Overview

An order fulfillment solutions project for multi-channel retailer Gander Mountain tasked Invata Intralogistics with the design and retrofit of a new in-motion manifesting and sortation system in Gander Mountain’s ecommerce fulfillment center in Greenville, NC. The resulting order fulfillment solutions system processes 15 uniquely sized parcels and is powered by Invata’s FastTrak® Warehouse Control System software, which was seamlessly integrated with the existing enterprise and WMS software on the front end and manifesting software on the backend. At a rated speed of 30 parcels per minute, the new Invata warehouse automation system quadrupled the processing capacity of the previous Gander Mountain order fulfillment system, while reducing labor requirements across the board.
The equipment used in the fulfillment center design included:

Situation

Averaging more than one billion in annual sales, Gander Mountain Company is a multi-channel retailer, featuring Internet, catalogs, and the nation’s largest retail network of stores for hunting, fishing, boats, camping, marine and outdoor lifestyle products and services.

Invata’s relationship with Gander Mountain began back in 1998 when Invata was engaged to integrate automated parcel manifesting into an existing fulfillment center conveyor system for Overton’s in Greenville, NC.  (Overton’s is now a subsidiary of Gander Mountain). The project was spearheaded by another vendor that acted as the primary contractor and provided the manifesting software component of the system.

At the time, Invata was also engaged as the single point of contact for all order fulfillment solutions system support needs going forward.  For the next 14 years, Invata provided a level of service and support that made Gander Mountain’s choice for a new automated shipping system provider a no-brainer. They chose Invata.

Having worked with Invata for over 14 years while using the previous vendor’s system, we had complete confidence in selecting Invata for our new order fulfillment solutions system. Invata had been able to tackle almost every issue we had with the old system, given the limitations of the previous vendor’s software. And the knowledge and experience their personnel exhibited for over a 14 year period made us want to deal exclusively with Invata on any future order fulfillment solutions system.
Mark Green, Director of Operations for Gander Mountain

Opportunity

In 2007, Gander Mountain acquired Overton’s, with the intention of utilizing Overton’s Greenville fulfillment center as a way to accelerate its own strategy to expand into Internet and catalog sales.  As a result, the ten year-old Greenville operation was tasked with handling both Overton’s and Gander Mountain’s fulfillment needs.

By 2012, the Greenville center was in serious need of an overhaul:

  • The non-compliant manifesting software made accurate rate shopping and earned discounts impossible.
  • The in-motion equipment was unable to process more than 7 -8 packages per minute, forcing Gander to pull packages off the line during peak production runs and stage them for later processing.
  • The sorter experienced multiple jams per day, causing complete shutdown of the system.
  • Exception rates often ran as high as 10%.
  • The dimensioner had quit and was unsupported.
  • The in-motion scale was constantly inaccurate.
  • The aging scanners had unsolvable software issues.
  • And the label applicator required a full time employee monitoring it to keep the line running.

That’s when Gander Mountain asked Invata to come up with order fulfillment solutions in the form of a fulfillment center design that incorporated an in-motion manifesting and sortation system that could be retrofitted into the Greenville facility.

Gander Mountain’s objectives for the new fulfillment center design were numerous:

  • Eliminate dependency on obsolete equipment and software.
  • Reduce or eliminate unnecessary labor.
  • Shorten parcel handling times.
  • Dramatically reduce line exceptions.
  • Eliminate avoidable exceptions.
  • Meet peak production demands.
  • Meet future production demands.

Elevated narrow belt sorter with seven divert lanes.

Invata’s order fulfillment solutions included an elevated narrow belt sorter with seven decline chutes.

Solution

The Invata order fulfillment solutions system not only achieved Gander Mountain’s objectives, its elegant fulfillment center design also eliminated a bottleneck in the shipping area that had prevented both foot and fork lift pass-through traffic for more than 14 years.  Key to the Invata design was the shipping narrow belt sorter, which was elevated and outfitted with spiral decline chutes, thus allowing for a critical traffic lane that had previously been blocked by the old system’s ground level sorter.

Powering the order fulfillment solutions system is Invata’s FastTrak Warehouse Control System (WCS) software, which was seamlessly integrated with the existing IRMS 360 Enterprise and WMS software on the front end and the Agile manifesting software Invata installed on the backend. FastTrak facilitates in-motion weighing, dimensioning, and print/apply labeling, as well as real-time control of the material handling equipment, all while providing system wide information flow and high operational and data visibility.

Since uptime was a major consideration in installing the new order fulfillment solutions system, Invata went to great lengths to build as much of it as it could in parallel with the existing system, so that the existing system could stay online until the last possible moment.  When the switch was made to the new system, it was done with minimal disruption.  In some parts of the installation, it was as simple as powering down one server, changing some codes, and powering up another.  And it was installed in time for Gander to sail through the busy end-of-the-year crush.

In keeping with its longstanding tradition of top tier support, Invata provided Gander with a order fulfillment solutions system that was fully remotely supportable.

Through a combination of pcAnywhere, MS-SQL database tools, and proprietary PLC programming software accessed via a high-speed VPN connection, Invata is able to remotely troubleshoot issues working with client personnel on-site.

The system also allows Invata to remotely install software patches and builds, analyze logs and trace files, analyze and backup databases, troubleshoot and reconfigure peripheral devices such as an in-motion scale, printer/applicators, and scanners, and examine the programmable logic controller as well as connected devices.

Spiral declines from elevated shipping sorter deliver parcels direct to carrier loading bays.

Spiral declines deliver packages from the sorter directly to assigned shipping bays below.

Order Fulfillment Solutions Results

Thanks to Invata’s order fulfillment solutions, Gander Mountain now processes 15 unique parcel sizes through its fulfillment center system. On the Cyber Monday following the build-out, it set a new production record of 8,500 parcels processed in a 10 hour shift.  At 14 parcels per minute that was twice the speed of the old system, yet still less than half the rated speed of the new Invata system of 30 parcels per minute or 1800 parcels per hour.

The speed of the new order fulfillment solutions system has taken away all worries about being able to ship packages as fast as we can pack them. We are now prepared to handle our growth plans through 2015 with only one shift of shipping. The system just runs, with no downtime. Our rate shopping is 100% accurate. Our dimensional weights are accurate. Our physical weights are accurate.  And the reliability of the system has freed up numerous man hours daily from the system administrator to the shipping manager to maintenance personnel, making us far more productive than we previously were.
Mark Green, Director of Operations for Gander Mountain

Narrow belt, swivel wheel shipping sorter.

Narrow belt soter.

Mark Green estimates Gander Mountain has seen a savings of possibly three full-time equivalent positions that were eliminated by the efficiencies of the new order fulfillment solutions system, and he notes that the elevated shipping sorter has drastically reduced the travel time for moving merchandise across the facility and between buildings.

He looks forward to working with Invata for the next 14 years.

Conveyor for take-away from packing stations to in-motion manifesting and sortation system.

Order fulfillment solutions at work.

One of two printer applicators tamps label onto in-motion parcel.

Order fulfillment solutions at work.

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