Cengage is an education and technology company built for learners. Its wide range of products includes textbooks (conventional and partially printed/on-demand), instructor supplements, test-preparation guides, and CDs/DVDs. The company also provides third-party logistics (including partial printing) for other educational publishers. Its distribution center in Independence, Kentucky, handles many different types of shipments, from bulk orders placed by college bookstores to single-item orders shipped directly to consumers.
Cengage’s third-party logistics line of business grew steadily over the years, and with this growth came new challenges. For the Independence distribution center, returns handling and redistribution processes needed updating. The entire process was inefficient and labor intensive; in some cases, returned items were touched as many as five times. Officials at the Independence facility knew they needed to make layout changes to accommodate their increased shipment numbers, as well as the corresponding increase in product returns. They also knew that investing in a new, full sortation system (and possibly an additional induction line) was not financially viable.
Cengage partnered with systems integrator Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc., to improve logistics at the Independence distribution center. A solutions provider for manufacturing, logistics, and distribution operations, Hy-Tek has offered high-quality material-handling system support to its customers for more than 50 years. Hy-Tek turned to Intralox to help deliver an affordable, low-maintenance system that would increase Cengage’s throughput rate without adding to its equipment footprint. Their solution: the Intralox® OMNI-DIRECTIONAL Sorter.
Winner of the MHI Best New Innovation Award, the OMNI-DIRECTIONAL Sorter sorts and merges products at high rates, within a compact footprint. It is especially effective for high-rate rejecting, merging, pick-and-pass applications, and selective diverting. The technology was chosen to provide 90-degree transfers for the Independence project because it could handle Cengage’s required throughput rate while also enabling higher rates in the future. The OMNI-DIRECTIONAL Sorter additionally met the project’s maintenance and footprint needs.
In total, seven OMNI-DIRECTIONAL Sorters were incorporated as transfers: four in pick modules (one replacing an overhead pusher), two for returns replenishment, and one for zone routing. Hy-Tek integrated the four pick-module units with corresponding break-meter belts and scanners, thereby converting a transport conveyor into a sorting conveyor. The two OMNI-DIRECTIONAL Sorters in the returns center were placed in a horseshoe configuration to connect the area to other automated systems within the facility.
Intralox’s OMNI-DIRECTIONAL technology enabled a successful system conversion that delivered significant performance gains while decreasing Cengage’s reliance on manual processes. The new equipment allows returned products to be automatically sorted and redirected for easier picking and replenishment. It provides for a throughput of 40 cartons per minute (cpm) to handle product flow from induction and picking stations. Rates can reach 50–60 cpm as future business needs dictate. Hy-Tek has installed OMNI-DIRECTIONAL technology for other customers, and plans to continue using the technology in the future.