Case Study: Starlight International

Supplements Delivered at Peak Performance

Starlight International had two overriding objectives for its new distribution center: (1) incorporate the best equipment and components available and (2) create a system that could easily expand as the business grew. The fast-growing company was able to accomplish both these goals in a streamlined 40,000 square foot facility that recently opened in Monterey, California.

Starlight International was founded in 1993 by Steven Goldberg, a well-known Hollywood producer and music tour promoter. The company originally began as a manufacturer and marketer of weight-loss products. Since then, the product line has grown extensively and now includes general nutrition, energy, and health and beauty products for men and women.

Starlight ships to a network of 70,000 independent distributors who sell directly to customers and/or sign on additional distributors to work underneath them. The DC prepares shipments for these distributors or their customers, depending on the distributor's preference. Starlight International's vision is to do $300 million a year in the United States and to expand internationally. It's well on its way toward reaching that target. But at the same time, the rapid growth had put a strain on the existing facilities.

The company's old distribution center was a case in point. The crowded 10,000 square-foot facility simply could not keep up with the volume of orders pouring in. Line space was insufficient for the growing number of SKU's processed. Space constraints dictated that serpentine pick lines be configured just to get the orders to the manifest station. In short, the old facility was a labor-intensive, cumbersome operation that was not delivering the kind of productivity needed to efficiently serve the customers of Starlight International's independent distributors who sell the products to consumers nationwide.

All that has changed with the new distribution center. The Monterey operation represents a collaborative effort between Starlight International and FloStor.

A Streamlined Flow
The Monterey distribution center was carefully designed to handle today's requirements, while meeting tomorrow's growth needs. The center is divided into five pick cells, all seamlessly connected by conveyors. These pick cells can be further divided into any number of pick zones depending on volume and picking method used: wave or batch.

The new center emphasizes simplicity and streamlined order flow. All orders are filled in individual totes, with each order averaging three to four line items. The order fulfillment process starts in the express conveyor lane at the initial picking station. The operator takes an empty tote off an upper conveyor and begins filling the order on the express lane. If the order is completed in that initial pick area, it is placed on an adjacent powered conveyor. This leads to another powered takeaway conveyor that transports the orders to the pack out/manifest stations.

Orders that need additional items remain on the picking lines and proceed to the subsequent zones until completed. Conveyors transport the totes between the main picking cells, effectively eliminating any manual movement or handling. When the order is complete, the tote is moved onto the center conveyor in each main cell, which links up with the main line conveyor leading to the pack out station.

An interesting feature of the Monterey conveyor system is the half-moon ball transfers in two of the main picking areas. These custom-designed units enable operators to easily transfer the tote from one gravity pick line to another without lifting or walking.

The main conveyor line carries the completed orders to the pack out stations where they are weighed, scanned, manifested, and prepared for delivery by UPS, Federal Express, or USPS. All of these activities now are automated and computerized. This not only expedites the order-flow process, but also eliminates paperwork. The empty totes then are placed on the upper conveyor line for transport back to the first picking cell. There the order-fulfillment process starts all over again. At Starlight International, the order-fulfillment process begins at the express lane of the initial picking cell. An operator takes an empty tote off the upper conveyor line and begins filling the order. As orders are completed, they are placed on the center powered conveyors, which moves them directly to the main takeaway conveyor. Orders that require additional items remain on the pick lines and proceed to the successive picking areas. The completed orders are automatically ship verified at the pack-out stations in preparation for delivery by UPS, FedEx, or USPS.

The pack-out stations are equipped with Empty Box Delivery Units (EBDU) mounted between the workbenches. Each EBDU services four packing stations. The knock-down (KD) boxes are stored on the mezzanine and the operator on the mezzanine can raise or lower the tray by means of buttons on the front of the unit. The tray has dividers, allowing all box sizes to be loaded onto it by the operator. After the tray has been filled, the operator presses a button and lowers it into position.

The streamlined operation works so well that orders received by 10 A.M. are often shipped that same day. "The distributors love this fast turnaround," says Sue Kriegel, Manager of Distribution, "and now they've come to expect it."

Ready for Expansion
The Monterey distribution center was designed with expansion in mind. As Starlight International closes in on its $300 million domestic sales goal, work stations can be expanded and pick lines double stacked as needed. Importantly, this can all be readily accomplished within the existing configuration with the facility remaining operational.

The company has high hopes for the new facility, expecting it to immediately provide a minimum 50 percent increase in productivity.

Starlight International says that its guiding philosophy from the beginning has been to do things right, not half way. The Monterey distribution center is an outstanding example of that philosophy at work.