Real-time feedback to the WMS indicates whether an order is complete or short. EASYpick sorts and checks order shorts to see whether they are occurring in multiple locations. If they are, EASYpick registers an out-of-stock closure of the location, allowing associates to skip over the order pick, which provides time savings and order fulfillment efficiency. Whenever the WMS registers an order short, it automatically sets up a replenishment request.
Picking accuracy at the New Lenox DC now runs at 99.5 percent. "Picking by departments is so much easier; it makes for a much shorter time to restock stores and saves on labor," says Sanderson.
Other technologies that the New Lenox DC is using are the FKI Logistex UniSort XV ultra quiet high-speed sorter for outbound cartons, the FKI Logistex Accupass pick-and-pass transfer system and the FKI Logistex Wireless Information Module (WIM), which allows Michaels maintenance personnel to closely monitor the system via system alarms, exception notices, and I/O debugging reports.
A Strategy for Excess Inventory
Michaels is also piloting a new distribution design that uses a cross-docking and batch processing flow-through system to maximize transportation and DC fulfillment efficiencies. This system is part of a strategy to reduce the number of SKUs warehoused in each DC from 16,000 to around 12,000 and to gain increased throughput as a result.
To achieve this expected inventory reduction, Michaels divides all inventory into two basic groupings. The first group, type A, includes fast-movers that all DCs will carry. Types Bs, however, are slow-movers that will be warehoused by the DC located closest to the supplier. As a result, each regional DC will, in effect, become a national warehouse and distribution hub for a unique set of type B items, thereby reducing the total number of slow-mover SKUs handled in each DC.
The cross-docking plan is central to the new Michaels supply chain optimization. "With any dynamic retail business, poor-performing SKUs are discontinued and new SKUs are added," says Gardner. "When all poor performing SKUs are in one building, your clearance risk is reduced."
The New Lenox DC came online in a series of stages. First, inventory and order fulfillment was moved from Kentucky to Illinois. Next, order fulfillment was moved from a non-departmental to a departmental system. Finally, material handling progressed from a manual process to full automation.
The challenge for Michaels and the rest of the project team was to transition from the older Kentucky facility to the new, fully automated New Lenox operation without interruption of service to the stores. The New Lenox inventory handover was a 12-month process, from its conception in 2003 to start-up in June 2004. Freight transition began in March 2004.
"Everything went smoothly and we even opened one month early," says Gardner. "The only way our store associates should have been able to tell that there had been a change was that boxes were shipped by department and that paper picking had gone away."
Productivity metrics tell the success story of the New Lenox DC. Early in the design phase, the project team set down goals for the new facility. After just three months of operation in 2004, the New Lenox team was achieving more than 90 percent of its planned throughput goals. Cartons picked per hour and cartons received are being processed at a rate that is 500 percent higher than expected.
"Last year, we couldn't have told you precisely what stores owned at any point in time," comments Gardner. "Now we have direct-from-the-register real-time data, and a perpetual inventory system that allows us to automate replenishment. Once you know what you own, and what you have sold, then you can replenish automatically back to the quantity you want to keep on hand.
In just seven months of operation, New Lenox has already been ranked third out of the company's nine DCs in terms of production dollars per hour. Gardner expects that the new DC will easily become the most efficient of all Michaels' facilities.