Bear Creek is the parent company of retail catalogers Harry and David, Jackson & Perkins and Northwest Express. Through these companies, Bear Creek distributes a wide variety of catalog items including fresh fruit and foodstuffs, flowers and gardening supplies and Northwest-style clothing and home decor. Depending upon the season and the holidays associated with that season, Bear Creek experiences a rather complex distribution operation with a number of peaks at extremely high volumes.


Bear Creek found that the everyday operations require more than just a rating engine. In order to support this high-volume fulfillment process, Bear Creek developed two main distribution centers one in Medford, Oregon and another in Hebron, Ohio which are further enhanced by 26 pack-and-ship operations located in fruit groves across the United States. From these outside pack operations, Bear Creek ships a variety of fresh fruit directly to a customer, predominantly through the U.S. Postal Service.


According to Doug Meyer, the vice president of Distribution Systems for Bear Creek, the high volume of cyclical activity, with more than 60% of a years shipments occurring in December, is a disaster waiting to happen. Thats more than 4.9 million packages in a single month, almost 200,000 packages going out the door a day at the hardest time of the year to please customers.


Fighting Fires

With volumes increasing consistently combined with the problems inherent in the seasonality of its volume peak cycles, Bear Creek sought to cut down on and possibly eliminate those problems by implementing a shipping system that could also help it to enhance and maintain its Postal Service compliancy. When we decided we needed to improve our distribution processes, our existing shipping and manifesting system written in an obsolete programming lan-guage was coming apart at the seams. As a result, we were losing money hand over fist in chargebacks, misshipments and patchwork attempts at support, explains Meyer.


But instead of looking for just a quick fix that would take care of our most immediate issues, we also wanted to focus on improving our distribution functionality and our integration with the Postal Service and other major carriers, says Meyer. Bear Creek wanted to incorporate a system that would include portable stations that could bring online shipping functionality to the 26 sites in the field. Doing so would help Bear Creek to expand its shipping processes and increase the level of service for its customers in that the product that was shipped would be much fresher and, in the long run, cheaper for the customer. We also wanted a stable system developed by a proven company that incorporated off-the-shelf components in order to ensure the reliability of upgrades and expansion, states Meyer.


The company chose ScanData. ScanData Systems had all those qualities, notes Meyer. We were quite impressed at ScanDatas ability to handle not only higher volumes but also the sporadic and peak volumes that we experience.


Postal Service Compliance

What Bear Creek implemented was a single software solution for all distribution sites that included distribution planning, automated induction and manifesting functionality. Orders are batched and run on a series of automated induction lines that are equipped with built-in conveyors and in-motion scales. The automated lines feed trailers and outbound staging areas. In addition, a new divert-enabled line was installed at the Ohio facility to enable automated processing of non-batched orders with more diverse package sizes. Exceptions stations were also installed to handle dynamic order shipment changes at the distribution centers, giving shipping personnel extra flexibility when planning and executing outbound loads.


Bear Creek began implementation of the ScanData VSAMS Outlook system in two phases. In anticipation of the approaching Christmas season, the project kicked off with the networked solution at the distribution centers in the first phase. This phase included an automated sortation solution for the Hebron facility. ScanData designed the new shipping system to co-exist with the original hardware and to duplicate its flow layout. PSC LazerData overhead barcode scanners were upgraded on the existing shipping lines.


The 330,000-square-foot Hebron facility was relatively new, having opened in the fall of 1997. At Hebron, we upgraded all existing software and added a new divert-enabled line with an Accu-Sort Quad-X omnidirectional scanner, which accommodates more diverse package sizes, explains Meyer. The scanner handles envelope sizes up to 24 inches by 20 inches by 20 inches, ranging in weight from 0.5 pounds to 52 pounds. We did parallel testing in June through August of 1999 and went live  just before peak season hiring and training begins, says Meyer.


Both distribution facilities use Windows NT servers with Microsofts SQL Server database and 300 MHz desktop clients on an Ethernet network. The DCs are linked via T1 lines to Bear Creeks Medford host system an IBM ES/9000 with order processing and inventory management functionality and EDI and MRP software resident. The Catalyst WMS as well as an integrated Teklogix network reside on an IBM RS/6000, which is integrated with the ES/9000 in Medford.


