People, passion, teamwork, integrity, and innovation. Those are the core values of American Eagle Outfitters, a US-based clothing retailer. Throughout the company’s 3 omnichannel distribution centers in the US, innovation has been the key driver of how they’re able to get products to customers and stores as quickly as possible.
The 1.65 million square foot Hazleton, PA facility is the newest and most high-tech of the company’s distribution centers and was the first to be omnichannel, combining the function of direct-to-consumer and fulfillment for retail stores. Since this facility was a new build and had to meet high expectations for omnichannel, it created a need for more warehouse automation and efficiency to keep up with consumer and store demand.
Building a High-Tech Distribution Center
Originally, the facility was made up of laser-based barcode reading technology to scan products, route them to their next destination within the warehouse, and ensure they were placed in the right outbound lane for delivery. However, the laser-based technology left a lot to be desired. American Eagle couldn’t generate images of barcodes; therefore, they were unable to pinpoint the causes of no-reads or mis-reads or vendor compliance issues. This lack of insight could result in costly mistakes or rework, or customers or stores not getting their products on time.
This lack of insight into barcode reading led American Eagle to search for alternative logistics automation solutions. Brian Poveromo, director of facilities and maintenance, identified Cognex as a leader in machine vision and was intrigued by what DataMan image-based barcode reading technology could do.
“If I can see where the problem is, I can fix the problem,” he said. “With a laser-based system you don’t know where your problems are, whether the barcode was good or no good, whether there was too much reflection on the code, etc.”
Poveromo focused on the benefits of image-based technology, citing the ability to get a clear view of every barcode, and identify and eradicate vendor compliance issues. But the deciding factor in switching the facility over to image-based barcode reading was the read rates.
Previous solutions that American Eagle used would generate 94-95% read rates, which impacted delivery times. Poveromo and his team observed 99% read rates with Cognex DataMan barcode readers. Given the 96 million units they process each year, with higher read rates, the company can now avoid 3.9 million mis-reads or no-reads. From there, the decision was a no brainer.
American Eagle began rolling out the Cognex readers and immediately saw quantifiable benefits including efficiency, time saved, and increased throughput, as well as soft benefits like Cognex service and support.
Supporting Inbound, Fulfillment, Sortation, and Outbound with Cognex Logistics Solutions
Today, American Eagle is made up of 90% Cognex technology throughout its Hazleton, PA, Ottawa, Kansas, and Canadian facilities to support inbound, fulfillment, sortation, and outbound processes.
At the inbound zone, the Hazleton facility has 6 dock doors that feed 2 inbound lanes. This means that 6 trucks might be unloading at the same time, feeding into 2 lanes, and ultimately reducing to 1 lane. Efficiency and accuracy are key at this point so downstream processes can run smoothly, and inventory levels are properly maintained. A series of DataMan barcode readers scan codes and route products to the appropriate lanes so they can be stored before they reach the picking modules.
“If a case of product goes somewhere it’s not supposed to go, we’re probably delaying a customer order.”
Next, products go through the receiving sorter where barcodes are scanned again before they are routed to one of 12 pick mods. Poveromo noted that the scan that takes place at this stage is critical to the speed and accuracy of the sorting and sends data to their warehouse management system (WMS) to determine where the product should go next.
After the picking stations, the products go to the pre-sorter, which sends products down two different conveyors (one for retail and one for direct-to-consumer), through Cognex tunnels, and over to the retail or direct-to-consumer packing areas. The tunnels also classify and dimension items with a Cognex 3D-A1000 to ensure that they are routed and stored in areas that can properly accommodate their shape and size. For example, knowing the dimensions of a box ensures it will fit into an ASRS for storage (which holds 64,000 cases of clothing); if you don’t know the measurements and force it into an ASRS, it could cause a jam and shut down the entire system.
Again, Poveromo cited accuracy and 99% read rates as the most important factors in keeping each stage running smoothly. “If a code is not being read correctly or is a no-read, that’s double the amount of time to induct it. So typically, we will go over to the no read lane and pull the product off and reindex it again.”
Once items are packed, they go through another sorter and are scanned again and routed to the appropriate outbound lanes for shipping.
A Continued Partnership Based on Innovation
American Eagle has 90% Cognex logistics solutions throughout its 3 distribution centers and are working on converting each entire facility to Cognex only. Poveromo said the factor that kept them coming back, besides read rates and throughput increases, was the support and service they got with the Cognex partnership.
“With other partners, if we needed onsite support, it was going to take 4-6 weeks to get somebody. They didn’t understand that with every minute that passes, “We disappoint our customer,” he said. “With Cognex, it’s comforting that we can rely on them over the phone or in person to always resolve the issue. The fact that we are changing over all of our technology to Cognex speaks to our confidence in them.”