Material Handling Design That Scales As Business Grows
Reduction in required square footage using the Schaefer Channel System
350,000 Sq Ft
Of plastic saved a year by using racking over floor stacking
Truck loading efficiency due to the Orbiter shuttle’s pallet staging functions
Reduction in processing plant downtime caused by warehouse bottlenecks
Kidney beans are an interesting food that take on different meanings to different people the whole world over – sometimes they mean a soup called brenebon in the Netherlands, a rice dish called rajima in India, or chile con carne in Mexico. To the Doane family of Dunn County Wisconsin, kidney beans are synonymous with their family history, their community, and a conduit through which to feed and care for others across the globe.
The Doanes have been local farmers and small-business owners for over 160 years, today operating a handful of agricultural businesses led by their flagship brand Chippewa Valley Bean. Representing over 120 local kidney bean growers, Chippewa Valley Bean receives, processes, and ships out wholesale dark beans to buyers on every continent (except for Antarctica, for now!), supplying about 50% of North America’s kidney beans and about 25% of all kidney beans worldwide.
As with any successful business, growing pains are to be expected at times, and Chippewa recently faced one such growth spurt that required urgently addressing throughput bottlenecks across their operations. After smaller fixes were implemented, one major hurdle remained: fixing the bottleneck created by the plant’s existing outbound product warehouse, which due to its small size frequently caused unexpected interruptions in their process operations. Chippewa turned to warehouse automation manufacturer SSI Schaefer based on a recommendation from one of their customers, who then in turn recommended Fairchild Equipment as the preferred local material handling expert best set to partner with the plant, discuss options, and help solve this problem.
Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in Green Bay WI, and twelve regional offices spread across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, North Dakota, and the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. From complete Automated Warehouse Systems to Equipment Rentals, Spare Parts to Safety Training, Fairchild’s dedication to our customer’s success has earned us numerous awards and accolades including MHEDA’s prestigious MVP award nine years in a row.
Balancing material flows through a processing facility is often a game of chasing bottlenecks. Isolated improvements in one area can simply move the bottleneck to another point in the process. Storage warehouses are notorious for getting stuck in such a game when only one or two variables are solved for in isolation. Instead, a comprehensive approach that maps each area of improvement to a master plan is the better way to go. Warehouse optimization should intimately review storage density, inventory tracking, traffic patterns, movement velocities, and rotation requirements across a client’s complete range of SKUs, product types, and packaging formats. Only with this information can the optimal storage solution (from building to vehicle fleet spare parts) be designed.
Sizing a warehouse for this type of an application requires a deep understanding of the volumes and rates at which a customer’s products will flow in from manufacturing and flow out to fulfill customer orders. Beyond simple order velocities, product lot traceability, SKU distribution, and packaging variations have to be understood so that products of any type are easily accessible to fill order mixes as they come in.
At Chippewa Valley Bean, the core concern was being able to insulate their processing plant against the natural inconsistencies that comes with agricultural market and logistics cycles. Each year, Chippewa receives 120 million pounds of beans within a short harvest window in the Fall, which they must clean, sort, grade, and pack right away to fill into inventory. After that, beans will be sold out of inventory as customer orders come in throughout the rest of the year leading up to the next harvest. Chippewa’s finished product warehouse was undersized for the rate that they could process beans at, given their much slower outbound shipping rates that would back product up in inventory. Once the warehouse was out of space, production had no choice but to shut down, waiting for product to be shipped out to make room.
Beyond the material handling constraints, the customer also had set goals of drastically cutting their carbon footprint with any new projects, promoting sustainability and energy efficiency anywhere possible. In terms of warehouse operations, the obvious candidate for consideration was found in their vehicle fleet. The plant predominantly used propane and diesel forklifts in their operation, and adding more of these lifts to an expanded warehouse would bring along an increase in volatile emissions.
