As today’s beverage distributors continue to experience increased demand and company growth, many are opting to consolidate disparate warehouses to streamline their fulfillment processes, inventory management and overall operational efficiency. However, simple consolidation is not enough.

One of the nation’s leading multi-state alcohol beverage distributors holding partnerships with the industry’s elite beer, wine and spirit suppliers, Wirtz Beverage Group’s Illinois location recognized the need to consolidate three warehouses into one centralized facility. Despite its new 42 foot-high, 604,907 square-foot facility with 555,449 square feet of devoted warehouse space, Wirtz Beverage Illinois realized that it needed something more in order to optimize its space utilization and provide reliability and flexibility to meet future needs.

“With the growth of our business, we started to see that we could be limited in our ability to service our customers during our high peak times,” Richard Ruane, regional director of warehouse operations at Wirtz Beverage Illinois, says. “We needed a warehouse that would give us the efficiencies we needed to match our go to market strategies as we continue to grow.”

Wirtz Beverage Illinois found the answer in automation – the company selected Westfalia Technologies, Inc., a leading provider of logistics solutions for manufacturers, warehouses and distribution centers, to automate the new warehouse. Working closely with Wirtz Beverage Illinios, Westfalia installed a high-density automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), equipped for up to 10 pallets deep of storage. The AS/RS utilizes the Westfalia Satellite system, a fully automated rack entry vehicle, or storage and retrieval machine (S/RM), to store and retrieve pallets. The AS/RS comprises eight integrated pick modules with the company’s highest volume product which the S/RM automatically replenishes via pallet flow lanes.

According to Justin Soltis, WMS manager, Wirtz Beverage Illinois, “Westfalia was a big help. They were with us from the beginning and made sure we had the right tools to get the job done. If there was an issue, they were right there with us to make sure all the pallets were coming out and getting to the pick modules. I would say they’re really more like a partner than a vendor.”

Safe handling and efficient transport of the pallets and cases is ensured by zero-pressure, photo-eye accumulation and spiral conveyors installed by W&H Systems, a full-service integrator of material handling systems. W&H Systems provided the order picking solution from the design through the implementation of the automation.  The material handling system incorporates an extensive conveyor system, a high rate combiner and sortation to 16 loading doors. W&H Systems also provided the warehouse control system (WCS), bottle room with voice picking, pick modules and mezzanines.  This high-performance system now achieves sustainable production rates of 9,000 cases per hour with a very high productivity rate.

Giving Wirtz Beverage Illiniois complete insight into inventory is Westfalia’s warehouse execution system (WES). Together with the AS/RS, allows Wirtz Beverage Illinois to direct, control and optimize internal material flow and order picking. Within the software, a user-friendly dashboard interface provides real-time pallet movement data and allows operators to take action on the pallets (re-directing, re-warehousing and more). also automates requests for replenishments by coordinating with Wirtz Beverage Illinois’ other systems.

“ pretty much takes all the pallets and keeps track of them as they come into the system on the conveyors,” Soltis says. “It reads the barcode and decides where it needs to go within the warehouse. It keeps track of pallets by date, LPN, SKU and is pretty user friendly.”

As a result of working with Westfalia and W&H Systems, Wirtz Beverage Illinois now has full control over material flow and inventory as it safely and efficiently moves 200 pallets per hour carrying more than 1,000 SKUs and 2.2 million cases. The whole system encompasses only 110,000 square feet of the warehouse space, allowing Wirtz Beverage Illinois to improve its space utilization and store inventory (1.3 million cases) in a third of the space of a conventional warehouse. Wirtz Beverage was also able to increase its loading capacity to 78,000 cases over a period of 10 hours.

 In addition, automation enabled Wirtz Beverage to gain improvements in cost and labor efficiencies. Docks are now set up in front of the system, so it is not necessary to drive through the warehouse to put away inbound product, thus cutting the total receiving time of primary product in half. Furthermore, by reducing human intervention in its picking processes, Wirtz Beverage Illinois is fulfilling customer orders at very high rates with greater accuracy and in less time, while minimizing product damage and loss. Most importantly, with automation technology, Wirtz Beverage Illinois has successfully positioned itself for future growth.