Book and entertainment products distributor Baker & Taylor Inc. was founded in 1828 as a bindery and subscription book publisher, back when the steam train was an innovative new technology. Today, in addition to serving numerous library customers, Baker & Taylor is a fulfillment house for Buy.com and CD Now, and a drop-shipper for Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
When J. Harry Baldeo, VP of engineering at Baker & Taylor’s Bridgewater, NJ, service center, began working there 20 years ago, SKUs were still stocked alphabetically according to publisher, and the ink on printed stock labels kept fading to illegibility. Happily, Baldeo has overseen a number of significant technology and automation upgrades since. In 2000, the company completed several automation and service upgrades that doubled capacity. Operations & Fulfillment spoke with Baldeo about the process.
Can you highlight the major automation upgrades Baker & Taylor has made since you started with the company?
Eighteen to 20 years ago, each publisher had a dedicated amount of space. As publishers expanded or merged, it became a nightmare to rearrange the warehouse to accommodate them. That forced us to design a numbering scheme, barcode the numbers, and label every shelf.
In the first phase, we received the product online via the terminal, before we would receive it in hard copy. Some of the employees were afraid that the information would disappear when they put it into the computer, so there was a lot of commotion and training involved. We scanned [a barcoded] stow ticket, scanned the shelf, and put books in random locations, using the first generation of portable LXE terminals.
At the end of the day, we would download the information from this terminal into a PC, and then we would move it from the PC to the mainframe. We had to wait until the end of the day to tell the system where was the location of all of the products.
From there, we went to all-RF technology: receiving online, scanning the back of the book, no stow tickets, putting in quantity, and scanning the shelf. The next phase was to put in a new Exeter WMS system. Before we eliminated paper picking (which we did with the new WMS), the process was very labor-intensive. We have reduced the turn time to anywhere from two to four hours.
What problems did you encounter?
One of the problems we incurred way back when we first labeled the shelves is that the print on the labels we used discolored over time because of the lighting. Once the color changed, the barcode became useless. We had to replace labels in a couple hundred thousand locations.
What is your approach to warehouse security?
We’re adding more cameras, and we have a security guard 24 hours a day. We also do random checks. Recently we found a theft ring involving a truck driver for an independent carrier and two employees in the warehouse. They are in the court system right now. It’s an open facility, meaning you can’t hide too much. If someone does something, we get wind of it quickly.
Does the facility ship both palletized and piece-pick orders?
Yes, the Bridgewater facility does consolidation and cross-docking. All shipments from the publishers on the East Coast come into Bridgewater. We get a truck with material for the other three DCs. We take it off the truck, and we build lanes going to the Momence, IL, facility. Once we have a truckload, we put it into a truck. We receive product for all of the facilities, and we sort it by facility on the dock floor and we send it out by truck that day.
How do you control bottlenecks?
Traditionally, we worked from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then we realized that the shipping department should work an hour later than the pickers, until 5 p.m. Now everything that is picked is shipped that same day, versus having it staged, picked, and fed into a conveyor for the next day. We also started a midday start shift that works until 7:00 or 8:00 at night.
David Pluviose is associate editor of Operations & Fulfillment.
Baker & Taylor Inc.
Headquarters: Charlotte, NC
Distribution Center: Bridgewater, NJ
Other major service center locations: Commerce, GA; Reno, NV; Momence, IL
Sales: $1 billion in FY 2001
Total employees: 2,500
Contact info: Phone: (704) 357-3500; fax: (704) 329-8989; URL: www.btol.com
Size: 375,000 square feet
SKUs: 430,000 unique
Shipments: 1.2 million units per month average; can go as high as 1.5 million units per month
Number of warehouse employees: 500 full-time, 50 part-time seasonal
Peak units picked/hour: 9,375
Packing stations: 28 small packing stations, 15 main-line packing stations
Picking method: Picking done in batches, based on amount of work in queue and staffing levels
Material handling equipment: Automated conveyors and forklifts; some pallet racks