Bauer Compressors has been manufacturing high-pressure compressors internationally for more than 50 years and locally in Norfolk, Va., for more than 30 years. The company is considered a specialist in markets such as high-pressure breathing air, industrial air, plastics technology, natural gas and inert gas compression. To help accommodate growth, the management at Bauer Compressors looked for a way to more effectively manage its growing parts inventory and add more floor space for manufacturing operations.
The parts department at Bauer Compressors utilized more than 100 sections of shelving, occupying a 50- by 90-foot area. With parts consuming 4,500 square feet of warehouse space, Bauer Compressors had no room to expand the manufacturing part of the business. “At the rate our business was growing, our inventory count was increasing daily, and we were running out of places to put parts,” said Joseph Stark, Bauer Compressors operations manager.
By installing three Remstar Shuttle Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs), Bauer Compressors was able to reduce the size of the parts department from 4,500 square feet to 395 square feet, and recover 91% of previously used floor space. With this reclaimed floor space, the company was able to add more work cells and increase the number of parts in inventory. By utilizing overhead space, Bauer Compressors was able to increase the number of parts in inventory by 50%.
“To keep up with our increasing manufacturing demands, it was necessary for us to increase the number of parts we had on hand,” said Stark. The company was able to add 1,500 parts to their inventory; growing from 3,000 SKU’s located in the shelving to 4,500 SKU’s located in the VLMs.
Streamlining the picking process
More efficient use of space, however, was only one part of the challenge at Bauer Compressors. Improved parts retrieval efficiency was the other. As in many companies, the parts department at Bauer Compressors has two types of customers — external customers who need spare parts shipped to their location and internal customers on the manufacturing floor who need parts to build the compressors.
To meet the needs of both types of customers, Bauer Compressors integrated their host ERP system (Made2Manage) with FastPic inventory management and control software from FastPic Systems to control the Shuttle VLMs. To improve the overall efficiency of the picking operation, the company also installed a batch picking station that allows operators to pick multiple orders simultaneously.
In operation, the order entry department enters spare parts orders and job orders into the host ERP system. The orders are held in queue until the parts department is ready to begin filling orders. The operator selects up to eight orders to be picked simultaneously, creating a batch. “Picking multiple orders at one time has increased our pick efficiency tremendously,” said Gunter Rennhofer, planning manager.
The batch station has a put light indicator in front of eight positions (one for each order). The operator places a tote in front of each put light, and the FastPic software automatically looks for SKU commonality within the batch and associates each tote with an order.
FastPic software directs the Shuttle VLMs to retrieve the trays required. As each tray is presented in the ergonomically positioned pick window, a pick light indicates which SKU to pick and the quantity is displayed on the unit’s display screen. The operator picks the required quantity out of the VLM and turns around to the batch station to distribute the product among the orders. Put lights indicate what quantity to put in each tote. This process is repeated until all orders are complete.
Using this approach, man-hours have been cut in half. Picking out of the old shelving system required two people, each picking only one order at a time. Using an integrated software system with the automated Shuttle VLMs, only one person is needed to do all of the order picking.
If there is an immediate need for a part on the floor during batch pick, the operator performs a hot pick. A hot pick is a pause command in the FastPic software that suspends the batch picking process to allow the operator to pull a part, or multiple parts, from the Shuttle VLMs. When the hot pick is completed, the operator directs the software to continue batch picking where it left off.
Bauer Compressors has also incorporated a “bagging and tagging” picking process to handle quantities of small parts such as bolts, screws and washers. When parts are picked from the VLM tray, FastPic software automatically prints a label with the part name and SKU number. Each part is counted, sealed in a plastic bag and labeled before being placed in the order bin on the batch station.
“Before this system, we had part numbers handwritten on some parts and not at all on others. It made it difficult to find parts when picking an order, and it was a nightmare for restocking unused or returned parts.” said Stark. “Now each part is individually labeled and bagged, giving our customers clean and clearly labeled parts, and giving us a more professional look.”
Constantly growing and changing market conditions require a way to handle overstock and new parts. Multiple storage location features in FastPic software allow parts to be stored randomly in the VLMs, making it easy to add new parts and locations, and track inventory levels.
With more than $1.5 million of inventory in the three Shuttle VLMs, having accurate inventory levels is important. Using FastPic software has also provided more inventory security. “To operate the Shuttle VLMs, a security code is required, allowing us to limit the number of people that can access our parts inventory,” said Rennhofer.
With such a large inventory, training new employees was no small task. Now pick lights direct the picker to the exact location of the part so there is no guessing involved. “Our accuracy level is over 99%, and training new employees is much easier. After two days, someone can work by themselves; no product knowledge is necessary,” said Rennhofer.
“Our main reasons for purchasing this system were storage density, improved picking speed and greater inventory control,” said Stark. “It has given us all of that plus improved accuracy and better employee ergonomics.”