Keeping consumers supplied with fresh baked goods has been part of convenience store chain Kwik Trip’s recipe for success. At its stores, consumers can buy many types of fresh goods, including bakery items that are labor intensive to produce and distribute without significant automation.
With future growth in mind, Kwik Trip took an automated approach, including a new facility with automated order picking and storage and warehouse control system (WCS) software to orchestrate the picking of orders needed by stores. The new facility and automation meet the throughput needs of the growing chain, and they also make for a safer, more ergonomic work environment.
To continue meeting growing demand for its bakery products and stock its stores throughout the Midwest, Kwik Trip made plans in 2017 to open a new 200,000-square-foot baking facility in La Crosse, Wis., which would be dedicated to producing bread and buns across three simultaneous lines.
The facility would need to come online and get up to speed in concert with the repurposing of the previous one—and ultimately produce and distribute four times the volume of output. To meet these requirements, the logical choice was to automate as much as possible and design a state-of-the-art facility where advanced systems would handle the majority of production, packaging, warehousing and outbound distribution in a well-orchestrated, integrated fashion.
Opened in the fall of 2018, the La Crosse baking facility produces and distributes 19 types of bread and buns to more than 700 stores. On the production side, Kwik Trip has been able to automate everything from raw ingredient mixing down to the sprinkling of seeds on buns. Managing these automated operations are Kwik Trip’s plant operators, who have full visibility and control over the processes from touchscreen monitors.
From production, finished products are sent to the packaging department, where different automated systems take care of bread slicing, bagging and bag tying. Once these goods are packaged, they enter one of the most critical points in the end-to-end process: the warehouse.
The La Crosse baking facility includes an 87,000-square-foot warehouse that covers more than one-third of the building’s footprint. A system that automates product storage and retrieval within the warehouse (Cimcorp) was chosen to automate order picking, in part because of the vendor’s experience and expertise in automating order fulfillment within the bakery industry with a system that automates order picking of products in plastic crates or trays.
Working closely with Kwik Trip, the supplier designed the layout and a custom automated solution based on the facility’s expected throughput and business needs. They determined high-density storage would enable the optimal use of storage space for Kwik Trip’s sizeable fast-moving inventory with bagged products stored in around 80,000 plastic trays stacked up to 20 trays high across the warehouse floor.
“Cimcorp’s automation is central to enabling this efficient product movement and is therefore pivotal to our bakery business. Cimcorp worked closely with us to develop an ideal solution that would make optimal use of our warehouse space and meet our present and future business needs,” says Eric Fonstad, facility director at Kwik Trip.
Order picking is managed by Cimcorp’s MultiPick system that features six overhead gantry robots inside three cells that can rapidly receive products in trays, place them onto a stack, and assemble the required product quantities per order. Kwik Trip also uses a pick-by-light capability for picking and distribution of less-than-full trays in outbound orders.
A WCS (also from Cimcorp) controls and directs the MultiPick to pick the orders based on store and route. This software-driven orchestration helps Kwik Trip ensure orders are picked with 100% accuracy before being sent for dispatch. The automated warehousing solution allows Kwik Trip to effectively manage all 80,000 trays and keep up with the fast-paced nature of its growing bakery business, where inventory is held no more than 48 hours before being sent to all stores.
Kwik Trip’s system was developed to meet the company’s five-year growth plan, with the ability to receive all daily production from both the bread and bun lines, as well as process orders for 53,000 outbound trays in 20 hours. Since the MultiPick is a modular system, Kwik Trip can scale its levels of automation based on production output and consumer demand.
An added bonus is safety. Kwik Trip’s previous facilities required warehouse employees to pick orders by hand, but automated handling has eliminated the need for manual picking—and the ergonomic risks for warehouse workers that come with it. For additional safety measures, the picking area has been completely fenced off with built-in safeguards.
The WCS ensures a true first-in-first-out (FIFO) model and complete product traceability. The system allows Kwik Trip to optimally manage a surge capacity that it otherwise would not be able to handle manually.
Ultimately, Kwik Trip has been able to enhance productivity and efficiency with fully integrated automation between its manufacturing, packaging, warehousing and distribution processes. This has presented not only an operational benefit, but also helps customer satisfaction, since stores are well-stocked each day with fresh bakery items.
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