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Focus on: Distribution Centers


Fashion accessories retailer Fossil operates a high-volume distribution center, one that handles 25,000 SKUs daily. A high-speed cross-belt sorter that performs multiple functions is crucial to the facility’s speed and versatility.

“Our throughput is 80,000 units a day on the average,” said Craig Flournoy, director of distribution, Fossil, Richardson, Texas, which operates more than 300 stores and also sells products online and in department stores and specialty stores around the globe. “A unit could be one watch, or one pair of sunglasses, a belt or other apparel item. We will usually have about 12 units to a shipping carton.”

From mid-September to the end of November, when volumes are highest, the DC handles more than 12,000 cartons daily. Much of the additional volume is from direct Web site orders, which tend to be single SKUs, Flournoy added.

The sorter does triple duty, with orders routed through it three times before they exit the warehouse to be shipped to the company’s stores or direct to consumers around the globe. The sorter, designed and built by Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Dematic, sorts packages coming from Fossil’s pick stations, then again from its put-to-light area, and finally from its pack-out stations.

“By using the cross-belt for three different purposes, Fossil has maximized the use of the machine, which optimizes its investment,” said Joseph A. Cianfarani of Dematic.

Here is how it works: Fossil’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system initiates orders into its warehouse management system (WMS). The WMS then integrates with Dematic’s warehouse control system (WCS), which controls the cross-belt sortation equipment and conveyors. Batched orders of product are picked, put into totes and are then—in the first use of the cross-belt sorter—inducted to the cross-belt.

Once the batched orders are picked they might first go to the value-added services (VAS) area. If no VAS is required, the orders will proceed to one of the 22 put-to-light stations, where they are broken down to individual stores. The totes for each store then go back onto the cross-belt where they are diverted to one of 33 pack-out stations. Once the items are packed, the cartons are routed back through the cross-belt a third time where the cartons are diverted to one of five shipping lanes.

The sorter’s individual 24-in.-long belt-top carriers perform the sort either to the left or to the right, so that the belts on the carrier run perpendicular to the movement of the carrier as it goes around the sorter loop. Larger packages are assigned to two carriers when it is being inducted, so that the package spans both carriers, and those two carriers, in turn, act like one.

FLEXIBILITY: The WMS integrates with Dematic’s PickDirector, a software program that controls the warehouse’s put-to-light. It generates its picking lists, manages its wave picking and produces tracking lists. The program’s flexibility allows a variety of ways to set up waves, such as by different numbers of stores, by varied SKUs or by variations in transit time.

“We are able to quickly shift around workloads and staff to meet our ever-changing production needs,” Flournoy said. “At any given time, products from retail, wholesale, direct-to-store and e-commerce could be in process. The flexibility of our WMS and sortation system makes this possible.”

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