A medical products manufacturer efficiently moves product, people and equipment through the material transfer zone of it's new distribution center.
Global distribution was a way of life for C.R. Bard Company (Murray Hill, N.J.). Doing it from more than a half dozen locations, however, was a challenge. Logistics managers knew the answer: a single, ideally located distribution center. That distribution center would have to be huge, however, and the flow of material through it would be fast. Making sure there would be no pinch-points at the dock doors would be key to the new facility's success.
C.R. Bard Company develops, manufactures and markets vascular, urology, oncology and surgical products. It sells to hospitals, individual healthcare professionals and extended care facilities. The company pioneered the development of single-patient-use medical products for hospital procedures. Many of its orders (200 per day on average) have to be filled and distributed within 24 hours because they will be used in medical procedures the next day.
Creating a distribution center capable of responding to such demands requires as much time in the thinking phase as it does in construction. The new facility would have to consolidate products from multiple divisions into single customer shipments. It would also have to achieve distribution efficiencies, improve service levels and allow room for growth. The dock area, often an afterthought in distribution center construction, was a central concern of designers throughout the planning process. The resulting 410,000-square-foot distribution center in Covington, Ga., brings together distribution activities formerly handled at locations in Texas, Indiana, New Jersey and three separate buildings in the local area.
"We started the undertaking of this building in Covington in part because it was located near our sterilization facility," says Bill Bock, vice president customer operations. Locating the facility within a mile's drive of the sterilization site shortens shipment time. Even this had an impact on dock design.
"Product is sterilized with gas and there is a residual amount of gas left on the product that could accumulate in the distribution center," says Kevin Tedford, vice president, technical operations, Forte Industries (Mason, Ohio), the engineering consultants on this project. "Air turn-over in the building was critical, so along with the usual ventilation equipment and huge air intake vents, we added screens to all the dock doors to improve the flow of fresh air through the building. Some products have temperature control requirements. Because this building is in the Atlanta area and not cooled, special instruments were installed to monitor temperature and air movement."
How many docks? Where?
"We had extensive conversations about the docks from the beginning," says Bock. "Well before it was designed, we discussed the number of docks we'd need and where they should be located, as well as how they would be spread along the building."
The result was 35 dock locations along one side. Two of the locations are allocated to a corrugated compactor and a trash compactor. All trailer positions feature mechanical dock levelers and trailer restraints. Bock says he's budgeting an upgrade to hydraulic or pneumatic levelers. The number of doors was predicated on historical business data and anticipated growth. Built for flexibility and scalability, building walls can be removed and 180,000 square feet can be added if necessary. The locations, or knockouts, for dock doors are already drawn into the plans.
"You have to know what the long-term requirements of your business will be," says Bock. "We're in a growing business where just holding our market share [with the aging population] will increase the volume of products going out the door. We planned for growth and ways to move product in a more efficient manner, while reducing costs and labor."
For insurance purposes the building has three sections divided by two fire doors, which can drop if necessary. One area of the building is the primary processing section containing picking modules, sortation and shipping functions. The other two sections are for storage and replenishment of product to the pick modules.
While the docks for each area appear similar, their functions are different. The consolidation effort brought products for seven divisions of the company under one roof. Each division has its own shipping strategies. Some are same-day shipping, FedEx priority. Others are shipping full-case pallet loads.
Facility designers had to analyze SKU volumes along with product types, and inbound and outbound shipping practices to develop a solution for the dock areas design. The distribution center can now take different types of orders and products for specific customers, work them through the sortation system and pick modules, then create manifests at the door.
Shrinking Safety Stock
The accuracy, flexibility and timeliness created by the new system are paying off. Typically, if there is any chance of delay in shipping, safety stock allows orders to be fulfilled on time.
"Before we had this facility," says Bock, "our main division would carry a day-and-a-half of what we call 'ready-to-ship inventory.' We ship about $2 million worth of products every day, so we had $3 million of 'readytoship' outstanding. Now we're down to about $500,000 in 'ready-to-ship.'" For another division, $250,000 of "justin-case" inventory has been lowered to $25,000.
Dock planning includes the adjoining pad outside the doors, which requires knowing what kinds of trucks will be backing into the dock. Since the function of scheduling pick-ups for delivery is usually the customer's choice or responsibility, distribution centers have to be prepared for any vehicle that pulls up to the door. The customer essentially sets the schedule based on when they want to receive the product, so the distribution center has little control over the time when trucks arrive. This is an important aspect in planning, because it dictates how much space will be required outside the building for trucks coming and going.
Customers of C.R. Bard range from individual doctors to multiple distribution points. "Since we do a lot of single-parcel shipments for medical procedures to be completed the next day," says Bock, "we have a steady flow of FedEx vehicles in and out. The last pick-up of the day is a van rushing critical orders to the Atlanta airport to make the last flight out."
At the other extreme are less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments. C.R. Bard loads trailers parked at the dock with conveyors that extend into the trailers. Lift trucks handle pallet loads. Here, staging is critical. At C.R. Bard the sortation system brings LTL orders to 39 palletizing stations. Loads are manually built on pallets then moved to one of three stretch-wrapping stations before going to the staging area.
Many details that get overlooked in dock planning can have an impact on the flow of goods in and out of the building. "We spent a lot of time in the planning stage assessing the utility requirements on the dock and personal needs of our employees in the loading area," says Bock. This assessment led to the addition of dock lights for better visibility in the trailers, air hoses to blow dust and debris from empty trailers, as well as fresh water for cleaning. And because of the climate, adequate power had to be available for portable water misters to keep employees comfortable.
The incoming, or receiving part of the business, also has special considerations. Starting with the number of trailers coming in and the time it takes to put product into racks, planners also factored in any new processes that might be done within the building, then estimated elapsed times for all the receiving functions. Based on this and historical data, Forte engineers calculated how long the average load would remain in the staging area as volume increased.
"When we determined the turn-time for a load at the dock and the average amount of space required, we could determine how many doors we'd need in the receiving area," says Bock. This planning is important because even if a dock spot is available, that doesn't mean there is space inside to unload the trailer.
Creating a world-class shipping and receiving dock is about more than selecting the right equipment. Having enough room for staging loads, employee comfort, and assuring there will be no traffic jams, are as important as levelers and door seals.
Dock features, such as ventilation screens, were built-in design considerations for CR Bard's new global distribution center.