When Frozen Assets Cold Storage opened its Chicago facility in late 2004, the company took the same strategy that other successful public refrigerated warehouses (PRWs) have done and invested in technology right at the start.
Frozen Assets operates a 250,000 square-foot, 7,000,000 cubic-foot facility that features an 18,000-pallet freezer, a 10,000-pallet-position cooler, and three minus 35 degree blast cells, each with space for 45 pallets, along with substantial ambient temperature storage for products such as dried meat specialties and wine. Its 48 truck bays open to a 40,000 square-foot refrigerated inbound-outbound dock.
The company accommodates any type of food product, with a focus on meat, poultry, seafood, bakery goods, vegetables and beverages. Frozen Assets currently operates at near capacity, serving such well-known names as Azteca Foods, Broasters Co., Brickford Marketing and Charles Austin. It also leases space to some key clients, including Alpha Baking and Vienna Beef, managing their inventory as a lead logistics provider.
With an eye on intense competition locally and an eventual expansion nationwide, the company’s management team knew that to succeed, it needed a high-performance, extremely flexible and scalable third-party logistics (3PL) management solution.
Frozen Assets explored a number of technology options and chose the SmartEnterprise management suite from Headwater Technology Solutions Inc., a supply chain execution vendor based in Markham, Canada. The SmartEnterprise solution is comprised of 3PL logistics solutions as well as Freight Logix TMS transportation solutions. Seven of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouse’s top 20 PRWs use SmartEnterprise.
“Frozen Assets has probably invested a half-million dollars in software,” says Gary Jones, vice president of operations—and a former user of SmartEnterprise. “But if you are serious in this business, it is what you have to do. When Frozen Assets was making its selection, SmartEnterprise scored very high marks with other 3PL providers, so the company was confident that the promised performance would be delivered.”
The SmartEnterprise suite is comprised of:
- Enterprise foundation, an integration layer;
- RF voice foundation;
- WarehouseLogic logistics management software;
- Active desktop GUI-based single point access and control module;
- d’Amigo alert management and reporting tool; and
- e-Vista web-based visibility tool, which enables customers to track the movement and status of their inventory in real time.
SmartEnterprise runs on a Linux server, with data from an Oracle database. A TradeLink EDI solution establishes direct, untended computer-to-computer communications between Frozen Assets and its EDI-enabled customers. Because it is exposed to the Internet, Jones says, E-Vista runs on a separate server but it is interfaced securely to SmartEnteprise for authorized access to inventory and shipping/receiving data.
“Running the system under Linux enabled us to establish and maintain lower costs overall, since we did not have to invest in big iron and its support aspects,” Jones says. “SmartEnterprise speeds up the storing and picking processes dramatically, and because it automates most of the processes, it also minimizes the possibility of error. Each time an action is performed, the software is updated so that we and our customers can have up-to-the-second information available at all times, either though the d’Amigo data mining and reporting tool or through the web-based e-Vista visibility tool.”
Everything In Real Time
When inventory arrives at the dock, the tally is verified against the bill of lading and the information enters the WarehouseLogic “track.” Pallet tags are affixed and the merchandise is taken to a directed-putaway position that has been set up in the warehouse management software. The company makes extensive use of automated RF. Warehouse personnel with Teklogix RF devices maintain open, real-time sessions with WarehouseLogic, which guides the placement of incoming inventory on arrival and the picking of merchandise to be shipped.
Moreover, WarehouseLogic’s Count Back capability allows operators using the RF devices to maintain inventory records by customer and product as they pick merchandise, simply by setting a flag in the system. As inventory levels are altered for a given customer’s product, the data is automatically updated in WarehouseLogic, yielding a constantly current cycle count.
When Frozen Assets was considering the various management solutions that were available as construction proceeded, key decision factors included real-time operation and transparency to customers.
“Our customers love the idea that they can access e-Vista with their web browsers and determine the exact status of their inventory and their transactions in real time. Moreover they can automate certain activities and functions in e-Vista, such as following date ranges. To them, the real “wow” factor is being able to know what’s going on all the time, down to the second.”
SmartEnterprise was designed from the ground up for 3PL applications, accommodating the fact that every customer of every operator comes to the table with a difference set of requirements, expectations, business rules and operating procedures. Individual picking profiles can be established, for example, so that when inventory is to be transferred, it can be retrieved under individualized picking profiles that are set up under various logic patterns, from the case level to the pallet.
Sophisticated alerts management notifies operators of anomalies so that they can be investigated quickly as well as when certain programmed phases or deadlines have been reached. The ability to manage “by exception” reduces the amount of oversight that is required in normal operations.
“The system is extremely flexible,” Jones says. “There is very little that you cannot do, including turn on or turn off various features by customer-by-customer. Flexibility always increases complexity, but I would still want to have it. Fortunately, SmartEnterprise doesn’t require coding, only configuring.”
Frozen Assets provides its customers with an extensive array of value-added services along with its full-service shipping, storing and receiving operations. Among these are overnight sample shipping, freight consolidation, cross docking and trans-loading, raw product repacking, weighing and labeling, export services, USDA re-boxing and inventory control, each of which is carefully tracked in WarehouseLogic, which updates the data continuously.
Further efficiencies are achieved through the use of electronic form templates, rather than preprinted forms. Complete documents of all kinds can be laser printed on blank paper directly from the software, and they can also be transmitted electronically directly from the software platform. For example, when merchandise is shipped, SmartEnterprise automatically sends bills of lading to the destination company via email or fax, avoiding the need to pass through a manual or paper stage in order to transmit the documents.
Along with its warehouse operations, Frozen Assets provides transportation services, brokering pooled loads, LTL shipments and truckloads through some 20 active carriers. With the transportation brokerage side of the business continuing to develop throughout 2005, Frozen Assets implemented Headwater’s Windows-based Freight Logix TMS earlier this year. The TMS suite integrates all of the activities associated with freight management and movement, from order entry, through dispatch and rating to invoicing, driver and carrier settlement and finance, eliminating redundant data entry, reducing errors and improving efficiency and profitability. It also integrates modules for GPS and driver communication, document imaging, mileage engines and even on-the-fly wireless dispatch and trans-border customs clearance capabilities.
Freight Logix is integrated seamlessly with Smart Enterprise, with the two establishing a transparent logistics management environment.
“I’ve had experience with a lot of programs,” Jones says. “SmartEnterprise and Freight Logix combine to create a pretty unbeatable supply chain execution solution.”