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Cheesy technology: Sargento increases outbound fulfillment with Westfalia warehouse automation

A Sharp History of Expertise: About the Customer

There’s a reason cheese heads live in Wisconsin, a state with a long, well-established history in the commercial cheese industry dating back to 1837.

In fact, there were over 2,800 cheese factories in the northern border state by the 1920s so, it’s no surprise that modern, high-quality cheeses originate there as well.

Sargento Foods founded in Plymouth, Wisconsin, in 1953, has grown into a powerhouse of cheese manufacturing and is a dominant brand across the United States.

Sargento is the company that successfully introduced America to pre-packaged sliced and shredded natural cheeses and cheese blends.

Originally specializing in Italian cheese varieties, Sargento eventually climbed to be one of the largest cheese retail companies in the US.

The Wisconsin-based, family-owned company also produces ingredients and snack foods for grocery stores at the retail and corporate levels for clients like restaurants and even other food manufacturers.

For more than 65 years, the company has continued its journey to be the most innovative, best-loved real food company by pioneering pre-sliced cheese, vacuum packaging, resealable packaging, and production of shredded cheese and shredded cheese blends.

Freeing Up Space: The Challenges

Although Sargento makes high-quality, premium products, the storage and distribution of cheese can be a complicated process.

As demand continued to increase, warehouse space became scarce and the company began searching for a solution that would enable it to increase the storage capacity of its current facility to support the growth in its distribution services.

Originally, Sargento had a completely conventional distribution center that had experienced a number of expansions over the years, and the company was growing concerned about the depletion of available space for future infrastructure growth.

Therefore, Sargento sought a solution that would extend the life of the distribution site with support to increase future capacity.

Critical to this strategy was the desire to couple the manufacturing process to the warehouse, thereby ensuring that no product was being double handled, or worse, moved to an off-site storage location.

The construction and transition plan to use the existing DC extended the overall schedule somewhat, however, the savings associated with keeping all distribution activities under one roof were too high to ignore.

As a first step, the team determined important data points that would help them select a warehouse solution, including the size of the warehouse, how much space was utilized with the traditional picking system, and how much more capacity would be needed to continue growth at the current rate for a number of years.

Matt Schaub, senior manager of logistics, Sargento, says: “We were beginning to run out of space to expand the warehouse, and we needed to look to the future and what that growth will actually look like in the given space.

“First we went over our data with Westfalia and then we collaborated on the solution.”

The proposed solution for Sargento needed to support both layer picking and full pallet handling, since nearly 60 percent of the warehouse operations revolve around these processes.

The solution also needed to accommodate the warehouse activities during implementation, and ensure that the warehouse would be able to continue filling orders without a gap in throughput.

Bruce Wisnefske, director of advanced manufacturing operations, Sargento, says: “One of the challenges that we were facing was the amount of expansion we needed within our distribution center and the amount of storage needed to support our growth.

“Another challenge was implementing the system in an existing facility.”

From Gouda to Better: The Solution

Sargento looked to Westfalia Technologies to help it increase storage density and improve outbound fulfillment using warehouse automation.

Through properly analyzed data and a thorough understanding of throughput rates, Westfalia was able to develop a path to allow a two-phased approach in order to streamline Sargento’s warehousing and distribution of outbound orders:

  • Phase 1: Build and install an automated storage/ retrieval system (AS/RS) by adding a conventionally constructed high-rise cooler.
  • Phase 2: Install a conventional, low bay AS/RS, layer picking system, and order staging system in the space previously occupied by the inventory now stored in the high-bay AS/RS.

Westfalia collaborated with the Sargento engineering team to develop a streamlined solution that was easy to support, operate, and maintain.

Together, they looked at various design solutions for the facility using Westfalia’s high-density AS/RS integrated with a layer picking system.

The entire solution is run by Westfalia’s Savana.NET Warehouse Execution System (WES) to optimize order fulfillment from picking products to delivering them to the order staging area.

Wisnefske says: “With the warehouse execution system, Westfalia provided a one-stop solution that automates and controls order handling within the distribution center.

“Savana.NET controls our fulfillment, the pick missions, and getting all materials to the order staging area so that it is prepared and ready for trucks.”

Thanks to Westfalia’s phased-installation approach, Sargento was able to continue operations and maintain outbound orders and customer satisfaction.

Grating the Capabilities of Warehouse Automation: The Results

With the addition of Westfalia’s automation solution, Sargento has increased the storage density of its warehouse and extended the life of the current distribution center.

By coupling AS/RS technology with production, Sargento was able to eliminate manual pallet handling labor.

Furthermore, Sargento was able to eliminate their need for case picking as a result of the automatic layer picking system so that processing orders became streamlined.

Additionally, the installation of the AS/RS dramatically increased floor space in the existing warehouse.

Now, Sargento is able to turn trucks much faster on the loading docks, ensure product is not handled manually until loading, and have increased storage density tremendously.

There are future plans for a new project that will expand the low-bay AS/RS, adding an additional 6,000 pallet positions to rid Sargento of the need to outsource storage and gain more control by having inventory on-site.

This expansion of inventory capacity and throughput is sure to save Sargento both time and cheddar.

Schaub says: “Our warehousing operations were dated, and we needed to look towards the future to prepare for growth. Westfalia’s automation solution has provided us with the warehouse capacity to sustain our long-term growth.

Wisnefske says: “By implementing Westfalia’s automation, we were actually able to extend the life of our current distribution center by up to a decade thanks to the higher density storage.”

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