Green Is the Theme
Reduced energy use—but increased productivity—accompany a pharmaceutical distributor’s growth.
TriFactor LLC reengineered Exactechï¿½s new 25,000-sq-ft facility.
A move to a new facility led Exactech Inc. (Gainesville, FL) to increase productivity, reduce energy costs, and improve the work environment at its distribution center. The mission of Exactech, manufacturer and distributor of orthopedic implant devices and surgical instrumentation to hospitals and physicians, was to improve its labor-intensive handpicking system to fulfill orders faster and more efficiently while establishing an energy-saving, ecofriendly workplace for more than 200 employees.
The initial plan was for material handling systems integrator TriFactor LLC (Lakeland, FL), with a team led by senior design engineer and project manager Larry Boroff and systems sales engineer Brad Radcliffe, to install the new system in Exactech’s 12,000-sq-ft warehouse. It soon became apparent to both companies that the best course of action would be to shift the project to a larger facility.
Boroff says there was insufficient warehouse space for handpicking. “We also determined that a shift of the operation to Exactech’s 25,000-sq-ft facility, which it acquired in 2005, was needed so that the distribution operation could be totally reengineered, and yet still be efficient in a relatively small space.”
Boroff says for this to work, Exactech had to change the way it handled distribution, particularly with accuracy and speed driving the process. The larger facility would allow for more automation, a necessary element to reduce “human touches.”
“Our distribution was being severely impaired as space to store product and shipping staging areas had become too congested to function efficiently,” explains Kevin Godwin, director of customer operations. “We were also experiencing a better than projected growth rate in the last two to three quarters. We would not have been able to handle the added volume without the new facility.”
Even with a larger facility, Godwin says, Exactech required certain guidelines in order for the overall project to work.
“We are a growing company and don’t have unlimited access to funding; we can’t keep going back to the well,” says Godwin. “I really only had one shot at this.”
TriFactor came in on time and on budget. It designed and installed a 24V Motorized Drive Roller (MDR) type conveyor, which had a smaller footprint, partially because of its ability to accumulate on the inclines and declines. The conveyor system met the priorities that Godwin had placed on the project: “Increased accuracy, increased velocity, and increased capacity.”
TriFactor LLC reengineered Exactech’s new 25,000-sq-ft facility and installed a 24-V motorized drived roller conveyor to minimize hand-picking.
With the new system in place, TriFactor increased Exactech’s picking and replenishment efficiencies by 200% and the company’s receiving capacity by 400%. The new system allowed incoming product to be segmented and sorted to four separate workstations, where it could then be transported to a pick location for distribution.
As an added bonus, the 24V MDR conveyor is 40–60% more energy efficient and 45% quieter than traditional conveyor systems. This meant that in addition to saving the company money, it would be tremendously ecofriendly.
After analyzing additional green solutions, Godwin says it made sense to look at the lighting. Now, instead of one switch turning on a section of 10 lights, the new system can turn on all 10 lights with a single switch or isolate some of those 10 lights by programming a switch on a touch-controlled panel, helping to manage our energy consumption.
Godwin says motion sensors were not an option, but neither was leaving lights on at full power all the time. Now lighting is controlled in individual warehouse areas. New skylights allow sunlight to come in during the day, reducing the need for lights.
To complement the “green” aspect of the project, Exactech also installed a high-gloss floor to reflect more light, making it possible to further reduce the amount of overhead lighting being used. They also added a whisper-quiet, high-efficiency compressor—all of which allowed Exactech to qualify as an environmentally friendly workplace. They now experience work-noise reduction to 55–60 decibels, about the level of the average soft rock radio station.
“They should have called it the ‘stealth conveyor,’” adds Godwin. He says another positive impact the new system has had is on the employees, who now work in a fully functioning warehouse environment with the noise level of a library.
“It does not have a warehouse or factory feel to it,” says Godwin. “The low noise levels [and] blend of natural and artificial lighting make for a very comfortable workspace. As focused as we are on the environment, we also value our employees and their positive work experience as well. Being able to align the two goals was the key.”
Along with being ecofriendly, the new system was designed to be flexible to meet the needs of a growing business. TriFactor created a flexible system that allowed Exactech to move 10-ft pieces of track around to fit its requirements.
“It was important not to have a rigid system put into place,” says Godwin. “We could pick up a section from here and put it over there if it served our needs—like the train tracks you used to play with as a kid.”
Exactech says it worked out so well, from both a business and an environmental standpoint, because TriFactor took the time to understand what Exactech was about and what they needed.