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Outperforming traditional order fulfillment methods with automated case picking

Outperforming traditional order fulfillment methods with automated case picking

The service levels of a supermarket are extremely dependent on the quality and speed of its replenishment systems. All of the processes in a food retail distribution centre are focused on delivering to the stores in an optimal way and – at the same time – working with maximum efficiency.

Vanderlande’s automated case picking (ACP) systems provide the tools to outperform traditional order fulfillment methods. The fully robotised process enables shop-friendly deliveries, short delivery times and a minimal volume of transport – at the lowest operational costs. These improvements not only affect the distribution centre, but also the efficiency of the processes at work in the stores. The Vanderlande ACP design is set up to allow modular growth and ensures availability by utilising parallel activities.

Well-filled shelves are a very important factor in the shopping experience. Replenishment personnel work quickly and efficiently to ensure that shoppers always find products at the right place and are not hindered by pallets moving through the store. Invisible to the customer, there is much logic at work to make this process run smoothly.

Optimal stacking pattern
When the store orders a replenishment shipment from the distribution centre, it is essential that the pallets will be selected in the same sequence of product groups as the store’s layout. Before the pallets are actually stacked, the Load Forming Logic software defines an optimal stacking pattern, with this product group sequence in mind. The software defines stable pallets that are filled with maximum efficiency, so that the transportation volume is minimised.

Furthermore, it ensures that products are not damaged by too much weight being loaded on top. Load Forming Logic also takes into account the handling capabilities of the robots that will be used to stack the pallets. The finished pallets will be wrapped and transported to the stores, where there will be no need for extra sortation and the pallets can be used immediately to refill the shelves.

In short, the Load Forming Logic software optimises more than just the picking process. It also takes care of:

•         optimal fill rates
•         lower transportation costs
•         a “green” solution, with less trucks needed for transportation
•         direct shelf replenishment
•         improved customer experience
•         lower costs in store
•         a distribution centre (DC) with the smallest footprint.

Robot technology
In the automated distribution centre, the process starts with measuring the products at the Teach In station. Dimensions, weight and various other properties are registered precisely to ensure the correct handling of the product in the automated processes. Full pallets will enter the system and need to have their foil removed at an ergonomic station. After verification of the pallet load, the depalletising process starts.

A robot with a special mechanical gripper is used to take full layers of product from the pallet. The gripper will adjust its speed and applied force based on the previously stored properties. The layers are now deposited on a conveyor system, on which any present slip sheets are detected by a camera system and removed by a robotic arm.

The products are singulated and rotated into the proper orientation via a series of processes. To ensure safe handling in the storage system, the shape and orientation are checked by a 3D measuring system using laser technology. The cartons are carefully arranged into trains that will travel into the storage area over a series of conveyors and elevators.

550,000 cases per day on only 18,600m2
Yes, this is possible – the DC footprint has been significantly reduced by using shuttle technology. The storage system uses highly dynamic shuttles, each of them travelling on a specific level in the storage rack. The shuttles use a combination of belts and telescopic forks to store and retrieve the products. This unique handling technique allows the products to be stored without trays. Multiple products can be stored by location, optimised to the dimensions of the individual product.

The retrieval of the products is carried out in a sequence that allows the downstream processes to build the outbound pallets exactly to the store’s requirements. Conveyors and elevators are used to combine the products that originate from different storage aisles, while following this sequence.

Vanderlande delivers state-of-the-art technology, tailored to the needs of the customer:
•    proven solutions configured to optimally suit the processes
•    automated pallet warehouses
•    automated depalletising
•    shuttle-based storage systems
•    robotic palletising stations
•    consolidation systems.

The Load Forming Logic is responsible for the definition of this optimal sequence and will also instruct the robotic palletisers on the exact positioning of the products on the pallet. The robotic palletiser starts by taking an empty pallet from a buffer. After a final check of the product properties, it will start stacking the products according to the planned methodology.  

A unique, omni-directional transfer allows the robot to pick up the product in any direction required. The robot will adapt the handling speed and acceleration based on the properties that were defined at the Teach-in station to ensure that all products are handled safely. The load forming logic will ensure that the stacking patterns are stable and take into account the maximum weight that can be put on top of each product.

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