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March 27, 2024

Premier® Yarns Case Study: An integrated solution for pick, pack and ship operations

Premier® Yarns needed a solution that would improve the speed and accuracy of its largely manual pick, pack and ship operations.

A leading North American manufacturer and distributor of hand knitting yarns, Premier opened as a mass market distributor in 2005, selling its colorful skeins to retail chains like Walmart, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn’s and Michael’s, with a sister company, Universal Yarns, selling to smaller, independent retailers.

The North Carolina-based company launched a website in 2008 and, in 2010, established an e-commerce platform for online sales to end users. Before the pandemic, sales online had slowly increased from an average of five orders per day to about 20. But when Covid forced retailers such as JoAnn’s and Michael’s to close, Premier’s online orders immediately jumped to 400–500 per day.

“In 2022, on Black Friday, we got slammed with orders on our dot.com business,” said Premier Yarns President Hal Ozbelli. “FedEx was coming three times each day for pickup, and we regularly ran out of supplies like boxes and tape.”

As orders continued to pour in, Premier owners knew they needed an alternative to their largely manual process.

“We needed to pick fast and accurately,” said Premier Managing Director Yonca Ozbelli. “We considered outsourcing to a third-party logistics company, but quality control is a main issue for us.”

Instead, Premier turned to long-time material handling partner, Carolina Handling.

The challenge

Premier’s primary goal was to improve the speed and accuracy of its pick, pack and ship operations. With online orders continuing to grow post Covid, fulfillment rates of 10 or more business days needed to be reduced to a 2- to 3-day turnaround.

Additionally, the company needed a system that would work within its existing 60,000-square-foot facility and an installation that would not disrupt operations that already were strained.

“When we first came in, we noticed that the majority of their processes were very manual,” said Carolina Handling Systems Engineer Jacob Barrett. “There were using carts and small order pickers to move around and pick boxes. With such a manual process, they were running into labor shortages, as well as just getting the job done in a reasonable time.”

An integrated solution

Taking advantage of underutilized floor space at ground level and high warehouse ceilings, Carolina Handling’s Intralogistics Solutions Group first installed a conveyor system to serve as a highway for delivering picked orders from packing stations at the center of the warehouse to shipping stations near the back of the facility.

With the new system, 12 mobile Locus robots deliver picked orders to an induction area where they are placed onto a top conveyor and delivered to packing stations on each side.

Once orders are checked, packed and labeled, corrugated cartons and plastic totes are placed on a bottom conveyor, which elevates them through a motor driven roller (MDR) spiral turn, then moves them vertically across the warehouse via a ceiling-hung conveyor. The conveyor declines to the shipping area where packages are offloaded, metered and sorted by shipping method.

The result

Premier Yarns already has seen a return on investment, doubling its daily shipments to an average of 1,000 per day, according to Warehouse Manager Marsha Sanders.

“Our daily picks have doubled, and we’ve gone from a huge window time frame of shipping our orders–5 to 10 business days down to 2 to 3 business days. “We’ve seen that transition happen pretty quickly,” Sanders said.

Pick accuracy has also improved, along with employee satisfaction.

“It helps with mispicks because our robots distinguish which items to put in the totes,” Sanders explained. “It’s also a lot less physical because our pickers are assigned to designated aisles, and they now are hands-free. They aren’t pushing around carts; so, with the flow, they’re able to replenish, work and clean the aisles as they’re going without anything in their way.”

Fast and accurate fulfillment of orders has given Premier Yarns a newfound flexibility to run promotions and release new products.

“We are no longer time constrained about releasing new products and how that might hinder our picking time or add a burden to the team,” Yonca Ozbelli said.

It also has owners considering additional mobile robots and additional employees.

“Because our business is growing because of our better, faster service to our customers, we see that orders are coming even stronger, so we’re keeping all of our employees and even adding more team members to help us with the growth and replenishment of our product on a daily basis,” Hal Ozbelli said.

A solution for any size company

Companies with largely manual processes are ripe for integrated, automation solutions, according to Carolina Handling’s Barrett.

“There are only so many people you can hire on until you fall behind on your daily operations,” Barrett said. “Along with that, employee retention is a big piece that our customers are challenged with. So, giving them tools that will improve the quality of life for their current workers helps improve that retention, helps improve the hiring process and improves their whole operation.”

And while robots sound like a big-budget item to many, there are affordable solutions for mid-sized companies like Premier Yarns.

“We always thought that robots were too advanced for our operation because we are a mid-sized company,” said Yonca Ozbelli. “When you think about robots and companies that are using them, they are really big companies like Amazon. Going to other Carolina Handling customers and seeing operations that are using the robots definitely opened our eyes – seeing that there is a solution out there that we can utilize."

Go HERE for more information on integrated, automation solutions from Carolina Handling.