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Kuehne & Nagel transforms operations with 'Vera & Jack' automation

Kuehne + Nagel’s distribution facility for mobile network operator, EE, has recently gained an automated tote system and a B2C packing line, codenamed ‘Vera’ and ‘Jack’ respectively.

Kuehne + Nagel’s 130,000 sq ft facility is the sole distribution centre for the EE brand in the UK. With 140 full time employees and up to 60 agency staff at peak periods, this busy operation delivers mobile phones and accessories in totes to retail stores across the country and individually bagged products direct to customers.

Codenamed ‘Vera’ Axiom’s tote system automatically weighs picked and packed totes for the EE retail operation. The solution processes a tote every six seconds, sending out up to 15,000 units a day, six days a week, to 452 EE stores and 150 franchise stores.

Nigel Henman is the operations manager for Kuehne + Nagel’s facility, he explains why the B2B automation was necessary, “When we were manually weighing and packing for the retail operation each individual could complete 15 to 20 totes per hour. As a comparison ‘Vera’ can achieve 600 totes in an hour. It would take one person 30 hours to manually weigh and process 600 totes – so that has given us a saving of 29 hours.

“We needed the automated system because sometimes we would be manually packing all through the night in order to get product into stores the next day. The key benefit of the Axiom tote solution is that now we can run the automation later in the day and achieve the same volume using less people. This has substantially improved our productivity.”

600 totes an hour

Each tote, which has been pre-labelled with a unique barcode, is loaded onto the conveyor at the start of the process. As it travels along the system the tote is scanned and the weight verified, any variances are diverted for manual inspection, corrected and returned to the conveyor.

Dispatch documents are printed and automatically inserted inside the tote then the interlocking top lid is closed. The tote is then turned 90 ֯ and sealed with a uniquely numbered strap which is photographed and recorded. The tote is then re-oriented, and a shipping label is printed, applied to the side face of the tote and confirmed. Totes are then palletised ready for delivery to stores.

“We very quickly became dependent on ‘Vera’” comments Henman, “operationally you always wonder if a system will be as good as you expected it to be, but it’s been really reliable from the start. The fact that it can process 600 totes an hour is why we’ve now become reliant on it.

B2C packing line 'Jack'

To replace their manual packing line, Kuehne + Nagel selected an automated Axiom solution for inline packing of EE phones and associated equipment, the system is code named ‘Jack’. Nigel Henman notes, “Manually packing we were achieving 65 units per person per hour; with the automated solution we can push through 1,200 units hourly with just four people, it’s made a big difference to our productivity.

“The automation particularly helps when we have a product launch. Before we had ‘Jack’ a major plan had to be put into place, and we’d start at 4am and be working up to 22 hours a day to roll out the new products. Now a launch just goes unnoticed.”

Increased productivty

Orders are pre-processed using Kuehne + Nagel’s WMS system, which validates the customer information and associates the handset(s) to the customer order. Then a 2D order label is printed and applied to each order before it is placed onto the system and the label is scanned. One person can place 1,200 orders per hour onto the belt conveyor at the start of the twin-level automated system.

Each order passes under a scanner and its relevant documents are printed, there are two live and one offline document printers. The documents are then scanned before being fed into the system onto the lower conveyor. Two identical SIM feeders, equipped with cameras to capture barcode information, add a SIM card to mobile device orders. There is a reject chute for unreadable SIMs. The SIM information is automatically associated to the customer order.

Product on the top conveyor merges with its correct documentation on the lower conveyor at a beak section. The completed orders are check weighed and automatically spaced ready to be fed into an automatic bagging machine. Each order is individually packaged and then a shipping label is printed and applied to the outside of the bag. A final overhead scan verifies the order with any reject orders sent down a reject chute for manual inspection. All confirmed orders are unloaded for onward delivery to EE customers

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