Automation delivers an increased throughput of 344% per worker.
Lawrence Railton, Managing Director, AS Colour
The Multishuttle GTP system has been a game changer for our business, and we’ve actually seen a big increase in sales in New Zealand as a result of having it in place because our customers see how fast and accurately we get their orders to them.
AS Colour is a designer, manufacturer and distributor of premium apparel, operating as a wholesaler and retailer in New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., and the United States. Starting out in New Zealand in 2005 as a supplier of quality blank apparel for sportswear, the music industry, events merchandise, and company promotional wear, AS Colour now operates from five warehouses in Auckland, Melbourne, Los Angeles, North Carolina, and Leighton Buzzard (Bedfordshire, U.K.) plus 25 retail stores across New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K.
AS Colour embarked on a strategy to support the company’s expected growth over the next decade. This transformation included more efficient warehouse operations, improved environmental performance, and greater supply chain resilience.
The Previous Manual Warehouse
In its previous Auckland distribution centre (DC), AS Colour used manual processes to pick orders, which involved RF technology used in conjunction with trolleys. This saw warehouse workers walking up and down aisles searching for products, scanning the location with an RF device, picking it, placing it in a trolley, and then walking it to the dispatch area for packing. At the same time, stock was also being replenished in the aisles with forklifts and other equipment.
Using these manual processes, AS Colour was continually struggling to get all the necessary orders fulfilled within the working day.
“In a conventional warehouse environment with manual processes, there is a significant amount of time wasted by workers. This includes a lot of time spent travelling up and down the aisles and to dispatch, as well as tracking down the exact location of products needed to fulfil orders, putting down hardware like RF devices to pick products, and then having to pick them up again,” explained Seth van Dijk, Business Development Manager, Dematic.
“Manual workflows can also reduce safety and accuracy in the DC. Whenever there are warehouse workers and materials handling equipment such as forklifts in the same zone it brings in an extra level of risk. And when workers are having to find the picking location, scan, and then look away to put down their RF device, there can be errors by picking the wrong item.”
Automation Fit for the New Warehouse
As part of its strategy to support future growth and after outgrowing its previous warehouse, AS Colour built a brand new 7,500 square metre DC in Auckland, which is also the company’s head office.
“Due to the growth of AS Colour over the last 5–10 years, we have outgrown many distribution facilities. So, we started looking at a new facility for New Zealand to keep up with the rising demand. That led us to purchase the land and build a brand-new facility, which was focused on the automation that we put in this building,” said Lawrence Railton, Managing Director, AS Colour.
A key automation feature of the new DC was the deployment of the Dematic Multishuttle® Goods-to-Person (GTP) system to help drive operational efficiencies and reduce the overall size and power requirements of its warehouse. AS Colour was the first company to install the Dematic Multishuttle GTP system in the New Zealand market.
“We upgraded to a new DC to support the future growth of our business and to enable automation of our operations so that we could move from a traditional pick and pack facility to the future. This transformation has future-proofed us for where we aspire to be and where we project the business is heading,” said Justin Carnaby, Head of Logistics, AS Colour.
Acting as a compact, high-throughput automated storage and picking system, the Dematic Multishuttle GTP features high-density tote storage and sequenced order picking for better productivity. It is capable of processing varied order types, including small E-commerce orders, medium, and large B2B orders, as well as retail store fulfilment.
The modular, scalable Multishuttle is 18 levels high and consists of two aisles storing just under 20,000 totes, with additional capacity built in for projected future growth. AS Colour delivers both the order tote and the product tote from the Multishuttle to four high-speed GTP workstations where warehouse workers pick items from product totes and places them in order totes, which are then conveyed to a dispatch sortation system for packing. Totes are then returned by conveyors and elevators to the Multishuttle to be used for further orders.
“The Multishuttle GTP has brought a lot more structure, order, and tidiness to our DC. In our previous facility, we didn’t know where staff were or what volume of orders might come in at any time. With the new system we know we will have a steady flow of orders without spikes in volume, which is key to maintaining a smooth flow in our business,” said Railton.
The New System Rollout
"It’s always an extra challenge not only deploying a large Multishuttle GTP system but integrating it within a brand-new warehouse build. The collaboration we undertook with AS Colour and other contractors working on the new build was paramount to the success of the project,” said van Dijk.
The Multishuttle GTP was integrated as the final piece of the new DC building, then the system was configured to meet the unique requirements of AS Colour. Dematic was on call 24/7 during the go live period.
“The implementation of the system was straightforward. The Dematic team were there side-by-side with us the whole way through, and they provided a lot of support to get the system up and running,” said Carnaby. “The automation has been easy to adapt to from both the perspective of the workers and the management teams. The systems and the training guides that Dematic supplied were fit for purpose and easy to understand.”
