Distribution that’s made to order

by Dan Malovany
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When he first explored paperless distribution three years ago, Koby Stein, president, Masada Bakery, Norcross, GA, understood the potential benefits. The bakery’s old system was cumbersome and prone to errors that often made it too difficult to train new employees on how to use it properly. Finding a way to more efficiently load 250 SKUs of fresh Old World breads, rolls, bagels and pastries onto 50 route trucks and deliver them to the right customers within 8 hours six days a week provided a challenge.

There was only one problem with automating the warehouse. “Because we didn’t have the space in the bakery at that time, we put the project on hold,” Mr. Stein recalled.

A year later at the 2010 International Baking Industry Exposition, Mr. Stein stopped by ToolBox Software North America’s booth and explained his predicament. “We wanted it a little different from the way most people usually pick product,” he said. “People usually pick to routes. We wanted to pick to our customers’ orders, and the attention to detail that ToolBox offered us was much more compatible with what we wanted to do.”

ToolBox representatives visited Masada Bakery several times during the months following the exposition. When the bakery decided to open a 30,000-sq-ft offsite warehouse as a part of a broader expansion plan, Masada asked ToolBox to install its pick-to-light dispoTool system. Located three-quarters of a mile from the 65,000-sq-ft bakery, the warehouse also allowed Masada to expand capacity in its production facility to keep up with the increasing demand for its products.

In the US, nearly all bakeries with paperless distribution use put-to-light systems, where each route uses its own ceiling display panel. Warehouse personnel use the system to select products, then stage them under the display panels for each route.

At Masada’s warehouse, however, the pick-to-light system uses 100 ceiling display panels and operates in a better way to serve the bakery’s needs, according to Ralf Ulmer, executive vice-president sales for ToolBox, St. Paul, MN. “This means the items are staged per product. The dispatcher selects the customer in our dispoTool system, and the displays show them the quantity to pick of each product,” he noted.

Additionally, ToolBox set up a separate manual staging area for small-run products. “Because the volume is so small, these products don’t have displays for them, so we set up a rack solution that’s like a chessboard,” Mr. Ulmer noted. “For example, it tells them to go to ‘rack 8 and shelf number 14,’ and pick up a small number of a specific item for a customer.”

During the startup of the system, ToolBox sent a technician to train Masada warehouse personnel and iron out any kinks in the highly complex operation. “Initially, the technician was supposed to be here for 10 days, but at our request, ToolBox kept him at the bakery another week or more to make sure we were not only ready, but also comfortable with the system,” Mr. Stein said.

After the startup, Masada relied on ToolBox’s 24-hour support line, where problems are resolved within an hour. “Since the first month, we rarely had an issue where we needed to call ToolBox,” he said.  

Automating the warehouse is providing Masada with some unanticipated benefits. “It’s not only saving labor and time; it goes way beyond that,” Mr. Stein said. “In addition to ease of training new employees, we can analyze which products are selling the most and maybe which ones don’t make sense to sell. Once you put the data into the computer, you can generate information that helps you control the whole process in a much more efficient way.”

The system, he added, has exceeded the company’s expectations. “I can tell you it works, and it works great,” Mr. Stein said. “People now ask me, ‘Why did you wait so long? We should have done this years ago.’ ”        

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