Multifoods Boosts Warehouse Door Productivity

June 1, 2001
HOLDING costs in check remains a constant goal throughout business; however, smart distribution companies know to spend money, sometimes extra money,

HOLDING costs in check remains a constant goal throughout business; however, smart distribution companies know to spend money, sometimes extra money, in those parts of the operations where that expenditure can have the greatest impact on productivity.

Foodservice distributors must confront three major factors in their campaign to capture the largest possible market share at the lowest possible delivered cost of product. They must get goods in and out of the warehouse in the most efficient manner. They must select orders and build routes that operate effectively. And they must acquire fleet equipment that matches the delivery environment while holding down total cost of ownership.

Multifoods Distribution Group attacks two of these. A foodservice and vending supply distributor based in Denver with 28 distribution centers nationwide, Multifoods has configured its docks to improve efficiency for a wide range of receiving and shipping needs. In addition, the company is taking advantage of the current glut of high-quality used trucks to reduce fleet operating costs.

Multifoods Distribution Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of International Multifoods Corporation, which is based in Minneapolis. It evolved from two distinct distribution companies: Vendor Supply of America, a distributor to vending wholesalers purchased by International Multifoods in the mid-1980s, and Leprino Distribution, a direct store delivery foodservice distributor purchased from Leprino Foods in the early 1990s. In many ways, the company retains its distinct roots. Of 28 distribution locations, only eight handle both vending distribution and foodservice with the same equipment from the same building. Fleet size ranges from nine to 25 pieces of equipment at each distribution center with most Multifoods houses averaging 15 to 17 vehicles.

Two Distribution Patterns

The separation of delivery function is dictated by distinct distribution activity. Delivery to vending wholesalers is nearly all to warehouses. Multifoods delivers product in pallet quantities that are subsequently broken into smaller deliveries to vending machine locations. While Multifoods serves a few restaurant commissaries, the majority of its foodservice distribution goes directly to its primary customers: chain restaurants and independent pizza shops. A vending delivery is typically several pallets of product such as candy bars while a foodservice delivery may be 50 to 100 cases of varied product. Routes for foodservice typically are longer than vending routes. Average foodservice route duration is 1½ days with 25 delivery stops. The fleet in Denver runs the most miles, but the Houston, Texas, distribution center has one of the longest duration routes. That one goes all the way to the Louisiana/Mississippi border before starting back on a trip that delivers 28 stops spread over four days. Most Multifoods customers are serviced once a week.

“Our business is all about moving product across our docks, so they are vital to our productivity,” says Dennis Herbolsheimer, national distribution manager for Multifoods. “High dock traffic is the rule in our business. We regularly use every door on our dock six or seven times a day, so we need dock equipment that allows that door use to go smoothly and efficiently.”

Standardized Dock Design

One way to ensure efficient facility utilization has been to standardize dock design throughout Multifoods. The company called on Phil Puckett of Materials Handling Equipment Company in Colorado Springs to study options and to help develop a single design for docks and dock equipment. As a result, Multifoods now uses dock equipment from Rite-Hite Corporation in Milwaukee for all new buildings and for warehouse upgrades.

“We want a dock design that is conducive to efficient operation,” Herbolsheimer says. “Our operations differ slightly from location to location, so we may have slightly different requirements for each dock, but we want each location to meet the same functional standards.”

This is where saving money by spending money comes into play. Dock equipment is a long-term investment, so it has to be durable and reliable. Herbolsheimer says that it is possible to find equipment at a low initial price, but that low purchase price doesn't mean much if it won't stand up to heavy loads and high traffic. Buying at a low price and spending lots of money on repair and maintenance or losing productivity as a result of slow operation doesn't make much sense, he says.

Upgrade Leased Facilities

To ensure consistent dock productivity, Multifoods upgrades the dock equipment whenever it moves into a new building. Although most Multifoods warehouses are leased, the company insists on a systematic upgrade of dock equipment, replacing worn-out equipment and installing new dock plates and levelers that meet company standards. Whether it is a new building or a major renovation, Multifoods insists that the building contractor use Rite-Hite equipment at every door location.

The Denver warehouse is a good example. When purchased from Leprino, the building contained 40,000 sq ft. Multifoods expanded the warehouse to 77,000 sq ft with 48,900 sq ft of dry storage, 14,140 sq ft of freezer space, and a combination cooler and refrigerated dock with 14,500 sq ft. The warehouse has six doors on the refrigerated dock and six doors serving the dry dock. Multifoods equipped all 12 with Rite-Hite HD-1700 hydraulic dock levelers. These are eight feet long and seven feet wide and have a dynamic load capacity of 30,000 pounds.

Using the dock leveler is as simple as pushing a button. From a control station beside the dock door, warehouse workers raise the leveler from its pit. As the leveler reaches the top of its travel, the dock plate lip extends. When the control button is released, the dock plate settles onto the trailer sill, which can be up to 12 inches above or below dock level.

