chain visibility so they can know the disposition of their inventory at any time.
  • Active Desktop, which provides alert management in order to better handle exceptions. The alerts allow operational staff to be proactive when resolving issues.
  • Radio Frequency (RF) communications, which automate both voice and data communications between RF-equipped devices and the WarehouseLogic platform.
  • EZConnect EDI/XML, which accepts data in any format, from E12 EDI to all forms of XML and discrete flat file. The module converts the data automatically to and from Delfour’s flat-file format.

Crystal Distribution Services guided Iowa Cold in its selection of the Delfour system. “We wanted a package with scanning capabilities as well as flexibility,” Franzen says. “This is a broad, state-of-the-art system.”

Implementation of the Delfour system didn’t happen overnight, simply because of the wide range of services Iowa Cold Storage offers. “Every customer and product had to be set up for its own unique service and process,” Franzen says.

As product arrives at Iowa Cold Storage, the driver provides the receiving clerk with the bills of lading, which are entered into the Delfour system along with information sent ahead of time by the customer. The Delfour system then produces an inbound receipt.

Next, an employee removes the seal from the trailer and the driver is assigned a dock door. The truck is unloaded and checked for proper temperatures, damage, and either case count or correct weight.

Once all the information is checked and concurs with the bills of lading, and the customer’s specifications are met, an employee signs off on the paperwork and the driver is released. This part of the process usually takes about one hour.

“The motor carrier’s time is a critical issue,” says Franzen, “so we do our best to get the trucks in and out, spending as little time as possible at the dock door. Because we have 60-foot deep docks, we can turn the trucks around quickly.”

Racking Up Time Savings

Once product has been received and any value-added services such as boxing or freezing are completed, employees bar-code the products and assign them a pallet position in the racking system.

“Our unique racking system provides us with quick pallet selection so we can pull orders for shipment in a short amount of time,” says Franzen. “When the pallet is placed in position, the fork-truck operator scans it at the rack for that position. That information then goes via RF to a receiver, which automatically puts the product information and location into our inventory.”

Products are stored for any length of time, depending on customer needs. “Product can turn at any time, whether it is in one day or up to one year,” says Franzen.

With passwords, customers can gain Internet access to Iowa Cold Storage’s system, allowing them to see exactly where and at what stage their products are in. They can also view inventories at any time.

Iowa Cold Storage is not content to sit still. Expansion is on the horizon, as is the addition of new services. “We hope to add rail services in the future, as well as use the land we have as we grow,” Franzen says.

Franzen is confident that the company will be able to handle the growth that will come its way. “We’re in an ideal location for centralizing distribution,” he says, “and we have an affordable, dedicated workforce available to us.”

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