Sub-zero Supply Chain Optimisation with Automated Meat Storage & Handling
John Hart, Owner of John Dee, Warwick
The system helps John Dee to set ourselves apart in an increasingly competitive global market. The streamlined, more efficient process delivering a pristine premium product with full-track-and-trace capability, ensures that John Dee is internationally more competitive.
John Dee is a family-owned Australian company with four generations of experience in producing and selling outstanding beef products that are enjoyed by thousands of customers nationwide and around the world.
Since 1939, the Hart family has established a reputation for quality and service in the beef processing industry. The John Dee brand has a 100 percent commitment to quality and consistency which has been the philosophy of the company since its establishment.
“We've been a beef processor in Warwick since 1945 and today we’ve transformed into a full-blown beef export and processing operation,” explains John Hart, Owner of John Dee, Warwick. “In the early days we sold full sets of meat parts, whereas today we break them up and send different components to Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, the EU, and America.”
John Dee’s processing plant is located in Warwick, Queensland, which is situated on the Darling Downs, just two hours from the port of Brisbane with ready access to prime Southern Downs and New England Tableland cattle.
“The Warwick facility supplies thousands of varieties of beef cuts to more than 145 customers in over 37 export markets, and those numbers are only growing. Our recent expansion of our Warwick facility is the largest single investment in the company’s almost 80-year history and supports our business growth and competitiveness during a time when beef exports are rising significantly,” says John.
Manual operations were no longer fit-for-purpose
In recent years, John Dee experienced large growth in demand, particularly from export markets, which meant the company had reached a point where it had exceeded its previous storage capacity and operations were too complex for manual handling.
“Meat processing creates a unique scenario, which is very different to many other manufacturing processes,” explains Soeren Schauki, Business Development Manager at Dematic. “The elements that set it apart and led to challenges include the fact that there is essentially a random release of product from manufacturing, which is due to the nature of meat manufacturing involving a mixture of cuts and codes that arrive from production. With one carton of one product released at one time and some products produced in very low quantities, manually processing cartons to orders creates significant challenges around tracking, accuracy, speed, and safety.”
Manual processing was causing inefficient procedures which involved double and triple handling of products, unable to absorb the normal fluctuations in John Dee’s production as efficiently as automation could. There was also a lack of visibility and limited tracking of product flow from production to dispatch. All this combined resulted in longer order processing times.
“With the way we’re operating today, trying to get product into the right place at the right time, it's becoming almost impossible to do it by hand,” says John. “The challenges we faced in our previous manual operation was having people that understood all the product codes and then having to pick by hand out of a cold store. With over 10,000 cartons being produced a day, it became a logistical nightmare. We could lose a thousand cartons a year that would go out of date because they couldn't be located.”
The upgrade journey
It was clear that John Dee required a facility upgrade that could deliver increased efficiencies, productivity, and visibility. John Dee turned to project partner Wiley and automation solution provider Dematic — investing in systems that would work best for the company’s unique facility and operations.
“We started the project approximately five years ago, from early concepts, lines on a piece of paper, to a working system, and having a deep understanding of the challenges and problems that John Dee were facing,” says Soeren.
To ensure the success of the project, the upgrade journey was multi-staged and included:
- Analysis: an initial analysis of John Dee’s current business, future requirements, and the expected evolution and growth of the business. This was then translated into overall requirements and material flows.
- Design level: the analysis information was used to establish a design level that was uniquely tailored to John Dee’s business.
- Develop alternatives: various design concepts were developed.
- Solution development: a solution was developed together with John Dee, with further elements added to fine-tune the solution to be exactly what the business needed now and in the future.
“The significant challenge was the seamless integration between the automated solution and the building. It was designed inside-out, starting with the automation solution, and tailoring the building to wrap around it. A sophisticated automated conveyor bridge flawlessly integrates the new elements with the existing facility,” explains Suzie Wiley, Managing Director at Wiley.
“The design process had to overcome site constraints like accommodating truck access on a sloping block, ample space for parking and cattle yards, and flood-proofing. Faced with all these challenges Wiley and Dematic delivered this project without any disruption to John Dee's operations."
Optimisation through automation
The Dematic Multishuttle® Meat Buffer Storage and Handling System was chosen as the ultimate solution for John Dee’s needs, as it was capable of automating and streamlining operations in sub-zero conditions, while also meeting growth in customer demand.
“Based on Dematic’s Multishuttle Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS), the solution has been deployed by meat processors in refrigerated environments in ANZ and around the globe,” says Soeren. “The automated solution not only optimises facility operations but also provides better workplace safety by overcoming the challenges associated with working in harsh temperatures.”
