The next logical step to selfsufficiency was to build the highbay warehouse or "Igloo" as the folks at La Huerta call the facility. Planning began in the fall of 2002 and ground was broken in April 2003. La Huerta was able to work with Schaefer's original design, with a few minor changes.
The facility, which was up and running in 10 months, was built next to a La Huerta production plant. "The biggest challenge was to design a racksupported structure that could meet all of the safety and building regulations in an area that is considered a seismic zone with very high winds up to 90 miles per hour," says Strub.
The system was in full operation by April 2004. The 94,000squarefoot warehouse is 108 feet high and 460 feet long and stays at a constant temperature of 10 degrees below zero. It features 13,200 pallet locations spread out over 11 levels. Pallets are moved by one of three automated stacker cranes. "The weight capacity per pallet is unusually high: the pallets can hold up to 3,472 pounds," notes Strub.
Although the price tag for the facility was high, La Huerta expects a payback within four years. The stacker cranes on average can manage between 70 to 90 moves per hour, thereby significantly reducing labor costs. And while stacker cranes are obviously more expensive than forklifts-they cost around $250,000 each-they can eliminate more than 600 forklift man hours a week.
"The automation enabled us to reduce personnel by 40 percent and cut operational costs by 35 percent," says Arteaga. He estimates that the facility is saving the company between $70,000 to $80,000 per month. The facility runs in three shifts and is manned by 12 employees. Approximately 500 pallets are shipped each day in up to 15 refrigerated trucks.
Right now, the facility is at 80 percent capacity and the company plans to expand it in another two to three years. That comes as no surprise to Strub, who sees many opportunities for other Mexican food companies as well. "Schaefer opened a subsidiary office in Mexico City five years ago after we were selected to be a supplier of Volkswagen Puebla. We executed the most modern logistics center in the automotive industry in Latin America as a turnkey project. Additionally, Schaefer Mexico is active in other distribution and manufacturing industries as well, such as the beverage and pharmaceutical industries."
Into The Cold
Organically grown produce is cut, packaged and palletized in one of La Huerta's production plants (1). From there, the product is moved, by conveyor, into the "Igloo," La Huerta's refrigerated warehouse (2). Eleven stories high, the warehouse consists of 13,200 pallet locations among three aisles. Aspallets are moved into the facility, they are weighed, measured and barcoded, and then sent into the warehouse via one of three stacker cranes (3). Each level is two pallets deep on either side of the aisle (4). The warehouse is linked by a single warehouse management system, which enables workers to track the pallets as they move throughout the facility. The stacker cranes manage 7090 pallets per hour. As orders come in, the pallets are taken from their positions and moved down to the consolidation area, where they are loaded onto trucks (5). About 500 pallets go out each day (6).