With higher margins, however, many beverage companies have found that it is cheaper and more efficient to install the right material handling equipment early on than to deal with damaged products later on. Most notably, warehouses have to be careful in the way they convey product, especially since most alcohol beverages come in glass bottles.
"The tendency has been to go to thinner materials on the bottles themselves, and it's all related to costs," says Charlie Rizzo, a consultant at Forte Industries, a Mason, OH-based consultancy and software and systems integrator that has worked on a few projects within the beverage industry.
"As they get thinner and thinner on the bottle materials, there is more potential for damage. You need more sophisticated conveyors and more gentle handling equipment. Conveyors with more support and less widely-spaced rollers are the norm, and you also need guide rails on the sides of the conveyors."
For that reason, in the beverage industry in particular, the bumpless case turner from St. Louis-based FKI Logistex is quickly gaining popularity. This product works with automated material handling equipment to gently handle and selectively turn products requiring high speed case turning when moving into a palletizing operation. They eliminate the bump-turning impact of conventional case turning methods and guarantee label-out or barcode-out case turning for retail display, especially at big-box retailers.
According to Rizzo, building these retail displays is among the greatest challenges for beverage distributors today. "Everyone used to ship in a simple, sealed corrugated container," he says, noting that many retailers are now requiring their suppliers to build and ship products to them in floor-ready displays or plastic trays.
"Both have resulted in significant warehouse problems," he continues. "In the past, you used to be able to stack nicely sealed cases four or five high on the floor, but now, you're limited in how you can stack pallets before the bottom gets crushed and the whole stack comes down."
According to Alan McDonald, another Forte consultant, "retailers are also telling suppliers that they do not want to just sell single containers at a time. They can increase sales by packaging multiple bottles together. There's a lot more demand to mix products on pallets or in display cases. It puts the onus on the automated picking and conveying equipment so that things get palletized in a specific order and configuration. Everything in the processing line that packages and handles these products has to be modified, and that tends to be very expensive."
As distributors and suppliers look to incorporate these things into their systems, it brought the added challenge of making sure that the WMS employed could work well with sortation and conveying equipment.
"For us, there is some configuration that has to take place to handle the peculiarities of these systems," says Chris Heim, president of HighJump Software. "There's a lot of integration of conveyors and sortation devices for orders that are mixed. Our systems have to be integrated from the receiving line all the way out the door."
Case In Point: Premium Distributing
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For beer distributor Premium Distributing, San Bernardino, CA, business was growing and its legacy mobile computers were growing old. After wringing nearly 10 years of life from its Intermec 6100 and 6110 computers and SDM software, Premium Distributing knew it had to build a bridge that would preserve the benefits of its route automation system, yet provide new efficiencies and create a technology platform for the future.
"We wanted to reduce labor bottlenecks in our warehouse and manage our warehouse and mobile work forces more effectively," says John Stange, director of operations at Premium Distributing. "We got our life out of the old computers and knew we had to replace them.
He considered all types of mobile technology for Premium Distributing's 42 route sales and delivery workers, who serve approximately 3,000 customers, before selecting a new system developed with GBG, a partner of Intermec Technologies Corp., Everett, WA.
Premium Distributing uses the Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 operating system, which it runs on Intermec 760C handheld computers with a Sprint Nationwide PCS Network wireless connection. GBG's mobile presales software application installed on the 760C has replaced Premium's previous system and provides advanced functionality.