The four-aisle, 30-level Dematic Multishuttle solution automatically stores product cartons coming out of production and builds and sequences the cartons for automated palletisation and direct container loading. Two aisles manage products chilled to -1°C and the other aisles two manage products frozen at -20°C, which reduces reliance on staff to build and lift heavy cartons in these harsh environments.
“Key to the success of the Multishuttle is that each individual carton is accessible, which is fully controlled by the Dematic Warehouse Control System (WCS). The shuttle works as a buffer, as a storage device, as a sequencer, as a sorter, which allows operational flexibility to build customer orders, but also with very high throughput capability. It's a jack-of-all-trades,” adds Soeren.
The solution is purpose-designed to enable John Dee to scale up and increase its premium beef export market share. One of the frozen Multishuttle aisles can also be switched to chilled in response to anticipated future growth and advancements in cold supply chain export markets across Asia.
“In working with Dematic for this project, we were able to ensure that we were working with a system that was able to adapt and cater for the future growth of John Dee, with the ability to increase productivity to match significant surges in demand, whilst also providing improved worker safety,” says John.
Results from day one
For John Dee, the Dematic Multishuttle Meat Buffer Storage and Handling System has greatly improved operational efficiency, productivity, transparency, and order precision, as well as addressed the needs of an increasingly complex supply chain.
“Our advanced Multishuttle system provides a high performance, accurate, safe and cost-effective automated order fulfilment and despatch processing solution for Australia’s meat industry, and we are very excited to see John Dee reaping the many benefits at their Warwick facility,” says Soeren.
“Once the system was built, it was completely operational at full speed on day one and the throughput of this system is unmatched,” adds Soeren.
The Multishuttle solution provides companies like John Dee a range of advantages over post-production manual distribution and despatch, with multiple aisles for both chilled and frozen environments. The system allows flexibility when catering for capacity variation demand by different markets. These features are beneficial when exporting products to markets where the cold supply chain is anticipated to mature and expand over the next few years, particularly in export markets such as China, Vietnam, and greater Southeast Asia.
John Dee’s Multishuttle system working in conjunction with Dematic’s WCS offers full track and trace, where each individual carton is followed throughout the supply chain, meaning that losing product is no longer possible. The WCS also controls the storage duration of all cartons, so that John Dee can set the time each carton can remain in the system. This also helps to improve the shelf life of meat product by making it available earlier and ensuring cold chain compliance is maintained.
A system built for the future
John Dee’s Multishuttle system offers a high level of flexibility. This includes being capable of future changes – such as temperature, codes, order profile and assembly and loading method. It is equipped to meet peaks and surges in demand and has unlimited order assembly flexibility where there are no restrictions on which carton ends up on which pallet. The Dematic software can incorporate a wide variety of different carton retrieval scenarios based on orders, complete sets or by code. The system can now seamlessly accommodate the requirements of varied and frequently changing customer orders. Finally, the system is modular and if required can be easily expanded in the future by scaling up with additional aisles, or the addition of a pallet storage system.
“Through designing the Multishuttle system with flexibility in mind from every angle, we have ensured that the system is well equipped to support John Dee’s operation for many years to come,” adds Soeren.
Following implementation of the new system, John Dee has been able to reduce its reliance on labour, which in a tight labour market, has become difficult to source for harsh cold storage facilities. In doing so, John Dee has lessened the occupational health and safety issues associated with having several employees working in a cold storage environment.
“The system has inbuilt redundancy and if one shuttle requires maintenance, the rest of the system can still operate,” explains Soeren.
Dematic has a residential service person on site at John Dee to ensure the optimal running and uptime of the system. They are on hand for any system requirements, such as replacing shuttles within 15 to 20 minutes.
Delivering Global Competitiveness
The Dematic Multishuttle Meat Buffer Storage and Handling System is capable of meeting John Dee’s requirements and growth trajectory today and well into the future, and the company continues to shape the system to best suit its operations.
The great success of the project is reflected internally by John Dee as a business as well as externally.
“We're very proud to see the whole thing function and see how our staff are getting such a benefit out of it as well. There’s also been a lot of interest from other parties in Australia, and we’ve even had people from overseas come and have a look at it. The system helps John Dee to set ourselves apart in an increasingly competitive global market. Through a streamlined, more efficient process delivering a pristine premium product with full-track-and-trace capability, the Dematic system ensures that John Dee is internationally more competitive in offering our high-quality product to global markets.” concludes John Hart.