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Automation beautifies Shiseido's shipments

There are at least two kinds of innovations. The first is superimposing technology onto an operation that works elsewhere. The second involves tailoring an approach to a specific problem, with the solution often carrying implications for actions beyond the changes that are made.

At the massive distribution center of Shiseido Cosmetics (America) Ltd. in Oakland, NJ, blazing the second trail is proving far more efficient and profitable. Since implementing a program to reduce manual involvement in domestic and international shipments, the DC is seeing major gains.

One is a nearly ninefold boost in throughput during highest-demand seasons. A second is savings that repaid some 40 percent of equipment costs during the first four months after implementation of the program, PD learns from David T. Brandes, executive director of distribution, during a recent visit to the center.

Merchandise processed at the center is received from several sources, including the Shiseido facilities in Japan, the marketer's manufacturing/packaging site in E. Windsor, NJ, and Davlyn Corp., a wholly owned Shiseido private-label subsidiary in Monroe Township, NJ.

"It arrives," Brandes explains, "in master shippers in a dozen different sizes and configurations." Guided by an internal bar-code spot label listing specific product, the shipper is dollied to a rack separated by spacious aisles in the center's 180,000 sq ft of space.

"Picking shippers from the racks to fill orders is handled well enough by four to six people during normal months," Brandes says. "That changed during high-demand periods, when we brought in up to thirty part-time workers to supplement the regular force."

Not only were aisles cluttered with lift trucks moving wooden pallets as workers off-loaded shelves, but also each shipping container needed one to three labels applied before it could leave the center.

"This was a special problem," comments Nancy Pry, Shiseido's executive director of distribution, "because we want to be certain that each shipment leaves the center within twenty-four hours of order receipt."

The three labels are the Uniform Code Council's Code 128, an RPS/FedEx label required by the parcel carrier and a unique content label that identifies order information and staging locations for the completed shipment.

All of these shipments go throughout the U.S., along with private-label work for two other companies that extends them internationally. Given all of these requirements, with the additional crew during peak periods, output reached about 1,800 labels, or 600 shippers a day.

Another complication, Brandes says, is the need for exact placement of each label. "For some of our customers, having a label placed just a few inches from the required spot would lead to chargebacks of up to seventy-five dollars per shipper, adding to the large costs we were encountering with the part-time crew."

Looking for a way out of this periodic bind, Brandes called in Labeling Systems, Inc. ( and systems integrator Atlantic Handling Systems ( to meet with an internal project team to develop an optimal solution. The first meeting occurred in April 2005, just as the center was coming off a spring-shipment peak for summer merchandising of Shiseido's products.

Early on, it was decided that a print-and-apply approach would work most effectively, and weekly meetings involving Atlantic president John Cosgrove, senior project manager Daniel H. Sweetman and Labeling Systems (LSI) executive vp Jack Roe reviewed all phases of design, integration, installation and startup.

As built just-in-time for the autumn busy season last year, the new line begins with an ergonomic footswitch-operated lift table made by Southworth Products Corp. ( set against a wall in a wide aisle opposite the rows of racks. Operators roll fork trucks of skids to the table, unloading shippers that they feed onto a TGW-Ermanco ( zero-pressure accumulation roller conveyor set for a 105-ft/min travel rate.

The shipper flow is initiated by a SICK, Inc. ( photoeye sensor as the first case arrives. The shippers travel onto a 6-ft-long Ermanco metering belt, which simulates each shipper using speed differential.

Once they are properly gapped, the shippers move onto a 90-deg Ermanco Lineshaft shaft power curve through a fire-door portal into the 1,680-sq-ft processing/palletization area. At the portal, there's a 1-ft-long breakway conveyor for times when the door needs to be closed.

Past another 13-ft-long Ermanco conveyor with skewed rollers that shifts the cases to one side and another Sick sensor, there's a smooth transition to a 17-ft-long conveyor with rough-top belting. Opposite this is a pair of LSI's Model 20.62TB label printer/applicators.

Running off custom application software, the machines are based on LSI's Series 20 print-and-apply platform and use its air cylinder tamp/blow applicator. The thermal-transfer printer uses Zebra Technologies ( print engines, each machine offering 50 recipe storage locations and adjustable product sensor delays.

In operation, one of the printer/applicators can apply two or three labels, with the second machine used as a backup for replacement of the continuous web of pressure-sensitive label stock or of the ribbon. With synchronized conveyor speed and heavy-duty tamp/blow applicators, the machines print and place the labels accurately and securely.

Following placement, the shippers travel over another Lineshaft 90-deg power curve past a SICK scanner, which inspects for the accuracy of labels against programmed data, as well as for accurate location on the shipper. If there is any variance, the shipper kicks onto a right-angle, pop-up urethane-belt transfer to a gravity roller conveyor and then to the reject table for examination and, if needed, reprocessing.

The other shippers move along a SICK sensor-activated, 57-ft-long zero-pressure accumulation conveyor coordinated with the rate of movement set at the top of the line. Alongside this horseshoe-configured line is an area capable of holding up to 40 wooden 48340-in. pallets. Completed cases are loaded off the conveyor to these pallets.

A sign on a stand at the top of each row coordinates with a wall-mounted flowchart. This enables the line supervisor to chart hour-by-hour the progress of each order through the DC.

As pallet loads move out of the area, they are shifted by lifttruck to the shipping area for a last inspection, unitization and shipping.

One measure of the effectiveness of the new installation is that with just full-time crews, Shiseido processed 250,000 cases in the first five months of operation, including the pre-holiday period, comments Brandes. "Chargebacks were at virtual zero," he adds. "There was no cluttering of the aisles as people frantically tried to pick and move orders."

The record for one day in the busy season is 5,300 cases, with the staff working a flexible schedule, but no more than six people picking and packing.

Brandes notes, "We're still in a learning curve, making refinements that will help our output increase as we go along. But even at our current rate, thousands of dollars have been saved through this program. We projected a full payback within a year, and that prediction seems to be holding."

To this, Nancy Pry adds that the new system has vastly improved overall efficiencies, including shipping turnaround time to customers. "In the long term, we would like to incorporate the print-and-apply concept to label our boxes on the picking line as well as full-case shipments," she says. "This process should also be automated."

And that will move the center up to the first type of innovation. That's also a good place to be.

More information is available:
Labeling Systems, Inc., 201/405-0767.
Atlantic Handling Systems, 888/247-5214.
SICK, Inc., 800/325-7425.
Southworth Products Corp., 800/743-1000.
TGW-Ermanco, 231/798-4547.
Zebra Technologies, 800/423-0442.
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