Volume 7 | Issue 4 | Year 2004

The journey products make from manufacturer to distribution center to retailer to consumer is a fascinating, well-choreographed example of the infinite precision of supply chain management. Interlake Material Handling Inc. is a company that understands these supply-chain intricacies and JIT requirements, having been in business since 1882 and in the material handling supplies industry for over 50 years. “We have been the market leader for many years in the storage rack manufacturing industry,” says Keith Gelinas, vice president of distributor sales and marketing for the Naperville, Ill.-headquartered company. “And with that level of leadership comes an inherent responsibility which we take seriously here at Interlake.”

That sense of responsibility is evident in the number of Interlake executives who either belong to or serve on the boards of industry associations such as the Material Handling Industry of America, the Material Handling Distributors Association, and the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI). “We try to set the standard in the industry and we help maintain that standard for what is safe and what an end-user customer can expect from a storage rack system,” Gelinas says. “And we continually instill in our associates the company’s core mission of being focused with a passion on our business and on our customers.”

Ranked among the World’s Top
Interlake is the largest manufacturer of storage racks in the Americas, notes Gelinas. Its manufacturing plant in Pontiac, Ill. is the largest rack-producing plant in the world under one roof (450,000 square feet). The company operates two other manufacturing facilities – one in Sumter, S.C. and one in Matamoros, Mexico – and is currently in the process of evaluating options for a fourth in northwest Mexico. “We define our distribution segment in three different categories, and these include fork truck manufacturers, systems integrators who integrate conveyor systems and rack and provide the whole solution, and stocking distributors who stock our products for resale,” continues Gelinas.

Interlake goes to market through distributors, directly to end-user customers, and through retail. It supplies to distribution centers and warehouses, retail stores, manufacturing companies, and archive and record storage companies. “We compete successfully in any region of the country because of the number of tons of product we can produce on a consistent basis,” Gelinas says. “We don’t just make pallet rack – but also push-back systems, drive-in and drive-through systems, carton-flow systems – as well as structural rack and roll-form pallet rack. With the wide array of products we offer, we can really serve this industry quite well.”

Interlake operates dedicated and focused teams of personnel serving specific channels exclusively. “Each of our three channels has a whole team of personnel, including an engineering team, customer service, and so forth,” he says.

Distribution Centers and Warehouses
Providing to customers such as Albertson, BEST BUY, Nestle, Target, UPS and Wal-Mart, Interlake’s products are in DCs and warehouses serving literally hundreds of industries. “We supply everything from pallet storage to complex order-picking systems,” explains Gelinas. Interlake offers a total integrated package of storage, conveyance, sortation, pick modules, software, and control accessories.

Interlake pushback systems are available in two through five deep. “It’s a FIFO (first in, first out) storage system that works well in warehouses and it’s one of the most durable systems available on the market,” Gelinas says. The newest innovation in warehousing structures is a complete rack-supported building, which Interlake constructed for a company located in Mexico. “The entire frame of the building is all rack; specs for this type of building are more challenging because not only are you supporting the goods stored on the racks, but you are supporting an entire building as well.”

Retail Stores
Major retailers such as BJ’s Wholesale Club, Circuit City, Costco, Home Depot (Interlake’s largest customer) and Toys-R-Us use Interlake racking solutions. “Stocking programs from our four strategically located DCs assure quick turnaround on orders and we also offer comprehensive safety and maintenance services as well,” Gelinas says.

Manufacturers such as Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson, Ford and Toyota rely on Interlake racking solutions for storing incoming raw materials and components for JIT delivery to the manufacturing floor as soon as they are required during the manufacturing process. Manufacturers also use Interlake racking solutions to store their product inventories.

Archive and Record Storage
Companies such as Data Vault, Document Vault, Iron Mountain, Recall, and File Keepers rely on Interlake archive and record storage high-density storage customized for manual and automated retrieval. “We also provide rack-supported buildings designed to maximize storage space,” Gelinas says. Interlake provides facility layout and engineering design. It can also provide manufacturing, installation, project support, and safety and maintenance services. “We design and install more order-picking systems than any other storage product manufacturer in the world,” he notes. Helping to make Interlake highly competitive in the industry are the high levels of production automation in its manufacturing plants. “We use robotics for higher efficiencies so we can be a low-cost provider with excellent consistency in the products we offer,” Gelinas says. Currently, two of the company’s plants offer powder-coat paint finishes, and soon all plants will offer this service.

Higher up the Ladder
“One thing we are noted for in this industry is Interlake’s continued participation in guiding the industry,” says Gelinas. Currently working on a structural design called the Defender Frame, Interlake hopes to ease the headache of repairing rack systems if these become damaged during the everyday rugged warehousing environment. There are two kinds of rack: roll-form rack, which accounts for the majority of rack sold in the industry – and structural rack, which is heavier and more expensive. The Defender is designed to work at the base of a storage structure so that everything above it can be designed with roll-form rack. “You get the best of both worlds with this system,” explains Gelinas. “The reason some people buy structural versus roll-form rack is because there is a perception in some market segments that it’s a more durable product. But the reality is you don’t need structural rack above that height. Our solution allows customers to spec structural rack on the lower portion of their frame structure and roll-form above it. It’s a more cost-effective solution and, even better, it has a built-in repair function because that bottom structural S piece is a bolt-on design. So, if a fork truck runs into it and crushes the structure, it can be unbolted and a new section bolted in without having to shut down that section of the warehouse to do welding and other repair work.”

Gelinas says Interlake’s success goes beyond offering the best products available in the marketplace. “We are the supplier of choice for many companies in the industry and customers can rely on our 99.9 percent on-time delivery,” he says. “And no matter where our products are manufactured, there is a consistency of quality from plant to plant because our manufacturing processes are that tight across our enterprise.”

Interlake places a high premium on the safety of its 1,000 employees – as well as the safety of the people who will ultimately use Interlake material handling systems. Its Sumter plant recently received a safety award from Brambles and a pollution prevention award from the governor of South Carolina. “We intend to focus on adding a presence on the West Coast, not because overall additional capacity is needed, but rather to strengthen our market position west of the Rockies,” Gelinas explains. “We invested several million dollars on our current Mexico plant three years ago because we felt we needed to manufacture in Mexico to stay competitive long-term; the location also helps us to service the southwestern states.”

Gelinas acknowledges the material handling industry has struggled during the last few years. “But Interlake is in a very good position in the industry to push further up the ladder in maintaining a market leader,” he says. “The northwest Mexican facility will allow us to be strong in every region of the United States. We will continue to look for additional products that bring value to our core competency – which is rack. And we continue to look for products to serve our customers’ needs.”