Getting the First Two Pallets

A consistent match between dock height and trailer floor height is essential for productive unloading of inbound freight. Picking up the first two pallets of an inbound load can be difficult if the trailer floor is below dock height and if the pallets are located just inside the rear threshold, Herbolsheimer says. To meet this challenge, the dock leveler can be lowered to trailer floor height without extending the dock plate. This provides the fork truck operator an eight-foot run at the pallets at a shallow angle, allowing the forks to engage the pallets more easily. After the two rearmost pallets are removed, the leveler is repositioned with the dock plate extended for a smooth bridge into the trailer.

Rite-Hite dock levelers are equipped with automatic protection against free-fall accidents. A non-adjustable, hydraulic velocity fuse limits leveler platform drop to three inches if the leveler deck becomes unsupported while a lift truck is crossing.

Dock design at Multifoods requires more than simply matching dock height to trailer floor height. Multifoods trailers are equipped with Maxon Railifts that extend 12 inches aft of the trailer rear frame. This leaves a wider gap between the dock and the trailer sill than most dock plates are designed to bridge. In addition, Multifoods trailers are equipped with upward-acting rear doors. This design results in a narrower door opening than is the case for trailers with swinging doors, because the tracks for the door must fit inside the width of the rear frame. In addition, Multifoods specifies that its trailers come equipped with heavy, wall-mounted, wedge-shaped aluminum guards forward of the door tracks to protect them from damage by materials handling equipment.

To cope with these two conditions, Multifoods had Rite-Hite modify the dock plate on the dock levelers. The dock plate is longer than standard, and the outer end is tapered to fit between the door tracks. Most dock plates are intended to bridge a four-inch gap between the dock and a trailer. At Multifoods, the plate is 20 inches long so that it extends 16 inches farther out than in most applications.

Short Receiving Hours

These modifications give Multifoods the best available opportunity for dock efficiency. In Denver, the warehouse is open for receiving from 5 am to 11 am Mondays through Friday for a total of 30 receiving hours weekly. The warehouse handles an average of 20 inbound deliveries a day. Because foodservice distribution involves small deliveries to restaurants, most inbound freight is less than truckload. Only five or six of the vendors serving the Denver warehouse deliver in full trailer loads. Regardless of whether an inbound delivery is a full or partial load, Multifoods schedules receiving dock time for two hours.

Not only must dock design enhance productivity, it must protect product and workers during shipping and receiving. This is especially so on the refrigerated dock where temperature integrity is important. Here, two factors are important. Trailers must seal to the door opening to avoid heat leakage into the warehouse. Leaky door seals can compromise product quality as well as raise building operating costs by requiring the refrigeration system to work harder to maintain a constant temperature. In addition, dock leveler platforms need to be insulated to prevent condensation that can lead to unsafe, slippery work conditions.

Multifoods has the undersides of dock levelers sprayed with insulating foam to help reduce condensation formation. In addition, platforms are equipped with brush weather seals on the sides and foam seals at the rear to minimize heat leakage. The company uses Frommelt ComboShelters around dock doors on the building exterior. The door seals use high-density foam for framing material instead of metal or wood so that a trailer hitting the shelter off-center simply deforms the foam instead of bending or destroying the frame. “Flexible dock shelters have ended a maintenance nightmare,” Herbolsheimer says.

Large Leased Fleet

To handle distribution from its 28 warehouses, Multifoods operates a fleet of 462 tractors, 576 refrigerated trailers, and 34 refrigerated straight trucks. Although almost 95% of inventory for vending distribution could be considered dry freight, the entire trailer fleet is refrigerated, because so much of the vending product, such as candy, requires protective service. To ensure that all equipment is compatible with both vending and foodservice distribution, new trailers are equipped with multi-temp refrigeration and three compartments for frozen, chilled, and dry products. These trailers are Great Dane Classic reefers with three inches of sidewall and roof insulation and four inches in the floor. They have two curbside doors. For the past three years, Multifoods has been specifying Carrier Transicold Genesis multi-temp refrigeration units.

The entire fleet is leased from Penske Truck Leasing — tractors typically for six to 6½ years and trailers for 10 years. Trailers are carefully specified to meet Multifoods special requirements. Tractors are a different matter entirely, says John Gardiner, director — logistics and operations services at Multifoods. They follow the standard Penske specification almost to the letter. Day cab tractors are equipped with Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines rated at 370/430 horsepower and use Eaton nine-speed direct transmissions. The basic tractor specification is three years old, and Multifoods tries to keep it constant so that all drivers can operate all equipment, he says.

For the past two years, Multifoods has been able to use the glut of used trucks on the market to its advantage. “Our current practice is to take tractors that are coming off lease in other fleets after three years,” Gardiner says. “We want equipment that has fewer than 250,000 miles. We can take these late model used tractors and use them for three and a half years for roughly 35% of what we would pay for new tractors. Our mileage averages about 80,000 a year, so at the end the lease, engines and other components still are not ready for overhaul on most of the used equipment.”

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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