Lewis Bear is the oldest Anheuser-Busch affiliated distributor in the USA, providing service to restaurants, bars, grocery stores, warehouse clubs and convenience stores in the Florida panhandle. The company distributes over eight million cases of product per year.
To support their customers, the Lewis Bear operates two modern distribution centers in Florida—one in Pensacola and another in Panama City. Both operations had been experiencing challenges relative to order accuracy, SKU proliferation, longer truck loading times, and operator performance during seasonal peak demand periods. Furthermore, the trend for a typical order showed a decrease in the amount of items per order line, and an increase in the number of SKUs per pallet. From an average of 11 SKUs per pallet only three years ago, to 49 SKUs per pallet currently, order complexity and fulfillment time was increasing drastically. During the same time period SKU count has gone from 530 to almost 1200 SKUs today, with no end to the growth in sight.
The Lewis Bear management team analyzed the situation and determined that a voice directed picking solution would optimize performance in both of their distribution centers. Lewis Bear partnered with Dematic to implement a new order fulfillment solution to pick, manifest and load all of their daily deliveries.
The Dematic Beverage System uses real-time software and process improvements to optimize the management and execution of the entire order fulfillment operation, from order download to truck loading. First, paper pick lists were omitted and replaced with voice directed instructions. The warehouse staff use a small wearable device, a headset and a laser scanner. The warehouse workers are directed by voice commands to pick locations. Using the scanner, the SKU to be picked is scanned to confirm the correct item to pick. With a correct scan, the operator is then given the pick quantity, ensuring both item and quantity are correct. Upon completion of a given pallet, the system prompts an item count and prints a manifest label which also contains loading instructions for the final disposition of the order to the correct truck. The voice device communicates to the Dematic computer via a traditional RF backbone.
In addition, Lewis Bear management can see who built each pallet, when it was built and how long it took to complete the task. The Dematic system allows the warehouse staff to be more effective; now employees can make more money with incentive base pay. The “hands and eyes free” method supported by the voice directed technology allows increased worker comfort and safety. As a result, employee retention has improved since the implementation of the Dematic system.
The Dematic software not only directs all task assignments in the warehouse, but it also keeps track of who is doing what task. All task assignments and work performed statistics are tracked and provided in easy to read web-based reports. During the tourist season in northern Florida, the volume dramatically increases at both distribution centers. The Dematic system is designed to be scalable, easily accommodating temporary workers hired to support peak order volume. In the future, Lewis Bear is considering expanding the Dematic Beverage System to include, receiving, inventory control and cycle counting.
“The business case for the new system solution was compelling” says David Jarrell, Operations Manager for Lewis Bear. “We have realized significant gains in order accuracy, reduced truck loading time, while making ongoing order checking almost obsolete”. “Furthermore, the Dematic system allows us to see what’s going on out there in real time. Now I can do a better job of managing my operation, planning how to staff the warehouse, while reacting faster to operational issues.”
The engineered solution from Dematic creates significant improvements to operational metrics. For example, “as picked” order accuracy went from 92% to over 99%, virtually eliminating QC labor in the warehouse. Order lines picked per hour went from a range of 240-270 to 290-350 range, an increase of over 20%. By using voice directed live loading, truck loading time has been cut by almost 50%. The Lewis Bear sales team appreciates the Dematic system as well because order accuracy complaints from their customers have virtually disappeared.