You see your suitcase put on an airline baggage conveyor and carried away. Three hours later, the luggage appears on the pickup carousel at your destination. You place a telephone order for a jacket offered in a catalogue, specifying rush delivery. The garment arrives the next day. You shop online for three hard-to-find reference books. They are delivered to your office within a week.
What do these three events have in common? In each instance, a computerized materials-handling system sorted and then helped move the item on its way. From an airport conveyor to the baggage makeup area, then to the pickup carousel. From a cataloguer’s merchandise bin, then through the hub of an express delivery service. From the shelves of a book warehouse, then through a postal sorting center.
All three examples show materials on the move, which is the business of Crisplant Inc., a leader in materials sortation and transport. With customers such as Continental Airlines, L.L. Bean, Federal Express and Amazon.com, Crisplant could well have been involved in each situation described here.
Selecting a Focus
Crisplant Inc. was founded 16 years ago as the U.S. sales operation for sortation systems made by Crisplant a/s in Aarhus, Denmark. In 1996, the U.S. subsidiary was expanded and operations moved to the current facility in Frederick, Md. Now, Crisplant Inc. employs 170 people and occupies 130,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Annual revenues exceed $100 million for the U.S. company and $200 million for the Danish organization.
In building its business, Crisplant Inc. focused on making sortation its only business. Operating with the premise that sortation is more than moving goods from point A to point B, the company uses optimum logistics to design systems for sorting and transporting items by dividing them into specified groups according to specified criteria. The automated systems are developed to provide total operational reliability, minimum costs per item and a very high distribution security. The systems also provide valuable tracking information about items and where they are in the process.
According to David Halker, vice president of sales, marketing and application engineering, U.S. personnel are involved in systems engineering, software, project management, sales, application engineering and manufacturing. The Maryland company’s menu of products and services includes tilt-tray sorters, cross-belt sorters, package singulators, high-speed transporters, registration stations, systems design, technical support, training and maintenance support.
When discussing the services Crisplant offers, Halker cites the company’s motto: Never let the customer own a problem: “We believe our customers’ problems are our problems, and we are committed to taking them on. We believe in doing whatever it takes – and that’s the attitude throughout our company.” As an example, he describes an incident in which a baggage sorter at a major airport was severely damaged – and Crisplant delivered a 3-meter section and got the operation up and running again in just 12 hours.
In describing Crisplant’s method for finding solutions to customers’ sortation needs, Halker explains, “We use a classical approach. The ideal is to partner with our customer and form a strategic alliance that gets us on the same team. This is important in these days of tight schedules, where a job that used to take nine months now has to be done in five or six.” He outlines a five-point project program: Review the company’s operation, analyze the data (including order flow, item specifics and operating efficiencies), determine where Crisplant can make a significant improvement, develop a business case for the proposal and do the job.
Crisplant’s customer base includes market leaders that require advanced sortation solutions. The major categories are mail-order catalog, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing distribution, postal services, shoe distribution, courier services and airline baggage handling. The roster of customers includes merchandisers such as L.L.Bean, Chadwick’s, Target, The Gap, Disney Direct, Nike and QVC; couriers such as the U.S. Postal Service and United Parcel Service; airlines such as Delta, United and Continental; and e-businesses such as Barnes & Noble.com.
Taking a Growth Path
Commenting on the U.S. company’s growth over the past five years, Halker credits three factors: “First, manufacturing began in the United States. Second, the company added personnel, and so could give customers the full complement of service functions. Third, rapid growth occurred in the markets served and in their technology.” Halker sees continuing opportunities for growth in this fast-moving marketplace: “Time schedules are getting narrower. For instance, how do you handle the e-fulfillment side of operations with mass retailing? People used to be willing to wait a week for their order – now they want it the next day. I also think a big trend in materials handling is going to be in business-to-business e-commerce. New entities in e-commerce are going to rely on third parties for fulfillment services, and that will require a level of automation commensurate with the level of responsibility to deliver.”
As for Crisplant’s plans, Halker states, “I see our market growing and adding new segments, specifically in e-commerce and third-party logistics, such as in the grocery area. We also think there is major growth in the airports. In this arena, we are going to expand more as a primary contractor, where we handle everything for the baggage handling system – all parts of it. That includes the software, the conveyors, the check-in and baggage claim areas.”
Commenting on the projected result of this growth, Halker says, “We have a three-year plan for growth that targets $175 million in annual sales, increases our human resources and expands our manufacturing capabilities.”
Expanding the Offering
Product development is yet another area in which Crisplant is growing. Talking about the new S3000E Sorting System, Halker says, “This is a radical improvement – faster speed, higher throughput, improved product handling, more intelligent programming. The customer can program the rate of speed, the tilt, the bank in the corners. And several innovations in this new sorter reduce the number of parts. A maintenance person can even use a palm pilot to communicate with the electronic devices to retrieve or send data – and that’s a patented feature.”
Halker also extols the benefits of the new Crisbag™, which allows for more accurate tracking through a high-speed system: “The system for baggage handling moves at 7 meters per second and uses Crisplant’s coded totes, which are captive to the system. The bag is put on the tote at check-in and is transported to the makeup area for outgoing flights, where bags are put on trolleys for planes. Our totes allow for more accurate tracking through the system.”
Last year, Crisplant Inc. and its parent company were acquired by FKI Logistex, the U.S. arm of FKI plc, a British conglomerate with three divisions: materials handling, engineering and hardware. Headquartered in Danville, Ky., FKI Logistex is the world’s leading single-point provider of material-flow solutions. Nine other companies are in the materials-handling group. Halker is enthusiastic about the benefits of being part of the large organization. “Working with our sister companies in the United States, we can put together the best and brightest people to give the best systems to our customers,” he says. “One of our companies will take the lead on a project and bring in the others’ expertise to devise a solution for the client. Our partnerships and alliances have proven to lead to solutions and support through initiating ideas and working together.”All told, Crisplant appears to be moving rapidly – and in good company.