Textbook Technology

By Joe Steffney and Rich Eby

Each year, 250 employees at the massive CengageLearning Distribution Center (CLDC) near Independence, Ky., ship 63 millionparcels containing textbooks and other learning materials to customers aroundthe globe. This facility is owned and operated by Cengage Learning, the UnitedStates? second-largest higher-education textbook company, with annual revenuesof approximately $2 billion.

A decade ago, 300 employees working at fullcapacity in this same warehouse could ship only 50 million units annually? andwith lower levels of efficiency and customer satisfaction. What accounts forthe dramatic improvement?  Technology.

With the implementation of highly customizablewarehouse management, voice direction and conveyer systems, we have transformedour 835,000-square-foot CLDC into a model of productivity and costsavings?savings we ultimately pass on to our customers.

Logisticsand Labor

Cengage Learning purchases educational materialsfrom suppliers all over the world. Many of these materials arrive in print format the CLDC, where they are stored until being shipped out to our customers.Today, we store roughly 81 million textbooks at our distribution center.

When Cengage Learning opened this facilityroughly 10 years ago, we knew we would need a warehouse management system thatwould continuously track the location and status of every textbook in thewarehouse, which at that time totaled 60 million. In addition to inventorycontrol, the system would need to provide a robust freight rating functionalityto calculate the absolute lowest shipping cost for each parcel. Finally, it wouldhave to be able to calculate how much labor would be required to ship eachday?s orders efficiently and on time.

After reviewing several warehouse managementsolutions, we chose Logistics PRO, which is now offered by Manhattan Associatesas part of a solution called Warehouse Management System.  As books enter the CLDC, Logistics PRO recordstheir dimensions and assigns them for storage to their proper location in thebuilding. When customers place orders for books, the system calculates how topack the books in shipping boxes in the most efficient manner, and thencalculates the best way to pack the boxes on the trucks that take the parcelsfrom the facility.

VoiceDirection From Jennifer

Logistics PRO feeds its calculations into a voice-directedpicking system called Jennifer Voice Plus, from Lucas Systems. The Jennifersystem translates the information into spoken directions?how many books topick, where to ship them, how to pack the box?and feeds them to warehouseworkers wearing headsets.

The primary advantage of Jennifer is that itcreates a hands-free operation. Our workers no longer need to carry a bar-codescanner, and they?re free to use both hands to select and pack books forshipment. Jennifer guides them, very precisely, through their workday.

This system has had a noticeable effect on ourentire shipping operation. Per-unit shipping costs have gone down, whileoutbound quality has increased. Workers make fewer mistakes and work moreefficiently.

Within a year of Jennifer?s implementation,productivity had increased by 20 percent. The system also reduces trainingtimes for new and temporary workers from an average of four days to just fourhours. We are now developing plans to use the Jennifer system in other parts ofthe shipping operation as well.

Working onthe Fast Track

The cartilage that ties ourshipping process together is a high-speed package-conveying system byAutomotion Conveyors. It enables employees to move boxes of books?many of themquite heavy?from disparate points in the warehouse without injuring themselves.Since installing this conveyer system 10 years ago, our OSHA record has beennearly perfect.

Eight miles of conveyer track connect to a600-foot long, high-speed sorter that funnels 130 units per minute into one of36 diversion lanes. Workers on these lanes?all listening to instructions fromJennifer?sort, pick, pack and ship 100,000 custom orders each day. Theselearning materials often go from a storage shelf in the Cengage Learningwarehouse to a customer?s mailbox in 24 hours.

Our warehouse management, voice direction andconveyer systems have changed the way we work?and the way our customers viewtheir interactions with Cengage Learning. Beyond their immediate benefits,however, these flexible tools also support our company?s long-term growthstrategy.

Cengage Learning acquired Houghton Mifflin?sCollege Division in 2007; in 2011, it acquired National Geographic Society?sdigital and print school publishing unit. As shipping demands increase throughfuture growth and acquisition, our company will be able to ramp-up outputsignificantly without incurring greater overhead costs or sacrificing the high-levelquality that defines our customer service operations.

JoeSteffney is senior vice president, Global Distribution, and Rich Eby serves as vicepresident, Distribution/Engineering, at Cengage Learning.

 

 

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