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Case Studies

Oct 24, 2013

Tech Data Corp.

Conveyors Help High-Tech Distributor Keep Pace With Market Boom

Streamlined conveyor system overcomes old space constraints, keeps Tech Data responsive to customer demands.

When you're operating in a fast-paced industry like Tech Data Corp., you need fast, flexible systems that allow you to respond quickly to dynamic market conditions. And Tech Data operates in one of the fastest-paced businesses of all-computer technology. The Clearwater, Fla.-based company is one of the world's leading distributors of computer equipment and peripherals-everything from monitors, disks, and cables to the software itself. Its broad customer base includes value added resellers (VARs), wholesalers, and retail outlets.

Tech Data operates six distribution centers in the United States as well as in Canada and France. These centers are charged with supporting sales growth across an expanding product line. But one of these centers, the facility in Atlanta, had been struggling to keep pace with that demand. The main problems: the building was too small and the operation too manually intensive.

The solution: Build a modern 207,000 square-foot distribution center. The new Atlanta regional distribution center, which became operational in August 1997, serves customers in and around that fast-growing part of the Southeast. It features sophisticated computer controls, a carefully designed layout that facilitates order flow from product infeed to final shipment, and a highly integrated conveyor system.

Challenged by Space Constraints

Tech Data prides itself on fast, efficient customer service. The distributor's goal is to ship every order, placed by 5 p.m. on the day it is received-even if the order comes in as late as 6 p.m. But space and operational constraints sometimes posed an obstacle to achieving that objective.

The old Atlanta facility was only 50,000 square feet-not nearly enough to support Tech Data's double-digit growth. Space for the critical packing operations was cramped and tight. And there was hardly any room for staging incoming product at the receiving dock or outgoing orders in the shipping area. In fact, during peak periods Tech Data sometimes had to resort to off-site warehousing of goods.

Perhaps most problematic of all, the old facility had only one conveyor line going to the shipping area. This meant a lot of manual handling along with an excessive amount of "walking around" in an already congested area. The net result: wasted motion and low productivity.

Working with Curlin Inc. of Tampa, a systems integrator and distributor of Hytrol conveyor equipment, Tech Data effectively addressed all of these issues. The team designed a modern, efficient distribution center with ample room for all receiving, staging, putaway, storage, packing, and shipping activities.

The new Atlanta center is designed to expedite the order-fulfillment process from the moment merchandise is input into the building. A series of Hytrol conveyors, which include high-speed sorters and a "sawtooth" merge, move orders from the three main picking areas, to the packing stations, and then to the shipping lanes. The new system marks a quantum leap in productivity for Tech Data's Atlanta operations. The distribution center now can process more than 3,500 cartons a day.

"Tech Data has built one of the most successful systems we've been associated with," says Dave Frey, vice president of sales for Curlin Inc.

Streamlined Order Flow

The order-fulfillment process begins when Tech Data's centralized customer service center at its Clearwater headquarters electronically transmits orders to Atlanta. Pick tickets then are generated for each of the facility's three storage areas: (1) a three-level pallet-flow module, where the fastest-moving products are kept; (2) a ground-level storage area for full pallet loads; and (3) a mezzanine storage area for small, non-palletized items.

The operators check for completeness and accuracy as the orders rest on zero-pressure accumulation conveyors in the picking areas. Once an order is filled from the various storage locations, they determine whether it can move directly to the shipping area or whether it requires further packing and consolidation. Orders that include multiple, smaller items typically move in totes for ease of handling and loss prevention.

Orders travel on live roller and belt conveyors from the picking locations toward the packing and shipping areas with incline and decline segments used to connect the mezzanine. Prior to reaching the packing stations a sawtooth merge conveyor consolidates four incoming lines into one.

The orders then proceed to a high-speed QS-1 sortation "shoe" conveyor. Divert shoes move diagonally across this conveyor to physically push the order onto skatewheels that lead to the zero-pressure accumulation conveyors at the packing stations. Hytrol's EZ-Logic "photo-eye" feature keeps space between the orders on these lines and prevents any damage to the product.

Orders are consolidated, manifested, and labeled at the packing area. From here, they move on live roller conveyors to another high-speed QS-1 sorter. This unit swiftly directs the completed orders to the correct shipping lane. Computer controls give Tech Data the capability to sort the lanes by carrier (UPS, Federal Express, LTL, and so forth); by priority of the shipment (overnight or second-day); or by customer zip code.

For a company like Tech Data where service is the only business, having a fast and flexible materials-flow system like the one at its new Atlanta distribution center is not a "nice-to-have" add on. It's an absolute competitive necessity-to accommodate both the growth already experienced and the growth expected to come. In fact, if the high-growth curve continues, Tech Data has the option of building a duplicate 200,000 square foot distribution center on land adjacent to the new building.

Tech Data's Regional Distribution Center

The Atlanta center has three storage areas-a multi-level pallet-flow module for fast moving items; a full pallet section on the ground floor; and a mezzanine storage area for small, non-palletized products. The mezzanine area (see cutaway illustration is connected by incline and decline conveyor segments. Orders move from the picking areas to a sortation convyeor that diverts them to the appropriate packing station. After the orders are manifested and labeled, they move to another sorter, which sends them to one of six shipping lanes. The system is fast and efficient. Orders recedived by 5 p.m. are shipped that day.

A Closer Look At The Distribution Warehouse

  • Company: Tech Data Corp
  • Facility: Regional Distribution Center
  • Location: Atlanta GA
  • Size: 207,000 square feet
  • Employees: 78 (three shifts, five days a week)
  • Distribution Manager: Steve Harris
  • VP Development & Facilities: Joy Perkins
  • Product Handled: Computers, peripherals, and software
  • Output: 3,500 cartons per day (average)
  • Types of conveyors: Horizontal power (minimum pressure and zero pressure, high speed sortation, inclines, skatewheel, sawtooth merge
  • Conveyor Supplier: Hytrol Conveyor Inc., Jonesboro AR
  • System Integrator: Curlin Inc., Tampa FL