Bar-code labels drive automated warehouse

In 1992, Herr's built a 40ꯠ sq' automated warehouse that makes use of bar-coded labels on cases of finished goods to automatically sort and stack cases.

Two main conveyors carry mixed SKUs from the packaging area to the distribution area where sortation occurs. An Accu-Sort (Telford, PA) scanner reads each bar-code to divert lower-volume SKUs to an older warehouse that dispenses product in single-case quantities. In the automated warehouse, the mixed cases are scanned a second time. Based on the SKU number contained in the bar-code, cases are sorted back into individual SKUs. That's accomplished by a slat conveyor sorter from Mathews Conveyor (Danville, KY) that directs cases into one of 12 holding lanes at speeds to 400'/min. The SKU assigned to each lane changes daily, based on production needs. No pallets Once a given lane contains enough cases for an entire load, the cases are released to one of two Mathews unitizers. Plant engineer Steve Moran is quick to point out that although the machines stack cases into loads, Herr's doesn't refer to them as palletizers, since the company doesn't use pallets. "Pallets are dirty, plus there's a lot of labor involved with moving them around," explains Moran. "We don't even use slip sheets. We use clamp trucks--fork trucks with clamp attachments." The pressure of the clamps make any sort of bottom support unnecessary. Herr's doesn't even use interlocking patterns to create loads. "Interlocking patterns made unloading trailers difficult, so we went to column stacking and it's worked out real well for us," says Moran. To add stability, Herr's uses Key Tech's (Mukilteo, WA) Lock 'n' Pop spray-on case unitizing cohesive on the top three layers. Even so, at first glance, it seems a remarkable feat: column-stacked loads that are built to near-full-trailer height without anything underneath. Add in the reusable corrugated and a hot summer day, and isn't that a recipe for trouble? Moran deconstructs the mystery: "If you think about it, the top three layers are unitized; the clamps are 4 feet high. You've got most of the load under control." He does acknowledge that summer humidity can be a source of of trouble. "We're experimenting with higher burst-strength cases during the summer months because cases can absorb moisture and become too flimsy."

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