Improving Food Distribution: Knife, Spoon, and Forklift
A fine foods supplier optimizes order picking and improves worker safety with systems that pass the taste test.
Fine foods purveyor and distributor Ace Endico Corp. wanted to keep its warehouse operators motivated and safe, lessen the fatigue they feel from high-volume order-picking, and give them the tools they need to perform well in a physically demanding environment. Like all businesses, Ace Endico also wanted to increase productivity, improve its distribution center's efficiency, reduce order-pick errors, and satisfy customers with quick-turn deliveries.
The supplier learned those goals were not mutually exclusive, and was able to achieve them thanks to the dedication, commitment, technology, and equipment from its long-time partner, Crown Equipment Corp.
Ace Endico may have come from humble beginnings, but its commitment to continuous improvement has made it a competitive full-service food supplier in the New York tri-state area.
The family-run company, founded in 1982, started in a small garage in Mt. Vernon, New York. Consistent growth compelled two moves, first to a facility in Elmsford, New York, in 1993 and then again in 2005 to its current 125,000-square-foot distribution center in Brewster, New York.
Today, the company offers its customers—restaurants, hotels, country clubs, casinos, cruise lines, athletic venues, and education facilities—about 10,000 products across the dairy, produce, meat, seafood, and dry and canned goods segments.
Its 20,000-square-foot climate-controlled shipping and receiving dock is equipped with 15 bay doors. Its products, tiered in 5 million cubic feet of storage capacity, move in and out of the facility's 11 temperature zones on a nearly constant daily cycle of picking, distribution, and replenishment.
Employees work three shifts around the clock, seven days a week, to keep up with demand and physically intense order fulfillment requirements. Customers, including big-name venues such as Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, can place orders until 5 p.m. About 30 percent of the 700 orders Ace Endico receives daily come in after 3 p.m., says Matthew Hertzberg, Ace Endico's vice president of operations.
Ace Endico's order selectors, many of them working the overnight shift, dash to get the cases on the delivery trucks, which start rolling out at 3 a.m. During the busy spring and summer seasons, when more venues are open and host more visitors, Ace Endico moves an average of 35,000 pieces each night out of the distribution hub, approximately 30 percent more than other times of the year.
"It's a big rush to get orders out every night," Hertzberg says. "We have a high turnover of cases moving in and out every day. Our priority is to fill orders accurately and quickly. For us, every second and every step counts. Whatever we can do to make the pickers' job easier, we want to do."
Investing in technology and equipment has proven to be part of what makes the order fulfillment job easier and safer.
Specifically, two solutions from New Bremen, Ohio-based Crown Equipment, which designs, manufactures, distributes, services, and supports material handling products, have helped Ace Endico achieve productivity gains and order accuracy improvements while optimizing fulfillment speed and reducing employee fatigue and average steps per pick.
Crown's QuickPick Remote system uses semi-automated truck navigation technologies to reduce low-level order picking walk steps. Order pickers can walk beside the pallet truck, and use a wearable device to advance it to the next location. This eliminates the extra steps pickers usually take walking around the truck, crisscrossing warehouse aisles, and jumping on and off the truck, says Jared Green, Crown's general manager of technology business development.
Improving Safety With Technology
Crown's InfoLink wireless operator and fleet management system allows Ace Endico to maintain its regulatory worker safety compliance standards digitally, thus replacing the manual-input, paper-based system previously in place.
Additionally, the technology helps Ace Endico understand when, where, and how each lift truck is being used to ensure workers have the proper certification to operate the machinery, and identifies opportunities for process improvements, Green notes.
The decision to work with Crown stems from a long history of previous decisions.
Ace Endico initially partnered with Crown while it was in its Elmsford, New York, facility—a relationship that deepened when the food supplier shifted to its bigger distribution center, says Hertzberg.
"My father began looking at different pieces of equipment when we were in the Elmsford facility," Hertzberg recalls. "He liked Crown, so we went with one of its pieces. When we built this facility in 2005, we needed more equipment and went all in with them."
Introducing New Solutions
Starting out with a few pieces of warehouse handling equipment, Ace Endico has been gradually upgrading its fleet and the technology it uses as its business has grown and Crown's portfolio and technology evolves.
For instance, implementation of Crown's QuickPick Remote-enabled pallet truck started in 2011, along with the transition to Crown's RM mono-mast reach trucks. Crown's Xpress Lower option on the RM was integrated into the replacement RM models in 2012. The InfoLink project started in 2011 and was implemented in 2012.
This phased-in approach gives the company time to test the waters and get operators comfortable with the new solutions.
"Ace Endico is like us; they want new technology, but they are conservative and don't want to jump all in until they know it works," says Rich Carlson, a Crown sales representative who works closely with Ace Endico. "When we bring in new technology, we train the operators and get them comfortable using it.
"There was some pushback initially from some operators; people have a set way of doing something and often don't like change," Carlson adds. "But, once they learned how to use the system, they saw the advantages. They could see how it helped them increase their order picks and save time per pick. They appreciate the tools, and are incentivized to pick more."
The incentive to pick more has been a big plus for Ace Endico, and has created a domino effect of benefits.
Every Step Saved Adds Up
Fewer steps walked to and from the machine means less fatigue for order pickers, resulting in more time saved per pick. That means significant productivity gains for the company and better incentive pay for the employees.
Crown estimates that its QuickPick Remote system enables operators to save up to five seconds per pick; that adds up to thousands of steps saved each shift. At Ace Endico, that has translated to a 20- to 40-percent productivity increase for individual workers, and an overall 20-percent productivity gain company wide, says Hertzberg.
Ace Endico noticed another benefit after Crown's QuickPick Remote implementation and in conjunction with the rollout of a voice-enabling order picking solution, which occurred about the same time: employee retention is higher.
"I have walked into warehouses all over the country, and seen old and broken down equipment being repaired," Hertzberg says. "The order pickers have to do demanding, physical work, and for us, it's usually on the overnight shift. We want to give workers tools that help them do their job better and more efficiently.
"Our employees see the investments we are making, and that makes them less frustrated," Hertzberg adds. "They are staying with us and the job longer. Employees are happier and that makes them more productive."
But the metric that weighs heavy on Hertzberg's mind is order accuracy. The company uses this metric as a key way to track its order fulfillment progress. It is also part of the calculation for incentive payments order-picking teams get for meeting or exceeding their targets, along with number of cases shipped per hour.
Before the voice-enabled picking and Crown's QuickPick Remote technologies, the average team error rate was one in 2,000 picks, says Hertzberg. Today, that has improved to one error in 10,000 picks, and the goal is to push that to one error in 15,000 picks.
"The order accuracy ratio is very important to us," Hertzberg says. "It helps us measure product damage in the facility, product re-delivery expenses, and the cost of a lost sale, which we never want."
Going forward, the companies expect to partner on technology integration with customers' warehouse management systems.