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2024 Productivity Achievement Awards

Modern’s annual Productivity Achievement Awards honor companies that have made exceptional operational gains in warehouse automation, robotics, DC network strategy, and a spirit of innovation.

Selected from 2023’s top System Report cover stories that detail materials handling system deployments, Modern’s annual Productivity Achievement Awards honor companies that have made exceptional operational gains in warehouse automation, robotics, DC network strategy, and a spirit of innovation.

Modern Material Handling's Productivity Achievement Awards honor companies that made outstanding operational improvements through materials handling systems and related automation or software.

Modern’s editorial team selects finalists from the System Report articles published the previous year. A panel of industry experts then reviews the finalists in each category and selects their top choices. This year, we had multiple System Reports looking at deployments at e-fulfillment warehouses, so we introduced a “E-fulfillment” category, substituting it for our traditional “Manufacturing” category. That makes our three categories this year Warehousing/Distribution; Innovation; and E-Fulfillment.

Finalists in the Warehousing/Distribution category are recognized for the effectiveness of the systems they’ve implemented, and how these systems help them meet customer service goals, changing channel and business conditions, all while dealing with operational issues like labor availability or ergonomics. The “Innovation” category recognizes a company that successfully employed a solution that exceeds convention. The E-Fulfillment category recognizes transformative projects at facilities that focus on e-commerce fulfillment. In addition to achievements in productivity, throughput or efficiency, winners were also judged on how projects inside the four walls enable the overall business model.

This year’s Productivity Achievement Awards judges were: 

Our thanks to them for assessing the nominated reports.

The other finalists as selected by editorial staff were as follows. For Warehousing/Distribution, Aurobindo; for Innovation, Pitney Bowes; and for e-Fulfillment, Radial. Congratulations to all involved in those projects as well.

All of our System Reports are deep dives into deployments which substantially improved efficiencies, while supporting or even transforming the business model. That makes for some close calls in terms of selecting the top two nominees in each category.

For that reason, we’d also like to note the following System Reports as close runners up: for Warehousing/Distribution, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits; for Innovation, Bowery Farming; and E-Fulfillment, Carhartt.

Read on to learn more about the winning projects. And thanks to everyone who shared their project outcomes with us in last year’s System Reports.


Going to town with fulfillment at Parts Town

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A fast-growing leader in critical OEM parts for the food service industry is using goods-to-person robotic picking to meet customer service requirements.

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Image Courtesy of Parts Town and Getty Image

In October, we decorated for Halloween,” says Audreyanne Snow, vice president of operations and logistics (aka VP and OEM Parts Wranglers—at Parts Town, even job titles are a little quirky), adding that activities such as seasonal decorations bring a little levity to the job of getting mission-critical OEM repair parts for the foodservice, residential appliance and HVAC industries out the door. Culture, automation and innovation are the ingredients driving productivity at Parts Town’s 200,000-square-foot distribution center in Addison, Ill. They are enabling double-digit, compound annual growth at the company, notes Clint Holder, president of Parts Town Americas. Between 2003 and 2022, sales grew from $3 million to nearly $2 billion through a combination of organic growth and acquisition.

“When you’re growing at 20% a year, it’s like adding a new small business every year,” Holder says. “We’re investing in people, technology and systems to enable this rapid growth.”

Those investments include the corporate headquarters and attached highly automated DC that went live in 2018. The DC has undergone several expansions since.

The layout of the facility, which uses four mezzanine areas that add the equivalent of 50,000 square feet of space, and the automation were designed to speed the flow of product from the dock to stock locations, and speed orders from picking to shipping. The goal is to meet very aggressive order cutoff times and next-day deliveries and yet still flex and scale as business continues to grow. Read the full report here.

Judges’ comments on 2024 Warehousing/Distribution Award: Parts Town 

“Love their emphasis on culture! It’s easy to get caught up in the automation side and forget there’s still a requirement for human interactions.”
 - Mac McPherson.

“The Parts Town story showed how to effectively plan for and execute a solution with multiple ‘difficult’ design criteria including “mission critical” next-day delivery, a 9:00 p.m. Eastern order cutoff time, and a very large SKU requirement—165,000. The design was specific to this set of operations requirements, and integrated robotics with mechanization and some fairly conventional technologies. The top management’s focus on culture was key to their success.” ­- Don Derewecki.


thredUP designs the largest resale platform on the web

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The online retailer’s challenge was to design a system to quickly get new garments processed, ready for sale and out the door as efficiently as possible.

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Gregory Campbell/Getty Images for Peerless Media

We live in an era of disruption. More often than not, new business models lead to new distribution models and networks. Such was the case for thredUP, a marketplace bringing next generation technologies like machine learning and automated goods-to-person storage and order fulfillment to a channel we normally associate with small, neighborhood retailers and non-profits: The thrift shop.

Back in 2016, thredUP came to a realization: The bottleneck to increased sales was its distribution processes. If it could redesign its largely manual handling processes from receipt to shipping, it could process more garments and increase sales.

“We needed to increase our inventory capacity to meet growing customer demand,” notes John Friedl, senior vice president of automation and innovation. “In the past, that meant building new distribution centers, which was time consuming and costly. Instead, we began considering alternatives for increasing storage capacity within the existing facilities.” At that time, the network included four manual DCs. Read the full report here.

Judges’ comments on  2024 Innovation Award: thredUP

“‘We currently have the capacity to hold nearly nine million unique items across the network with the capacity to hold an additional 7.5 million in the future.’ This insight from the story shows the scale of this truly innovative approach to the traditional thrift store model.” - Mac McPherson.

“thredUP had the operations design challenge of developing a system for mostly previously owned product sourced from individuals currently totaling 9 million ‘one of a kind’ units. The company used simulation modeling to design a system that can process 100,00 SKUs per day using a proprietary WMS. This is truly a highly customized design specific to their unique operations requirements. This is truly a highly customized design specific
to their unique operations requirements.” - Don Derewecki.


Gap Inc. expands its e-fulfillment network

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A new 800,000-square-foot DC in Texas optimizes fulfillment processes and the network.

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Gap Inc.

In the Monday before Thanksgiving, Kevin Kuntz, the head of supply chain for Gap Inc., was in his office at the specialty retailer’s distribution center in Gallatin, Tenn. Asked how things were shaping up for Black Friday, Kuntz said inventory was flowing through the network just as it should. His team was ready to fill online orders and replenish as needed.

After two crazy years, he said: “It feels like a normal peak season.”

One big reason for Kuntz’s confidence, and the future of Gap Inc.’s fulfillment strategy, is a new facility that opened last summer in Longview, Texas. At 800,000 square feet, it is the company’s sixth facility dedicated to e-fulfillment in the United States, designed from the ground up to service Old Navy’s online customers in the Southwest. Read the full system report here.

Judges’ comments on 2024 E-fulfillment Award: Gap Inc. 

“Gap Inc. designed facilities based on lessons learned from previous operations to continuously improve productivity, throughput capacity, and operational control. The WES balances the workload through various technologies including mini-load AS/RS, very narrow aisle racking, bomb bay sorters, robotic and manual put walls, and auto baggers. This shows how a company can apply lessons learned and experimentation to optimize operations.” - Don Derewecki.

“As the article notes, ‘While the design, automation and systems are similar to Gap Inc.’s other e-fulfillment centers, when it is up to speed, the new facility will get the same amount of throughput in 800,000 square feet—about 1 million units per day—as its Ohio facility does with 1.2 million square feet,’—impressive throughput.” ­- Mac McPherson.