Temporary Insanity

MOST OF THE YEAR, life is pretty calm at Cherrydale Farms, an Allentown, PA-based manufacturer of private-label confections for retailers such as JC Penney, Costco, and 1-800-FLOWERS. But come fall, Cherrydale’s other business — providing fundraising programs for schools — kicks into such high gear that Mark Gilliland, vice president of operations, likens the peak to “100 days of hell.”

From Sept. 1 to Dec. 10, instead of six workers picking 10,000 items per day, the company’s distribution center in Allentown is abuzz with 190 workers picking 125,000 to 135,000 units a day. The company’s second DC, in Olney, TX, is similarly hopping, with 190 folks picking 80,000 units per day for schools west of the Mississippi.

Pick-to-light technology enables Cherrydale to manage the crunch with aplomb, particularly in Allentown, where the firm recently replaced an obsolete system with a state-of-the-art CAPS-NEXT solution from CAPS, a division of Kingway Material Handling Co. of Acworth, GA.

BRING IT ON Family-owned Cherrydale Farms has been making candy since 1907. The company started in retail and expanded into fundraising in the late 1970s. Today, fundraising accounts for 65% of the company’s sales. Seventy-five percent of that business pours in during the fall peak. The other 25% occurs in spring during the few weeks from Easter to Passover.

Cherrydale serves more than 20,000 schools and organizations nationwide, providing customers everything they need for fundraising, from letters, to printed brochures, to the candy, crayons, wrapping paper, and other products featured in the literature.

Fulfilling large orders to retailers is simple. If Costco orders 250,000 chocolate bars, for example, Cherrydale manufactures the candy in bulk and packages and ships it. It’s not so simple on the fundraising side of the business, where seasonal volume gets intense and the average student order consists of eight items. For that, Cherrydale relies on light-directed pick systems.

SEASON FOR CHANGE Just before last fall’s crunch, Cherrydale replaced the system it had been using since 1990 in Allentown. “Our operation was obsolete,” says Gilliland. “We had wiring harnesses and things like that. The wiring would sometimes become crimped or bare, pick lines would go down, and because the problem couldn’t be easily isolated, the lines would be out of commission for the whole day.” This would have been totally unacceptable, given Cherrydale’s commitment to getting product into schools’ hands no more than 17 days after receiving their orders.

“That’s why we needed a new system,” says Gilliland. “Our old system could no longer support that commitment. We made the commitment, we stood behind it, but neither myself nor Terry Minnich, my pre-pack manager, have the hair that we used to have.”

Their worry paid off: Productivity in Allentown is up 8%-10% per line. “The amount of downtime we incurred this past fall was almost unrecordable, it was that low,” says Minnich.

The entire operation runs like clockwork. Each school sends its orders, bundled by class, to Cherrydale. “When those orders come in-house from the school, they’re entered into our database, tallied, and we’ll then get a computerized packing slip and a computerized label or set of labels for each student,” says Minnich.

Schools typically contract with Cherrydale for one of nine different brochures. A school that contracts for the Hugs and Kisses brochure, for example, has its orders assigned to a pick line set up for that brochure. A school that sells from the Celebrate brochure has its orders assigned to a line set up with Celebrate products. Gilliland schedules each line to do about 12,000 picks in an eight-hour period.

“The first person on the line matches up the paperwork as it comes out, puts it in a tote, and that’ll start the picking,” says Minnich. “The pick-to-light system assigns a five-digit number to each student’s order, and there is a zone controller in the middle of each line that lights up with that order number on it. That’s how you know you’re picking the right order.”

Each line is U-shaped, with a conveyor down the center and racks on both sides. “Our lines are 60 feet long,” notes Minnich. “There are two people on each side, and they pretty much just divide up the number of pick bays that are there. When the lights come on, they do a wave pick. They start at either end, move toward the middle, and then work from the middle back toward the outside with the next order.”

PROOF POSITIVE When the last item in a student’s order is picked, the tote moves to a check station where a worker scans and packs the items into a box or bag, depending on the size of the order. If the worker gets a green light after scanning the last item, the box goes to an “editing” station for one last look, and then through a sealing machine. If the worker at the check station gets a red light after scanning the last item, the box is flagged, and it goes to the editing station for inspection and correction before sealing. The system works: In 2004, Cherrydale’s accuracy rate was 99.73%.

Once a student’s box leaves the editing station, it moves to a skidding area, where it is packaged with other boxes going to the same school, and then to a staging area for loading onto trucks. Cherrydale uses color-coded labels that make it easy for skidders to see when they’ve finished with a particular school. The trucking crew can also load and unload by color.

The shift change is just as efficient. “The second shift comes in right behind the first shift,” says Gilliland. “There is a downtime of five minutes, 10 max, between the two shifts. The second shift just picks up and continues on the schedule.” Like we said — clockwork.

Dana Dubbs is a freelance writer based in Ensenada, CA. She can be reached at ddubbs@pacbell.net.

The Shining

Cherrydale Farms’ new CAPS pick-to-light system transmits information from a computer to pick modules via a power and data rail, making wiring problems a thing of the past. And instead of relying on one lamp on the top shelf in the middle of a bay to light up and give pickers a general idea of where to look for the next pick, the new-generation pick modules have lamps designed into them, making it easy for pickers to see exactly where to go for each pick.

The new light-directed system makes for faster picking and will enable Cherrydale to easily handle an expected 10% increase in volume during the upcoming 2005-2006 school year. “We can sustain a fair amount of growth in this warehouse, given the system that we have in place now,” says vice president of operations Mark Gilliland. “We could grow by 50% here and not outgrow this system. We’re set up with eight lines. If need be, we could run 16 lines over two shifts for the season.”


Headquarters: Allentown, PA

Revenues: N/A

Total employees: 250 permanent; 1,000 at peaks

Phone: (610) 891-9576

Web site: www.cherrydale.com

DCs: Allentown, PA (177,000 sq. ft.); Olney, TX (105,000 sq. ft.)

SKUs: 300 fundraising; 500 retail

Volume: 125,000-135,000 units per day during peaks in Allentown, PA; 80,000 units per day during peaks in Olney, TX

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