The Dean Foods/Land O'Lakes' milk plant in Woodbury, Minn. needed a dairy warehouse management system that would shorten load-out times, reduce inventory loss from rotational problems, and eliminate the possibility of erroneous or incomplete deliveries. Woodbury has grown as Land O'Lakes has grown and the growth had come at a price-reduced efficiency and an increase in labor costs.
Woodbury Plant Manager, Gale Hojer, who now serves Dean Foods as an internal consultant, had a new system in place and paid for in less than 13 months. Hojer who had previous experience with a dairy management system at Marigold's Cedarburg, Wis. plant chose Serti Systems of Montreal as the vendor.
Jean Marc Thibault, Serti's pres., says "We develop cost-effective dairy management solutions (DMS) by integrating our proprietary software packages, commonly referred to as the MS component, with third-party hardware and automation components. Our DMS includes a plan, a list of new equipment needed, modifications required for current equipment, architectural and CAD drawings, if required, a proof of concept, our proprietary software, and a budget."
Hojer liked what Serti's systems offered.
"It is technology that delivers efficiency by combining jobs and demanding accountability, but the challenge in getting a dairy management system on track at Woodbury or anywhere else isn't the hardware or the software-it's the mindset," Hojer says. "There's a lot of restructuring that needs to take place in the cooler when you're moving from a manual to an automated operation especially with the picking and load-out operations, but change is required throughout the dairy."
DMS created a palletless, paperless system for moving product in and out of the cooler-and it did so as it overcame the challenge of tracking product in milk cases without a barcode. The system takes control of the product just beyond the filler where an RF unit scans a label bar code and the AS400 computer assigns the container to a box, a case or a bossy. Cases or boxes are clamped out six high in stacks of nine where a PLC assembles them in a 3X3 pattern at the unitizer. The stacks are put away or stored in the preferred location until picked for shipping or replenishment as determined by the DMS.
Picking errors and rotational dumps have been virtually eliminated because the DMS always sends the picker to the right place and checks product code before it's pulled. No product gets lost in storage and it's automatically rotated out on a FIFO basis. "With inventory control and a product plan we use 100% of the cooler and turn our inventory once a day," says Hojer.
"Moving fluid milk is very different from butter and cheese and other commodities. That's why some system builders who have made their name in WMS and AS/RS for food have failed to deliver in the fluid milk business. Most of the systems we looked at when I was at Marigold were either highly automated and couldn't be cost-justified for our operation or they were not automated enough for us to realize a pay back in a reasonable period of time-and it was the same at Cedarburg. We needed a hybrid system where there was enough automation to reduce labor intensity and headcount in the cold room, give us paperless management of the warehouse, and automatically rotate product. Yet, we couldn't have it be so automated that if a piece of equipment broke down it would paralyze our operations-in other words we still needed to be able to pick and load manually."