SAN ANTONIO -- Grocery Supply Co. here plans to streamline warehouse operations with a computerized system that will more efficiently locate pallets and open slots.
The wholesaler is developing and will introduce later this year a system that enables receivers to quickly access information about available slot locations for incoming merchandise. Pallets will be assigned a slot number and affixed with bar-coded tags.
Grocery Supply expects the computer-controlled inventory system will deliver improved product turns, slotting times and customer service levels while reducing labor hours, said David Spencer, president.
Receivers will direct the flow of product based on up-to-date information regarding specific pallet locations and available slots, he said. Radio-frequency technology, which will be introduced concurrently, should further improve the order selection process.
"Our locator system will [track] every pallet location and every selection slot within our warehouse and all inventories in those slots," Spencer said. "It will let us know where the pallets are and what quantities are in each slot."
The wholesaler is currently mapping its warehouse and assigning specific code numbers for each pallet slot. The hardware and software necessary to begin the program are already in place, he said.
"We're in the process of assigning those numbers to all the [slot] locations, giving them their correct coordinates and sizing them up for the quantities those slots can hold," Spencer added.
Radio-frequency technology will be the link that ties the system to the physical inventory. Identical bar codes on pallet tags and their assigned slot location will ensure that merchandise is slotted where assigned and will enable pallets to be easily located from forklifts equipped with RF devices, he said.
Once the system is up and running, the wholesaler hopes to reduce the time needed to fill retailer orders. The 485,000-square-foot distribution center stocks about 21,000 stockkeeping units and services about 500 supermarkets.
The locator system "will allow for better control over our inventory and inventory levels," he said. "When you've got a large warehouse and you're using such a recognition system, you'll get increased turns while maintaining more accurate inventories."
Currently, employees slot pallets at whatever locations are available and do not maintain a formal inventory of merchandise. Filling a retailer order is thus hampered because employees may know only generally where and how much of a certain product is available.
"Not having a locator system means you spend an inordinate amount of time in the inventory process," Spencer said.
The system will also address special product handling needs to reduce losses due to merchandise damage, he said. Retailer orders will be amended by the computer to instruct employees which pallets are fragile or especially heavy, for example.
The program represents a giant step forward from the wholesaler's current storage procedure, Spencer said. "Upon receipt [of pallets] it's a total recognition system: you recognize that slot's empty, so you're going to put that pallet in it."