Systems Integrator: R.H. Brown Co. Inc.
|Nintendo of America, Inc.
Achieving a Fast Return on
In this first year of operation, a
new conveyor system has helped Nintendo of America score big
productivity gains and cut transportation costs.
of America has achieved remarkable market penetration. It's
estimated that 40 percent of American households own a
Nintendo game system. The company manufactures and distributes
the hardware and software for its popular video game systems.
Included among the extensive product line are Nintendo 64 and
Game Boy, the world's best-selling video game system.
Much of the responsibility for supporting this huge
customer base falls to the company's distribution center in
North Bend, Wash., just east of Seattle. This modern, 380,000
square-foot facility processes more than 20,000 orders a day.
Its customers include the retail stores that sell the Nintendo
products as well as a growing number of their consumers who
order their video games and components online.
The North Bend center is able to keep pace with
the heavy market demand thanks in large part to a new conveyor
and sortation system installed in the summer of 2000. The
installation is notable in a number of respects. It
effectively utilizes a series of merges to streamline product
flow throughout the facility. It incorporates advanced gapping
technology and a sortation system that can handle more than
145 packages a minute. And it integrates a mix of proven
Hytrol conveyor equipment, including the unique EZ Logic
accumulating system. R.H. Brown Co., a distributor of Hytrol
equipment based in Seattle, did the systems integration for
the conveyor equipment. Serra Systems was the integrator for
the PLC control system from Allen-Bradley.
The new installation is considerably more efficient and
productive than its predecessor. The old sorter, for example,
could not handle packages smaller than 8" by 12."
Consequently, there was a lot of "air" in many of
the small orders. This, in turn, resulted in poor cube
utilization of the trucks and airfreight containers, which
translated to unnecessarily high transportation costs.
Certain packages that were prone to rotate during the
order-flow process had a no-read rate of 10%. On top of all
this, the old operation was noisy.
The new installation addresses all of these issues — and
The Merge Effect
The distribution center utilizes a series of merges to
streamline order flow. Small orders arrive in totes at the
main packing stations. There
operators package the orders, affix bar codes labels, and
place the cartons on parallel conveyor lines moving to the
Belt conveyors running in parallel transport the small
packages from the taping stations up an incline to gain
elevation. The lines then move around an S-curve segment and
onto an EZ Logic accumulating conveyor (190-SPEZ) prior to the
first merge. Packages are released in a "slug" mode
— that is, in condensed blocks with minimum space between
them. They are combined into a single lane by means of a
powered plow. A takeaway belt conveyor then moves the orders
toward the second merge.
A similar procedure takes place at the next merge, where
the packages are combined with cartons being recirculated from
the shipping area. In the third merge, the small packages are
combined with larger cartons from a separate order-fulfillment
area running on a parallel conveyor line.
The combined large and small packages move onto an EZ Logic
accumulating segment, which leads to an innovative gapping
operation called Variable Gap Optimization (VGO). Based on
technology provided by Serra Systems and integrated by R.H.
Brown, VGO assures maximum throughput productivity and proper
alignment of the packages as they move toward the sorter.
VGO process specifies gaps between the packages based on
length, lane destination, and availability of the calculated
space on the takeaway belts. A photo eye located on the
initial VGO belt records the package length. A scanner then
records the lane destination from the bar code. Based on this
data, the system sets the minimum gap required to optimize
throughput and minimize the chances of congestion.
After going through the final merge and the VGO belts, the
packages are inducted into the ProSort. This advanced
sortation system from Hytrol quickly and accurately diverts
the packages down one of nine shipping lanes, which are
comprised of belt and gravity segments. Extendible conveyors
then take the orders directly into the awaiting trucks for
loading. The packages are scanned again while moving on the
decline belt to the dock door. Package orientation is critical
here to ensure both accurate scanning and a continuous flow of
cartons into the trucks.
Those comparatively few packages that cannot be read
properly are diverted to a no-read gravity lane for hand
processing. Operators place new labels on the packages and
re-induct them onto the main line for recirculation and
realized a number of important benefits in a relatively short
period of time," says Jerry Danson, equipment manager for
the North Bend center. "The new sortation system can
accommodate 145 cases a minute, which is a big improvement
over the 85 cases handled by the old sorter. Basically, the
ProSort takes cartons as fast as we can feed them so there are
no backups anywhere."
Just as importantly, the new system can handle any size
package — not just the larger ones as before. Small orders
now can be packaged according their actual size, and not
forced into unnecessarily large cartons. The resulting
improvement in shipping cube utilization has cut
transportation costs by as much as 60 percent.
The re-circulation rate is way down, too. Plus, the
distribution center is a lot less noisy than before. "We
feel that we've achieved quite a lot in just one year,"
sums up Danson.
Bend Distribution Center
After packaging and labeling, orders move on parallel
lines to the taping stations and then up inclines toward the first merge.
Powered plows combine the
packages into a single lane and a belt takeaway conveyor transports the
orders to the next merge. At the second merge the small packages are
combined with the items being recirculated. These merged packages run in
parallel with larger packages and proceed through the final merge. EZ
Logic conveyors and break belts control the release of product through all
of the merges. VGO technology controls flow of packages prior to induction
into sortation system. The ProSort sorter diverts orders down one of nine
shipping lanes or to a "no-read" gravity lane.
Snapshot of the Operation
Company: Nintendo of America
Facility: Distribution Center
Location: North Bend, WA
Size: 380,000 square feet
Equipment Manager: Jerry Danson
Product handled: Video game consoles and game packs
Throughput: 20,000-plus packages per day
Types of conveyors: Live roller (190-SPEZ), horizontal power
(190-ACC), belt and Servobelt, ProSort sortation, powered
plows, high-speed sortation curve, gravity
Controls: Allen-Bradley PLC; Serra Systems
Conveyor supplier: Hytrol Conveyor Inc., Jonesboro, AR
Systems Integrator: R.H. Brown Co. Inc., Seattle, WA
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