We have storage systems in both distribution facilities and the WMS in Medford, states Meyer. A number of shipping lines are tied into the networks 19 shipping lines in Medford and 23 lines out of Hebron where the storage and dock doors are set up more efficiently for better material flow.


Orders are batched on the Medford host; a proprietary set of least-cost and lead-time algorithms select daily waves for both DCs by date of arrival and delivery method. Orders are transmitted from the host ES/9000 through the Catalyst WMS on the RS/6000 in Medford, which manages the picking functions for that facility. The same orders are also transmitted directly from the host to the NT servers at both DCs for the shipping system.


When we do the picking process, we pick by wave to support specific trailer shipments, explains Meyer. Picks come down in bulk by pallet or as individual picks in cartons (identified by human-readable SKUs marked by cartons) placed on conveyors to the shipping area.


Shipping labels for that wave have been preprinted on a local Siemens-Dematic printer and are sorted by SKU. Prior to induction into the system, the labels are affixed to the cartons by hand. Cartons are weighed and scanned into the shipping system for verification, tying the shipment to the order within the system.


The label includes a barcoded carrier compliant tracking number and delivery method, with the recipients name, address and greeting in human-readable text. The system rates the carton and assigns it to a trailer. As each trailer is closed, a manifest is generated; all shipping activity data is transmitted to update the Medford hosts order-entry system in near real time. Package-level order data is then transmitted by EDI to the appropriate carriers; tracking numbers are updated on the host system for customer service.

The new shipping system allows for fulfillment changes on the dock based on carrier capacity or delivery method change requests. At exception lines, new carrier-compliant shipping labels are generated on Datamax Prodigy thermal-transfer printers.


In the Field

Bear Creeks world famous Royal Riviera pears grow right outside headquarters windows, in orchards first planted in 1914. The pears harvested in Medford are sorted, graded, packed and shipped within the Medford facility, but all other fruit and produce are picked at contractors locations across the US and shipped via specially designed portable shipping stations.


We have designed what we call unitized load containers, which look something like caskets stainless steel boxes seven to eight feet long and three feet tall and wide, says Meyer. Each container holds a desktop PC and a Prodigy printer, along with a portable conveyor line that includes scales and a LazerData fixed mount scanner, plus the wiring necessary to supply power from the field packaging facility, where produce grading and packaging take place. Bear Creek sends in a management team equipped with the casket and packaging material; members stay for the duration of the three- to four-week harvest.


The desktop PC acts as a server, with the shipping software resident linking with the outside pack managers laptop. The desktop server is used for shipping induction and verification; the laptop is used for shipping administration including trailer setup, dock door management and trailer processing at close.


Many orders at the outside pack facilities support Harry and Davids fruit-of-the-month club, so they have been batched in the host system well ahead of time; those orders are sent on CD with the management team. (The team also brings the preprinted shipping labels.) Orders received at the time of harvest are transmitted daily to Bear Creeks field locations and pack station PCs from the Medford host via modem and standard phone lines. Each site supports only a few SKUs, notes Meyer.


After the produce is wrapped, placed in gift baskets and packed, cartons are put on the portable conveyors, and shipping labels are affixed. The cartons are weighed and scanned for verification; exception labels can be generated as needed. The carton is rated, assigned to a trailer and manifested; the host is updated according to the same procedures followed in the DCs but on a daily batch basis.


Depending on the field sites volume and location, carriers may pick up the shipments there, or Bear Creek may line haul the orders in temperature-controlled trailers to a designated carrier drop point. About 20% of Bear Creeks annual volume is shipped from field locations, says Meyer, amounting to about two million packages spread over 26 pack sites.


Were shipping hundreds of thousands of units per day from both DCs, 26 remote pack sites and a seasonal storage facility at peak using a single integrated system linking logistics, distribution planning and shipping. We believe this system will be the foundation for our future.


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