Categories Equipment

Wine and Spirit Distributor Improves Productivity With Conveyor Systems

Facing growing order fulfillment and maintenance problems with a 35-year-old paper-based, manual console-merge system; this major wine & spirit distributor knew they needed to invest in a new system that would allow them to be competitive and get solidly to the next level. “Our entire system was simply antiquated”, said the Chairman for this company, “we were struggling to keep up with the volume demands and service levels that were being dictated by our customers.

Utilizing nearly five miles of conveyor systems, the recently automated liquor distribution center is one of the largest and most powerful systems in the nation.

Project Challenges

The 500,000 square foot Brooklyn facility consists of five contiguous buildings which have multiple floor elevations and roof lines. System installation required substantial building rework including the building of a new shipping dock and the installation of a concrete mezzanine on a warehouse floor that was built on pile caps. Work with Destuff-IT here.


The Warehouse Control Systems (WCS) receives the daily shipping requirements sent from the host computer and creates the waves for processing. Once created, picking labels are printed by picking area. There are sixteen separate pick modules (eleven full case lines picking from pallets for the faster-moving items, two full case lines from flow rack for medium moving items, one oddball line for the slowest moving items and two split case lines for bottles). The operators in the full case pick modules to pick the cases from either pallet or from flow rack onto the conveyor line and place barcode labels on the top of the cases. Once on the pick conveyor, the labels are scanned for verification before leaving the module. This scanner also stops multi-reads, no-reads and “out of wave” cases in the pick modules before they become an issue elsewhere in the system.

Operators in the split case module (a.k.a. the Bottle room) pick bottles based on the pick sheets generated by WCS. At the discharge of the Battle room, the order is checked and a barcode label is placed on the side of the case and released into the system. The cases then get automatically shrink wrapped in order to keep the bottles secure in transit to the customer. An empty carton monorail travels through the Bottle room and is equipped with an automatic trash blow-off device which automatically feeds an outside trash compactor; re-usable empty cartons are circulated on the monorail for reuse.

Almost five miles of the conveyor are used throughout the system with most of it being accumulation conveyor. The accumulation conveyor provides a great amount of buffer for optimal operations. As the cases leave the picking area they are conveyed to either one of three pre-merges. Photo-eye sensor accumulators are utilized in all of the key merge areas to allow for maximum release efficiency, speed and gap control.

After the sixteen pick lines have been pre-merged onto three conveyor lines, the cases are transported and accumulated to a final combiner merge where the three lines are merged with any recirculated cases. The final combiner merge creates a single stream of cases ideally gapped and ready for sortation to their assigned loading door.

Prior to sortation, the cases pass through a seven-head scan tunnel that reads the barcodes, identifies the cases and directs them to their lane assignment. The multiple scan heads of the scan tunnel substantially improve the read rates, and although there are few, it also rejects the cases that have misapplied labels by checking the applied picking label against the manufacturer’s barcode. A vision capture system immediately follows the scan tunnel and provides additional verification and security by photographing each carton and comparing it against all the database of images of the specific SKU. Click here to learn more

High-Speed sortation systems are utilized to gently direct the cases into their appropriate after sort lane for transport to the loading doors. The shipping sorter consists of thirteen diverts (12 direct to loading doors and one jackpot lane for processing of no reads, misapplied labels or cases directed by the Warehouse Control Systems WCS for manual processing). The jackpot line has also been expanded to supply the second sorter prior to going to the dock. The second sorter feeds two additional loading doors for a total of 14 and has the capacity to feed additional doors in the future.

At the end of each after sort lane, the cases are automatically scanned (on multiple sides) prior to loading into the delivery trucks for final verification and security. Telescoping extendible loaders have utilized that reach into the trucks to facilitate loading. Two doors have been designed to accommodate large trailers and have traversing extendible loaders for additional flexibility in certain loading and delivery scenarios.

Multiple waves are on the conveyor systems at any given time throughout the night shift and they are simply processed sequentially and fluidly. This seamless label based automated wave picking process allows for great system productivity.

A panel view podium is utilized to provide control for overall system maintenance while two strategically located large monitoring screens show operators clear graphical and numerical snapshots of the system status and performance.

The Results

The combiner and sorter can see rates of 10,000 cases per hour during peak demand. This is many times greater than the rate of the old manual system which enables Empire Merchants to be more responsive to their customers’ needs. The additional capacity also allows for future growth potential.

With the addition of many more forward pick positions the increased SKU representation accounts for 96% of the average daily volume, greatly minimizing the picks from the “outside” areas, which could potentially delay production.

The new material handling systems, designed by the warehouse consultants is far more gentle on the product as well as wide enough to handle the large gift box cases. Both system breakage and non-conveyable cases have virtually been eliminated. These improvements in conjunction with the improved accuracy due to latest controls technologies have made the order integrity excellent.