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When Solo Cup and Sweetheart, the best known names in plastic, foam, and paper dinnerware products, merged, the combined company used this opportunity to grow the business and make it more efficient as well. All those distribution centers the two companies had? They combined them into one.

The new Solo created the concept of “one face to the customer,” meaning that customers buy from one place, and their order gets completed by one truck and one invoice. To execute such a streamlined strategy, the company added technology to those processes that become more efficient when automated but retained other manual processes.

The warehouse management system (WMS) follows the flow of all materials and people throughout the distribution center. It also creates zones in the buildings for specific large customers, product lines, or other groupings that make for less travel time in the 1.3 million square foot facility.  The receiving dock’s automatic, self-guided vehicles can deliver 16 pallets at a time to the desired location in the warehouse; a person driving a forklift can only deliver one at a time. . Finally, Solo uses a battery changing and self-watering system to minimize the maintenance needed on the vehicles. These systems can change a battery in just three minutes, far less time than it takes a person.

As these paper product giants show, companies that consolidate have an excellent opportunity to streamline their operations and grow their businesses. In this case, the business has grown with no additional employees, and the facility efficiently stores products and reduces delivery times within the same warehouse.

Discussion Questions:

1. How does Solo handle the merchandise flow for inbound transportation, receiving, checking, and storing and how does this benefit the supply chain?

Bob Trebilcock, “Flying Solo,” Modern Materials Handling, May 2007.