Lastly, warehousing space efficiency was also a major element, as more warehouse space directly translated into higher construction costs. The plant historically floor stacked their kidney bean totes, and understood that this practice was a grossly inefficient use of space ripe for reconsideration in a new project. Even better, any move away from floor stacking would save disposable plastic liner sheeting that the plant currently used underneath floor stacked totes.
“Fairchild, along with Schaefer, was VERY helpful in the design and working with us on how we’d actually implement this type of a system. They provided wonderful support throughout the process…including options on other alternatives that may be out there, but ultimately helped us make the decision that [the Schaefer channel system and Hyster electric lifts] would work best. ”
– Tom Kwak, Chief Financial Officer, Chippewa Valley Bean
With a deep understanding of Chippewa’s current operating conditions and new project objectives, Fairchild Equipment got to work evaluating options. We quantified the necessary warehouse capacity that would eliminate processing back-ups, presented an array of racking and equipment technologies, and explained the operational impacts of each. After careful review, Chippewa ultimately landed on a custom engineered package consisting of an SSI Schaefer Semi-Automated Channel Storage Racking System, and a fleet of Hyster Model E55 Electric Forklifts.
SSI Schaefer Channel Storage Racking System features:
- Deep-lane, 4-level pallet racking system (also known as a channel storage system), storing up to four times the product volume in the same amount of floor space as one pallet.
- Semi-automated Orbiter vehicle system (also know as a pallet shuttle), using multiple shuttles to transport pallets down each storage channel into a nested position without requiring the forklift to enter the racking.
- Orbiter docking stations which allow the shuttle to be easily and safely transported between channels, and charges the Orbiter when idle.
Hyster Model E55 Electric Forklifts offered even more benefits to the design, including:
- All electric, 4-wheel sit down, counterbalance forklifts that produce no volatile emissions.
- High-capacity, long-life DC battery packs sized to operate all day even in heavy use, and that allow for opportunity charging during any available downtime.
- These electric lifts also substantially reduced the size of the building’s new air handling system, since it did not need to exhaust combustion emissions or excess heat from the warehouse.
Next, Fairchild coordinated the new material handling solution with the building designer, evaluating details such as warehouse traffic patterns, truck loading times, and inventory accessibility. Forklift access lanes were arranged to provide first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory flow, with inbound product loaded on one end, and outbound product picked from the other end. The location of the new racking system was positioned such that in the time it took a forklift operator to load one pallet from storage onto a freight truck, that the Orbiter shuttle would have picked and staged the next pallet at the pick-up end of the racking, ready for the lift operator without any lost time waiting.
While the building was being constructed, Fairchild worked with our fabricators and vendors to prepare the new storage system for delivery just as soon as the building was ready for it. The racking system arrived right on schedule, was installed within a few weeks, and was immediately tested with the new Hyster lifts. After testing checked out, all Chippewa operators were trained on the complete system, and the full solution was put into service. Within the first week of full operation, Chippewa was operating the system entirely on their own without issue.
Following up a few weeks after project completion, Chippewa expressed their complete satisfaction with the project, beyond expectations. The FIFO scheme was working perfectly as planned, allowing product and shipping lots to flow through inventory with substantially less effort to track perishability. The operators were fully comfortable placing pallets on any level of the Schaefer channel system, and were also quite pleased with the quieter, easier to operate Hyster electric lifts. Since the project’s launch, Fairchild Equipment has provided ongoing preventative maintenance and service for Chippewa’s forklift fleet, as well as on-call factory support for the Schaefer Orbiter shuttles. With an eye to the future, Chippewa’s leadership team is now looking at ways to best utilize its increased warehousing capacity, exploring opportunities in additional foreign market growth as well as new bean varieties. Here at Fairchild, we are thrilled to have been a part of this fantastic project, supporting landmark local businesses such as Chippewa Valley Bean.
Fairchild Equipment’s family values and dedication to world-class material handling solutions drive us to earn customers like Chippewa Valley Bean for life. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please send us a message or call us at (844) 432-4724.