Pick up the Pieces
With Warehouse on Wheels, freight moves from semi to route truck with ease
By David A. Kolman
Like all distributors, two Georgia-based companies face escalating expenses along with the need to effectively service their respective marketplaces as cost efficiently as possible. Republic National Distributing Company of Atlanta, the second largest distributor of premium wine and spirits in the United States, had been increasing its distribution area in Virginia, and the expense of delivering product from multiple storage warehouses was considerable.
Georgia Crown Distributing Company of McDonough, a full-service beverage distributor selling imported and domestic spirits, wines, beers and specialty products, was looking to reduce its operating expenses by consolidating its warehouses into one distribution facility for the entire state.
Both distributors ultimately settled on an innovative delivery system known as Warehouse on Wheels, which enabled them to consolidate and streamline their distribution operations and still achieve logistics efficiencies.
Developed by Demountable Concepts, the Warehouse on Wheels system allows multiple interchangeable bodies to be loaded at a central location and then shuttled on a tractor trailer or straight truck to regional operating points. Here, the bodies are removed and route trucks pick up the corresponding body for their delivery route. The truck bodies from the previous round of deliveries are left by the route trucks to be loaded onto the tractor trailer or straight truck and returned to the central location for reloading.
At the core of the Warehouse on Wheels system are specially designed equipment systems that enable a semitrailer to haul up to four interchangeable truck bodies at one time, and a straight truck to transport two such bodies, says Rustin Cassway, president and one of the founders of the Glassboro, N.J.- based Demountable Concepts.
These equipment systems have an easy-to-operate electric/hydraulic power lift system that raises and lowers the truck bodies. An assembly locks down the bodies to hold them securely in place for transit. The truck bodies are outfitted with retractable legs. Each truck body stands independently.
The body exchange for both the semitrailer and straight truck is basically the same, Cassway explains. To demount, the bodies are unlocked, raised vertically enough for the legs to be put in place, after which the vehicle pulls out from under the bodies.
To mount the bodies, special long sills on the truck body guide the chassis as it backs up. Once in position, the legs are returned to their storage location, the bodies are lowered onto the chassis and the lock down system that holds the bodies on the chassis lift is engaged.
Interchanging four bodies on a semitrailer takes less than an hour. It takes about 15 minutes to mount or demount two bodies from a straight truck.
Demountable Concepts doesn’t build complete truck bodies. Rather, it produces and sells the specialized components to make truck bodies interchangeable. Van bodies can be customized with doors in the front and rear to allow loading/unloading of the bodies while staged on a semitrailer or straight truck.
With the Warehouse on Wheels system, Republic National Distributing combined three of its separate warehouse operations into one centralized location, says Stefan Kirshenbaum, vice president and director of distribution and logistics.
Shuttle (transfer) drivers make two trips each night, with four bodies transported on each shuttle tractor trailer. Route deliveries begin early morning. “Our route drivers can make more stops per day,” Kirshenbaum says, “as a result of less drive time to the first customer stop, since they aren’t starting out from a distant distribution center.”
Republic National Distributing uses the Warehouse on Wheels system for both dry van and refrigerated truck bodies. All bodies, manufactured by Supreme Corporation, are 12 feet long. The refrigerated bodies, used for its wine deliveries, have a Thermo King CB Max or V-280 refrigeration unit.
“Since investing in Demountable Concept’s equipment,” says Kirshenbaum, “we have successfully been able to grow our business at a greater rate than the overall market and dramatically improved our bottom-line using the single distribution center for the entire state.”
Georgia Crown Distributing learned of the Warehouse on Wheels system during its search for ways to combine its five warehouses into one, while still maintaining a high level of service to its customers.
“We looked at cross-docking, hub-and-spoke, and other options, but the Demountable Concept system offered more flexibility and was the most cost-effective system,” says Bob Metcalf, Georgia Crown Distributing’s manager of special projects.
Inventory from a single centralized distribution center in McDonough is loaded into multiple bodies and shuttled to outlying markets on semitrailers and a straight truck. The empty bodies are mounted and returned to the warehouse for reloading.
“We run five tractor-trailers, each with four van bodies, and one straight truck with two bodies,” Metcalf says. “Each body is 12-feet long and is loaded with 350 cases of product.”
The loaded bodies are shuttled to regional markets at night to avoid traffic and to have the bodies ready for the delivery trucks to begin their routes first thing each morning.
“Warehouse on Wheels has enabled us to divert capital into a high-tech material handling system for our McDonough facility,” says Metcalf. It has also made possible quicker and more consistent restocking of retailers and enabled the handling of more volume with less people.
Another benefit, Cassway adds, is lowered fuel costs. Shuttling several bodies together eliminates the need for separate trips by straight trucks.