Automated warehouse requires no human touch after receiving
December 01, 2012 - MMH Editorial
C&S Wholesale Grocers is a New Hampshire-based company whose Newburgh, N.Y., facility distributes to 146 Stop & Shop supermarkets across New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. In 2010, it faced many challenges to lower materials handling costs and optimize logistics. The facility wanted to maintain high throughput and accuracy amid increasing SKU variability and space constraints. This resulted in increased labor costs, transportation costs and fulfillment time. After a series of robots and automated solutions transformed the conventional facility into a fully automated one, storage increased 30%.
The company worked closely with a supplier (Symbotic, formerly CasePick Systems, symbotic.com) specializing in the use of mobile autonomous robots (or rovers) to quickly sequence product from manufacturer to store shelf. Together they developed the concepts of applying robotics technology leveraging “massive parallel processing” of data to optimize storage and retrieval. The result was a successful operational system in a C&S warehouse processing millions of cases a year.
The facility now features a fully automated system for case storage, selection, de-palletizing, and palletizing of mixed-SKU orders. The system is configured to receive inbound vendor pallets comprised of single SKUs, or rainbow pallets with SKUs in layers. It also coordinates selection of cases to fulfill customer orders, which are robotically assembled into mixed SKU pallets, wrapped and labeled for truck delivery.
The facility uses a three-dimensional storage structure to use the full available cubic space of the warehouse. Cases are stored directly on shelves without trays or totes that increase cost and reduce storage density. The very high-capacity storage system uses no fixed storage locations. Instead, case storage operates like a computer disc drive by using every available space suited to each case size.
High-speed mobile robots capable of autonomous navigation throughout the storage structure use onboard sensors and mechanisms for direct handling of cases, unlike conventional tugs.
Proprietary system software automatically determines the storage and picking locations that optimize throughput rate and storage density. A key feature is the ability to maintain high throughput with cases in a desired sequence, without the need for a separate mechanical system for sorting. Exact sequencing is needed for mixed-case palletizing by robots and the loading of carts or trucks for store delivery.
Palletizing software breaks down each customer order into pallets for robotic assembly. The system prepares store-ready pallets, accounts for fragility and pallet stability, and automatically maximizes pallet density to reduce transportation costs.Unlike many traditional large-scale automation solutions, the new system is a modular and flexible storage structure that can be retrofit into any existing building. More than 200,000 cases are now stored, a more than 30% increase in the same space. The system handles up to 6,000 SKUs and up to 6,000 cases per hour between inbound and outbound. Once installed, the no-touch operation requires minimal support.