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The store designer's new best friend.

When an independent supermarket operator affiliated with Super Valu opens the doors of his new or remodeled supermarket, he turns the key with a new confidence. For he knows the store design, accomplished with speed and efficieny, is probably highly productive. That's because so many options in the arrangement of space, fixtures and equipment were examined even before the plans were committed to paper.

"If you're not in graphics in the '80s, you won't be around in the '90s," says John Morrissey, senior vice president of distribution for Super Valu. He is so firmly convinced that business wrongly ignores technology that he committed the Minneapolis-based voluntary to a half-million dollar investment in a computer graphics system when the recession and interest rates were at their recent worst.

Super Valu's engineering and architectural division, Planmark, invested in an IBM Computer Assisted Design (CAD) system for their architects and engineers. The purchase, says Lloyd Stenbeck, vice president of engineering, "was an opportunity to give our independent retailers an edge over anyone else."

The idea Planmark had was to use computer graphics to help design or remodel Super Valu stores and facilities. After two years of operation, General Manager Howard Loomis Jr. says productivity gains and time savings have exceeded expectations.

Planmark began offering engineering, architectural and design services for Super Valu's retailers, corporate facilities and subsidiaries in 1962, and was organized as a division in 1975. Super Valu is the principal wholesale supplier to more than 2,300 independent operators in 27 states.

Since getting CAD, Planmark has used the system to work on more than 80 projects and completed 36 supermarkets and 10 distribution centers between August 1981 and February 1983. "Almost every engineer can do drafting twice as fast on the CAD system," says Loomis.

For example, he mentions how one client wanted to increase the size of the shops in the front of his building by moving them all out 20 feet. Using the computer, the project was reconfigured in less than a half hour.

The flexibility of the computer has also helped Planmark win some assignments, such as the design of a suprmarket in the new Saudi Arabian model city of Jubail. The drawings had to be done in meters, but because the CAD is duo-dimensional the task was accomplished just as quickly, says Loomis.

The amount of work Planmark has taken on has forced the division to get a larger computer. Planmark's original computer was an IBM 4331-1, which "we brought to its knees in no time," says Michael Barthol, architecture manager. "A 4331 is one of the smaller mainframe computers and we could only connect four terminals to it. And we found ourselves needing more capacity."

Now Planmark is on a remote hookup with an IBM 3083, which is shared with another Super Valu user about 15 miles away. With the new mainframe, the possibility for expanding the number of terminals is almost unlimited.

"Once the CAD system was installed," says Loomis, "we jumped into the new methods with both feet. That's the only way to do it if you're dedicated to making it work." Barthol was placed in charge of development and implementation of the data base and training of operators. And it was Barthol who had the task of persuading architects, designers and engineers to trade in their T-squares and drafting boards for a graphic display terminal, a keyboard and a light pen.

It took almost four months to get the system installed and running and put users through the extensive training programs. "If there was any hitch at all," says Barthol, "it was that we were starting at ground zero. We didn't have the benefit of anyone's experience telling us how we should set up the numbering system, data base and all those other things you need to know when you install a new system, using your own unique applications.

"We had to make some basic changes in the context of what we were working on. One common statement was, 'I can't see the whole drawing at the same time, the way I'm used to seeing it.' Our solution was to make more hard copy drawings so designers could get a better perspective of what they were working on. Once they could adjust to working on a 12 by 12 screen, working along with the plot, the job was a lot easier."

About 30 architects, engineers and designers are trained on the CAD system at Planmark now and another three CRT screens have been added. Training time has been reduced from 40 hours to 30, and with a new manual, Barthol thinks that almost anyone can train himself. One reason is the system has no commands to memorize.

In addition, drawings of elements can be repeated, erased, mirrored, flipped, moved, scaled up or down without being redrawn.

With the system, planners can draw lines, circles, create designs move and reposition corners, walls, entire rooms, and draw complete building plans. Designers even have created "kits" of self-contained rooms--such as a bathroom--that are ready to be retrieved from the memory bank and put into place. Tedious manual work has been reduced and simplified. Quicker Return on Investment

Given all these capabilities, Planmark sees a strong possibility for using CAD in warehouse planning as well. The company can visualize the layout for product placement in its distribution centers. The computer would quickly determine the best place for thousands of grocery, dairy, frozen and other products.

After all, in only one year of use, store designs were being completed faster, with greater accuracy and in more detail than before. This allowed Planmark clients to benefit from earlier store openings, a quicker return on investment due to reduced drafting time, and lower construction costs with fewer changes needed during construction due to the greater accuracy attainable with the computer-generated design documents.

In designing for efficient operation, Planmark's supermarket clients are constantly changing their fixtures, moving departments around or changing their dimensions. With CAD, they can call up original drawings from the memory bank and make the changes in half the time it took previously.

If a client wants to see how an electrical plan will fit in, an overlay can be placed on the screen over the basic design. This then can be filed in the computer's memory, freeing the screen for another design project.

This common data base can be shared by all users. For example, base plans can be transmitted instantly by the architectural team to the engineering group for drawing teh overlays of their particular disciplines. Sixty-four different overlay views can be associated and filed with each drawing. Multiple drawings can also be overlayed, giving the capability of an almost unlimited number of levels. Consequently, several stores and each of the various phases of a project can be worked on at the same time.

Since Planmark has the originals on computer disks, they anticipate reducing their hardcopy storage by half. And Barthol believes they will eventually by-pass the mail. Planmark coudl save days by sending plans electronically.

Barthol also sees the possibility of remote graphic work stations connecting to a central processor. Although Super Valu belives in keeping the design group in one place, they want to be able to communicate with customers wherever they are.

"We may have one sales or service representative in each of our 19 divisions around the country," Vice President Stenbeck says. "He can telephone someone, take a CRT screen and call up the drawings of the last 10 stores we did that are similar to what the wants."

The potential is just beginning to be reached, adds Stenbeck. "Eventually, we should be able to walk a retailer through a three-dimensional, full-color representation of his store. It's unlimited. We could never go back."
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Title Annotation:Computer Usage for Profit, part V
Author:O'Neill, Robert E.
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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