Use Space and Reduce Waste


Buffalo Rock Co. operates efficiently with growing SKU demands

Since 1966, Buffalo Rock Co. has been bottling soft drinks at its headquarters and production facility in Birmingham, Ala. The plant today produces more than 50 million cases per year and has grown in building space to more than 400,700 square feet. While the acquisition of Southeast Canners in Columbus, Ga., this month is a welcomed and needed addition, the company has successfully used its space and manpower to full capacity at its current production site.
The Birmingham facility holds eight production lines — three can, four PET and one bag-in-a-box. Buffalo Rock bottles its brands, including Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale, Grapico and Dr. Wham, as well as Cadbury Schweppes and PepsiCo carbonated products at this facility. It produces about 90 percent of the products it distributes, but in 2006 outsourced a number of products such as PepsiCo’s non-carbonated brands, which include waters, teas and hot-filled products. With its three bottling lines that will be capable of producing an additional 15 million cases, the newly purchased facility will reduce dramatically the amount of outsourcing Buffalo Rock will need to fill its requirements.
The Birmingham building has expanded during the past 40 years, and the company added its newest line just four years ago. Buffalo Rock’s three can lines fill at a rate of 1,200 cans per minute. In its PET lines, the company has one 2-liter line that bottles 180 bottles per minute; one 2-liter/20-ounce line that bottles 2-liters at 100 bottles per minute and 20-ounce bottles at 250 per minute; one 20-ounce PET line that bottles at 800 bottles per minute; and a multipurpose line that fills 12-ounce, 20-ounce, half-liter and 24-ounce packages and runs at an average rate of 500 bottles per minute.
The facility houses a syrup room that contains syrup tanks and blending machines, a separate bottling room, followed by a bottling area, a secondary packaging area and warehouse. The syrup room contains 17 tanks in which four tanks always contain Pepsi syrup and two tanks are dedicated to Dr Pepper. The amount of syrup on hand for those two flavors can last several days. The rest of the syrups are produced according to an operations schedule, and are manufactured 12 to 24 hours ahead of time. The syrup tanks are rotated based on production requirements, and the plant produces about 40 flavors in all.
Buffalo Rock operates seven blending systems that mix the syrup with water and keep constant control over the syrup and water mixture for both diet and sugared beverages. The systems keep the company at a higher than 99.5 percent syrup efficiency rate. Even a half percentage point of waste could cost the company more than $400,000. “This is where all the money is — in concentrate, water, sugar and sweeteners,” says George Garrison, general manager of production, who is responsible for production in both manufacturing facilities.
From the syrup room, the mixes get pumped into the bottle and can fillers. Buffalo Rock’s quality control supervisors and technicians check the syrup prior to being pumped in the blending systems. When the mix is pumped into the filler, quality control also takes a two cans or two bottles from the production line prior to producing the drink to make sure the formulation is mixed correctly to meet quality control standards.
The Birmingham facility runs a continuous operation on two shifts with four crews made up of 300 employees in total. The plant operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Each crew works a 12-hour shift for three days one week and four days the next.
When possible, Buffalo Rock’s facility places two machines side by side to use its manpower and space efficiently. “We have a small area to put a lot of equipment in,” Garrison says. “We try to design the plant where we can have one operator on two pieces of equipment. We try to use manpower as best as we can.”
For example, Buffalo Rock’s Line 4, a 20-ounce PET line, and Line 5, a 12-ounce/20-ounce/half-liter/24-ounce PET line, are side by side, so the two lines run with one employee-partner operating the two fillers and one employee-partner operating the two packers. The plant also is set up to have one person operating three de-nesters that separate returnable trays and shelves. And for the depalletizers, only one line has its own operator, with the other lines sharing one operator for every two depalletizers.
After palletizing, the completed cases are moved to the plant’s full-product warehouse. The warehouse holds approximately 750,000 cases on any given day, to be shipped to Buffalo Rock’s 14 distribution centers, with Birmingham’s distribution center being the largest. The warehouse crew picks between 90 and 100 truck loads a day, with that number growing to 150 to 180 loads in the summer.
Each distribution center has a forecast, which dictates the production schedule. The forecast also produces a loading schedule for the loading dock. From the forecasts, tickets are generated to tell the crew how many pallets of each product are needed, and loads are picked accordingly.
“The production department treats each distribution center like a client, and calls them its ‘customers,’” says Nick Little, general manager of operations. The operations department is capable of adding special loads if a distribution center sells more than forecasted, he explains. “We will stop and run something if a customer needs a product that we don’t have,” he says. “We want the customer to have what they need, when they need it.”
The warehouse is organized by package sizes. Most of the truck loads are full pallets, and the trucks are loaded by ticket orders. The ticket orders could include both products produced at that facility and those produced elsewhere. Products are moved from the warehouse on a first-in, first-out basis. Products are handled with dual forklifts enabling pallets to be moved two at a time.
Each pallet has a three-part ticket. One part of the ticket is pulled off on the loaded trailer and given to the dock supervisor. The dock supervisor then checks all the tickets to verify that it is the correct order. This tracking system also tells the company where every product goes in the marketplace in case it needs to be tracked in the future.
For the Birmingham facility, the newest equipment that has been added are the packers that place PET bottles in cartons, and spiral conveyors, which take finished product to the palletizers. Buffalo Rock has a capital budget to upgrade equipment every year, whether it be for packaging, new products or technologies, or efficiency, says Scott Parks, vice president of manufacturing, facilities and operations. This year, some of the approximately $5 million budget will be allocated to the new facility and the addition of another line in that plant.
No part of Buffalo Rock’s business is exempt from the company’s goal of constant improvement either. The Birmingham site’s logistics, manufacturing, operations and facilities departments also were rewarded by the 2006 Alabama Quality Awards for Buffalo Rock’s progress toward excellence.