The Benefits of Automation for AS Colour
For AS Colour, the Multishuttle GTP system delivers superior high-density storage buffering, meaning that the company can store much more within the warehouse building cube than it would have been able to within a conventional warehouse environment.
The GTP picking workstations allow warehouse workers to receive and pick products, which eliminates their travel within the warehouse and leads to high levels of productivity and efficiency in the order fulfilment processes.
The system stores 8,000 SKUs, and the throughput is 5,000 lines per day (6 am–5 pm) over the six days a week the DC operates, with the capability to process 8,000+ lines per day. In the previous DC, the cycle counts achieved per month were 2,700, and in the new DC, this has dramatically increased to 13,000 cycle counts per month.
“Land has become very expensive in New Zealand, so we had a goal of reducing the size of the building we needed. By helping us to achieve a smaller warehouse footprint at the new Auckland warehouse, the Dematic solution reduced our construction costs by about 30%,” said Railton. “Additionally, we’ve been able to increase our product storage capacity by about 35%, which has brought in more revenue and given us a buffer from any supply chain issues.”
For AS Colour the introduction of automation has increased throughput per worker by 344% from an average of 45 lines per hour to an average of over 200 lines per hour. Other benefits include decreased labour costs plus a vast improvement in order accuracy, which reduces the number of unnecessary customer returns and leads to greater customer satisfaction.
“Key customer expectations for our business are that customers need their orders very quickly and accurately, so for instance, if there's a mistake in the quantity that's sent to them, that causes a lot of delays for our customers,” said Railton. “With our new automated supply chain facility what differentiates us is the speed, efficiency, and accuracy with which we’re able to get orders to customers. Today we can start picking online orders within 30 minutes of the order being received and have them packed and out the door within a few hours.”
“The Multishuttle GTP system has been a game changer for our business, and we’ve actually seen a big increase in sales in New Zealand as a result of having it in place because our customers see how fast and accurately we get their orders to them.”
The Dematic solution has removed the need for any workers to be travelling within warehouse aisles alongside materials handling equipment, which has drastically increased safety on the warehouse floor.
The Multishuttle GTP system now automatically conducts product audits in real-time as warehouse workers make picks, ensuring stock integrity in the warehouse at all times, which is a big improvement on the previous process where every two to three months AS Colour conducted manual cycle counting.
Another big goal for AS Colour was to completely remove single-use plastic from its supply chain.
“Traditionally apparel is packaged in plastics or paper, but what’s quite unique to AS Colour is the fact that they store the product loose and unpackaged within totes, which is the final package that is shipped to customers. This means it’s a more sustainable approach, which we’re very pleased the Dematic Multishuttle GTP system is able to facilitate by keeping the product clean and tidy,” said van Dijk.
The Dematic Warehouse Control System software has given AS Colour a high level of visibility to its operations, allowing them to analyse processes and make ongoing improvements.
“Automation has helped management immensely. It's enabled us to really hone in on where our process flow improvements needed to happen, and it's given us a much greater level of visibility of our operations,” said Carnaby. “It’s also really helped the workers by making their work much more interesting. They get to operate in a modern, worker-friendly environment, and they feel really engaged with what they're doing here at the Auckland DC.”
AS Colour additionally deployed Extreme Networks’ Cloud-Enabled Wi-Fi 6 solution to improve mobile device connectivity and efficiency within the warehouse, with the help of Dematic as its technology partner. The solution provides AS Colour with a robust, high-capacity, high-efficiency Wi-Fi 6 network to operate seamlessly in a challenging warehouse environment, handling large amounts of data transmitted between mobile devices and AS Colours’ backend systems.
A Long-term Automation Partnership
With the integration of an advanced automated warehouse solution, AS Colour has been able to distinguish itself with the highest level of speed and accuracy in a highly competitive retail market. The high-quality fit, fabric, and finish of AS Colour’s garments is now supported by the efficiency of its automated supply chain and distribution operations.
Dematic continues to work closely with AS Colour to maintain and service the system regularly, as well as ensure it is optimised and improved wherever possible so the company can get the most out of it.
“It was really important to us that Dematic had a local support team in New Zealand, as many suppliers don’t. When the whole business relies on the Multishuttle GTP system, it’s vital to be able to seek support and fix problems really quickly, and with Dematic we can be confident that their technicians will come out as soon as possible, which is often only half an hour away,” said Railton.
“Dematic has been a really strong technology partner, helping us from a global perspective, and we see this as a long-term partnership as we continue to expand as a business in the future.”