Six years ago, Del Papa Distributing, a third generation family-owned beer distribution company that delivers more than 10 million cases of beer annually, decided that Galveston, Texas was not the ideal location for their operations. Galveston seems to be unusually prone to hurricane damage. The 1900 Galveston hurricane was famous for the devastation it wrought. But in 2009, Hurricane Ike flooded more than 17,000 homes and businesses and also left one to three feet of water in Del Papa’s warehouse and offices.
Not surprisingly, not long after Ike, the leadership of Del Papa decided it was time to look at an inland location for their administrative offices and warehouse. Because this was a green field opportunity, Steve Holtsclaw, the Director of Information Systems, thought this was a perfect opportunity to update their IT networking capabilities. Today we call this an Industrial Internet of Things implementation, at the time this was referred to as a unified network for voice, data, and video.
Steve’s arguments prevailed. Part of the decision on the new location, in Texas City, Texas was based upon the ability of Internet Service Providers to provide a high bandwidth mainline connection and a different ISP to be able to provide a backup connection that connected to a different part of the building.
At the same time they were implementing the integrated networking solution, they were re-implementing a warehouse management system, route accounting, and delivery services solution from Softeon. The new 26-acre site combines a 126,000 square foot warehouse with corporate offices and parking for their truck fleet of 18 trucks. The site went live in the fall of 2012, with the IIoT and software implementations taking about a year; starting about 6 months before the building was occupied, and finishing up 6 months after the company was in the building.
The IIoT implementation, led by Cisco partner Zones, included a Cisco IP platform connecting a WIFI network for the RF guns in the warehouse, video surveillance cameras, physical access controls for gates and doors, wired and wireless IP phones, smart phones with cameras and a telepresence system, digital signage for employee communications, and temperature sensors in the warehouse and keg vaults.
Employees have a single sign on that gives them access to all the capabilities offered by both Cisco and Softeon that they have the proper permission to access.
For Del Papa, the implementation improved warehouse operations, increased daily shipping capacity, and improved customer service. It also helped to reassure important suppliers that their brand would be protected, reduced energy requirements, and streamlined safety and security.
Warehouse productivity rose by 18 percent. I told Steve that seemed like a lot. Steve explained that the reasons for that degree of improvement were first of all, the new warehouse allowed them to improve their layout and reduced floor workers’ travel times; secondly, the old site had dead spots where RF gun and Voice Recognition coverage was spotty or nonexistent. In the new warehouse the RF guns and Voice Recognition system – they use Vocollect – can be used throughout the entire warehouse.
Del Papa Warehouse
The customer experience also got better. In the past, sales reps would call the warehouse with a rush order. However, warehouse employees are rarely at their desks. They often did not receive a voicemail in time to rush a late afternoon order that same day. Now, using IP Phones, a sales rep with a last-minute order can reach staff anywhere in the warehouse. Further, during the deliveries the Softeon delivery services module allows the drivers to print invoices on the spot. These are dynamic invoices; the drivers may have been asked by the customer not to take cases they had ordered, or they may be asked to add cases that were not ordered.
Del Papa also wants to keep their suppliers happy. Their largest supplier is Anheuser-Busch. Anheuser-Busch wants to insure that their beverages are kept at the proper temperature. The new warehouse measures the temperature in several zones with sensors located at a height of both 30 feet and at the five foot level. If the temperature is beginning to trend out of the desired range, at either height, a warehouse manager, even one working remotely, can access the temperature controller and turn down the chillers. This means the manager does not have to interrupt busy warehouse supervisors.
Not too surprisingly, the new unified infrastructure was more energy efficient. By connecting lighting, HVAC systems, keg vaults, etc. to a centralized system that can be monitored, analyzed and controlled remotely, Del Papa has reduced energy usage nearly 27 percent over the past 3 years. The payback on the energy efficiency has substantially surpassed what they had planned for in their business case.
Steve says that as a family owned business with long term employees, theft and safety were not as big an issue for them. Nevertheless, they have connected video surveillance and physical access controls to help prevent theft. If someone without the proper clearance opens a door to a restricted area, the Director of Safety or other key managers can be instantly alerted and link to a video from a nearby camera they can play over their smart phones.
My largest take away from this story is not amazement at what Del Papa achieved, but rather the idea that a company moving to a green field site would be crazy not to implement a unified network. When I mentioned this to Steve, he agreed. “In a green field situation, this is what everybody should be moving to. Not implementing technology that is not integrated and collaborative would be insane!”