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C-store adds stretch wrappers for 'drive-thru’ efficiency

Folks west of the Mississippi River may not have ever heard of Sheetz Convenience Stores unless they’re in the C-store business. But Altoona, PA-based Sheetz is a major player in the C-store industry and strives to mesh speed with quality, delivering goods to customers in innovative ways. One example of its efforts is with touchscreen ordering of its award-winning M•T•O® Made-to-Order food, and its creation of the “convenience restaurant,” a quick/casual place that the company also powers by touchscreen terminals both at the “drive-thru” level as well as on the inside.

Sheetz has also applied a similar drive-thru approach to its stretch-wrapping operations at its recently opened distribution center in Claysburg, PA. To match the efficiency of its 35 double-pallet jacks, the DC installed six freestanding Lantech (www.lantech.com) S-300XT overhead stretch wrappers in a three-pair setup to expedite the handling and shipping of 4,000 stockkeeping units.

Sheetz’s vital statistics change frequently, but as of this writing, the company has 310 locations, 10,000 employees and posts about $2.8 billion in annual revenue. Named Convenience Store of the Year in 1994 and 1995, and inducted into the Convenience Store Hall of Fame, the family-owned business is known as innovative and progressive, and aims to double the size of its workforce in the next six years. The 360,000-sq-ft DC in Claysburg operates 12 hours a day, six days a week, to support all of Sheetz’s retail outlets.

Explains John Barger, shipping supervisor at the Sheetz DC, “The arrangement creates a wrapping lane for the pallet-jack operator to pull in parallel with the stretch wrappers, drop one pallet, pull forward a few feet and drop a second pallet. Combined with other technology efficiencies, such as wearable radio frequency scanners for our order pickers, the stretch-wrapping operation has helped us deliver a thirteen-percent annual increase in volume within the last two years, without an increase in hours or other production equipment.”

Designed for tall and unstable loads, the S-300XT wrapping machine includes a variable-wrap-force feature that also works with soft products. The pallet wrappers require little from an operator other than a tug on a lanyard. Featuring automatic film attachment to the pallet, the machine cuts the film at the end of the wrapping cycle. Sheetz decided to arrange the six wrappers side-by-side, in pairs, in order to eliminate the double handling of loads often necessary with a single machine.

The wrapping arm’s 12-rpm speed capability allows each machine to film-wrap between 30 and 40 loads/hr, applying stretch film in five upward and five downward turntable revolutions that provide an optimal two-way wrap pattern. The loads are wrapped with two layers of film that are prestretched 200 percent with Power Roller-Stretch®. Forktruck operators don’t have to wait for loads to be wrapped, so they don’t have to get off of the forktrucks and are free to complete other tasks. The wrapping system’s automatic load-height detector adjusts the film overlap to meet requirements for Sheetz’s varying loads, which range from knee-high (one layer of cases) to the maximum the wrapper can produce. The loads are wrapped using a 70-ga stretch film from Sigma (www.sigmastretchfilm.com), supplied by Unisource (www.unisourcelink.com). A checker at the wrapping station makes a final inspection of each load, pulls the lanyard to initiate the wrap cycle and then moves the two loads to a staging area where they are placed on trucks.

The plant stages shipping cases and pallets for full-case picking, with packets of preprinted shipping-case labels at the ready. Besides cases, the case pickers also place totes on the pallets containing cigarettes and “each-pick” items for a given store. Utilizing the double-pallet jacks, the pickers follow directions to one of the thousands of SKUs using a Symbol (www.symbol.com) wrist-mounted RF display unit and proceed to pick and load the cases. The RF system receives data from a warehouse-management system. The product pickers then load and label the cases, and bring the filled pallets to the stretch-wrapping station.

There, the S-300XT semi-automatic stretch wrappers work in pairs. Two of the pairs of wrappers are arranged back-to-back in an ambient warehouse area, and the third pair is positioned on a cold dock. This layout allows pallet-jack operators to drive the double-pallet jack into a wrapping lane to place one pallet into the wrap station, pull forward a few feet and place a second pallet into position and then head out to begin picking again.

“When we opened [for business], we did a lot of wrapping by hand before we got these machines. We had some issues with loads shifting in the trailer,” says Barger. “That stopped as soon as we went to the automatic wrapping systems. The pairing of these wrappers gives us an exceptionally efficient layout in which to operate the double-pallet jacks. We initially separated the wrappers, but pairing them up and adding machines improved our productivity to meet growing volume requirements. Output is growing by about thirteen percent per year.” The plant is currently producing 600 pallet loads—or 26 trailer loads a day—six days a week, 12 hours a day.


More information is available:
Lantech.com, 800/866-0322. www.lantech.com.
Sigma Stretch Film, 201/507-9100. www.sigmastretchfilm.com.
Symbol Technologies, 866/416-8545. www.symbol.com.
Unisource, 800/864-7687. www.unisourcelink.com.
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