Hurricane Harvey prevented some Del Papa Distributing Co. employees from making it to the warehouse, but the Texas City beer distributor still had work to do and orders to fill.

A new automated warehouse management system made it easier than ever before to resource people from other departments, Del Papa Vice President of Operations Eric Joseph said.

The system, “Pick to Light,” organizes the warehouse into three areas with a common-sense flow that requires little walking and saves time. Warehouse production has increased by almost 25 percent and the company has cut overtime hours by 80 percent, Joseph said.

Encompass Technologies, based in Fort Collins, Colo., created the software and improved the order-picking process, Joseph said. The system went online in February.

“We are the first big wholesaler to implement it,” Joseph said. “Encompass has brought a lot of visitors and potential clients to see it in action.”

Workers in the Texas City warehouse have to pick orders from 700 to 800 stock-keeping units. The old way was to have a worker with a pallet jack go to different areas of the warehouse searching for cases of Bud Light and then to another area to find obscure craft beers.

With the new system, software reads the order, and if it includes 20 cases of Bud Light, an electric display over the Bud Light cases will read the numeral 20. A worker puts 20 cases on a conveyor belt in the aisle and then pushes a button indicating that was done.

The 20 cases of Bud Light would then travel to a place where machines read the bar codes and capture the UPC data.

Next, the cases are sorted in aisles and put on trucks.

The process hasn’t just saved money, it has made employees’ lives better, Joseph said.

“It’s not as much walking, and it is less stress on their backs,” he said. “They’re not working 14-hour shifts anymore.”

Del Papa has 21 employees in its Texas City warehouse and 170 employees in the entire Texas City operation, said Peter Williamson, vice president of corporate relations and communication. The company has about 390 employees total, Joseph said.

Some employees had personal damage during Hurricane Harvey, but the company didn’t have damage in Texas City or Beaumont, except for the loss of one vehicle. The Victoria facility did lose some shingles, Joseph said.

“A couple of our employees took a week off to take care of personal issues,” Joseph said.

The company also started a fund to help employees who had homes or cars flooded, he said.

Beer Business Daily, a trade publication, wrote in August about how Del Papa’s warehouse automation in Texas City is making the company more efficient.

At a recent Distributor Productivity Summit in San Antonio, Del Papa and Encompass Technologies presented some of the challenges both companies faced in launching the new system.

One of the biggest challenges beer distributors across the nation have is the proliferation of packages in warehouses that lead to space constraints and longer pick lines.

Del Papa estimated that 57 percent of an employee’s time in the warehouse associated with picking an order was spent traveling to the product.

The company is planning to implement the system in its Beaumont facility, Joseph said.

Valerie Wells: 409-683-5246; valerie.wells@galvnews.com

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