Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Lean on me: Inventory management software increases productivity for manufacturer

April 8, 2011
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

With a company-wide push to lean processes and cut waste, motion control solutions manufacturer Saia Burgess took a good look at process improvement in its Vandalia, Ohio manufacturing facility.

To keep nine manufacturing departments operating efficiently, Saia Burgess keeps just over 10,000 SKUs on hand to feed the manufacturing floor. Previously, workers had a one-to-one relationship with an order – each worker focused on picking one order at a time. Pick tickets were generated daily, and workers would search throughout the shelving for the parts they needed to complete the order. When the order was complete, they would deliver it to the correct department and return to the stockroom to pick the next order in the pile of pick tickets.

“It became apparent we were doing a lot of very redundant activity through the day; sometimes going to the same spot 10 or 12 times a day to pick the same part, just for a different work order,” a company spokesperson said.

In an effort to do more with less, Saia Burgess integrated FastPic inventory management software into the picking process, allowing orders to be batched and picked simultaneously. The company also updated the stockroom from shelving to four horizontal carousels with pick-to-light technology, all driven by FastPic inventory management software.


Implementing FastPic inventory management software changed the way orders were processed. One worker can now batch pick up to six orders simultaneously without walking or searching for parts. The assembly department group leader prints a material packet indicating the parts required in their area. When the material packet is printed, the order is automatically downloaded from the Material Requirements Planning (MRP) Movex software to the FastPic inventory management software.

The order picker initiates six orders at a time using the FastPic inventory management software. Each order is assigned a separate position or carton on the batch station. The order picker remains in the same area, while the software directs the horizontal carousels to rotate to the first item to pick. Using pick lights, the software directs the operator to the exact location of the first item to pick. The operator picks the quantity indicated by the pick light and turns to the batch station to distribute the parts among the six orders as directed by the put lights on the batch station.

As the operator is distributing the parts from the first pick, the software is rotating the other horizontal carousels to present the next pick, virtually eliminating operator waiting time. This process repeats until the six orders in the batch are filled. Each order is then delivered to the correct department.

Any parts required for an order that are physically stored off the carousel are flagged at the beginning of the batch. Another stockroom picker will retrieve these parts from the shelving and then match them up with the orders on the department carts. All orders are filled and delivered to the correct manufacturing department within 24 hours.

The previous system required five people to pick 220 orders a week manually from shelving. The same 220 orders now require three people for picking: one to pick from the carousel, one to pick from bulk storage and one to replenish the carousels on second shift. That’s a 40 percent labour savings.

Hot picking
In manufacturing environments, hot picks are inevitable and occur when parts are needed in manufacturing immediately due to scrapped or lost pieces. When a manufacturing operator identifies the need for a hot pick, they fill out a materials request form and head to the stockroom. With a simple click, the order picker is able to interrupt the batch orders they are picking, retrieve the hot pick for the waiting manufacturing operator and then easily return to picking the batch of orders.

Adding part numbers
The ability to add new parts to the system on the fly is important.

“Saia Burgess is a make-to-order manufacturer. We rarely build stock parts,” said the company spokesperson. “A new order usually means new components, which means more parts for the stockroom.”   

New parts are identified upon receipt, added to the FastPic software and stored in the carousels.   

“It’s a 30 second process to create the part number and enter in the information and set it up with the location,” he said. “We can also do a mass download periodically to update any new part numbers if we would get a large amount.”

FastPic Systems, a company of the Kardex AG of Zurich, Switzerland Group, is a developer of software for automated storage and retrieval systems.

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