The world of automation for beverage warehousing continues to improve, as wholesalers require more advanced solutions to meet the needs of an increasingly complex business. There have been particular advances in the sector of automatic guided vehicles (AGV) and laser guided vehicles (LGV). The technology has come so far that it has been one of the main investments for Alliance Beverage Distributing Co., a JV between Charmer Sunbelt Group and Glazer’s.
Challenges: In a 10-year period, Alliance Beverage nearly doubled in size with its warehouse in Phoenix, Ariz., growing from 240,000 square feet to 450,000 square feet. In that time period, the wine, spirits and beer wholesaler also grew its volume significantly from 8.1 million cases to 11.2 million cases. The Phoenix DC is the one centralized location for the company for the state of Arizona, so there is a lot of activity.
“We spent a lot of time driving throughout the building without actually accomplishing any task for fulfillment of the job,” explains Jon Willis, vice president of logistics for Alliance Beverage.
Product Description: Now in the initial stages, the company implemented five LGVs from JBT Corp. that are used for inbound products into the warehouse and transporting those products into storage.
“As part of that we developed the very comprehensive interface with our host system, which is SAP [SAP is the world’s largest ERP system provider and the company’s WMS is a component], and JBT was able to accomplish that through web services,” notes Willis. “So when JBT is moving goods or placing goods into storage it is automatically interfacing with SAP, indicating destination bins and everything that has moved out of those bins. It keeps our host system fully up-to-date in terms of placement of inventory throughout the building.”
Currently, the vehicles handle about one-third of the building. According to Willis, the duties of the vehicles will likely expand and also bring products from storage to the operational section of the warehouse to fulfill outbound orders.
JBT Corp.’s vehicles have a load capacity of 3,000 pounds, a lift height of 15.5 feet, a turning radius of five feet and can travel up to 250 feet per minute. The vehicles also are equipped with obstacle detection with a front and rear laser bumper.
Results: Says Willis, “The end goal was a reduction of operating costs.” So far, he says, the vehicles are doing exactly what they were intended to and have the potential to do even more. He expects the ROI will be a year and half for the company.
Benefits of using the automatic guided vehicles include increased inventory accuracy, fewer repair expenses, a reduction in breakage and energy savings. While the company isn’t there yet, the section of warehouse that is controlled by the AGV LGV technology will become a dark building, meaning all the lights will be shut off as the vehicles operate using infrared lights. In addition, because the vehicles travel on guided paths, they don’t run into racks or other vehicles or walls. And since the speed they travel is programmed depending on direction and weight load, there are fewer accidents and breakages.
“The flexibility, versatility and mobility of the entire system really appealed to us because we know our business is constantly changing, our building is constantly changing and the ability for the [automatic guided vehicles] to adapt to another environment was essential,” says Willis.