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Wine country embraces pallet handling

Way back in 2018, I had the opportunity to interview Kent Mann, vice president of operations for the family-owned winery, for a story in Modern Materials Handling.

Trinchero is the 2nd largest wine company in North America, right behind Gallo, and the 4th largest wine company in the world. The wineries best-known wine is Sutter Home, but Trinchero is the winery behind other top sellers, like Menage A Trois as well as top shelf names like its flagship Trinchero Napa Valley.

The story focused on a state of the art blending, bottling and temperature controlled distribution center on 500 acres in Lodi. For Modern’s readers, the centerpiece of the facility is an automated pallet shuttle and storage system from Swisslog capable of storing 4.2 million cases of wine at any point in time. The system can retrieve and stage an outbound trailer load in 24 minutes or less.

I didn’t get to see the facility back in 2018 except through photographs. But last week, I got to tour the facility as part of a customer event put on by Swisslog. I also had an opportunity to record a podcast with Mann and Markus Schmidt, president of Swisslog Americas that we will post later in September.

First, the Trinchero Napa Valley wines we got to enjoy with dinner, were fantastic – that from a wine lover. Moreover, the tour was similarly remarkable. It is as close to a no-touch facility as I’ve ever visited. Wine enters the plant through a pipeline connected to storage tanks. After that, wine is bottled; the bottles are corked or capped and labeled; put to their storage and shipping cartons; palletized; and then putaway and retrieved from storage and delivered to the staging area in shipping without anyone touching the product. The first time cases are touched is when a clamp truck loads them onto an outbound trailer,

The attendees represented a mix of industries, from wine and spirits to 3PL to retail. What they shared in common was that they all had pallet handling operations they were either already automating or planned to automate. 

What I found most interesting besides the tour was how the questions from the audience reinforced the findings of our survey. A few examples. One of the questions we asked in our automation survey was what respondents valued most in an automation technology. Of the 12 choices 5 were deemed very or somewhat important to 100% of respondents. Those were: Uptime and reliability, support, availability of parts, the warranty program and the ability to scale as business grows. Implementing a leading-edge technology was only very important to 39% of respondents.

What those said to me is that end users value the tried and true over the shiny new object because those are the solutions most likely to also be reliable, scalable and supported by their solution provider’s parts and warranty program. Uptime and reliability, in particular, are more important than ever as companies are operating closer to full capacity than in the past.

Those findings – and others I presented – were echoed by the presentations from Swisslog, which focused on the uptime and maintenance of AS/RS technology, and especially by the questions from attendees, both to Swisslog and Kent Mann’s team from Trinchero Family Estates. It was also a point made by Mann when asked about the technologies he’s investigating in order to automate the few areas in his facility that were still manual. He’s looking, he said, but still needs to be convinced. That was reinforced by another attendee who mentioned that in addition to automatic pallet- and case-handling technologies his firm was already using, including AutoStore, they’re looking at some of the emerging robotics technologies and autonomous lift trucks. “They’re this close,” he said, “but just not there yet for use in our operations.” 

It was a reminder to me that while there are a ton of exciting new technologies out there, their competition is the tried and true with a proven track record.

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BtoB Central Staff
BtoB Central Staff
Btobcentral is dedicated to business news.


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