Blackwoods, Australia

Blackwoods, the largest business in Wesfarmers Industrial and Safety Division, plays a vital role in Australia’s industry, servicing sectors as diverse as mining and manufacturing through to retailing, health and education. It distributes one of the widest product ranges in Australia, despatching up to 300,000 different SKUs each year.

A key feature of its new distribution centre at Greystanes in Sydney’s western suburbs, is the first Multishuttle Goods-to-Person (GTP) order fulfilment system of its type in Australia.

“With customer expectations that are just as varied as our product range, our ongoing goal is to fulfill all customers’ workplace needs by delivering exceptional customer service and satisfaction through dynamic and innovative sales and service solutions, backed by efficient and timely distribution,” said Blackwoods’ General Manager NSW/ACT, Tony Pantilas.

“We’ve been working hard and investing in our people, technology and resources to make it easier for customers to deal with us, and by changing with and anticipating the needs of the industries we serve,” explained Mr Pantilas.

“A key facilitator in achieving our delivery promise to customers is our constantly evolving supply chain network, a central feature of which is our new distribution centre at Greystanes in Sydney, featuring the first automated GTP picking system of its type in ANZ,” he said.

Dematic Multishuttle

Dematic Multishuttle has revolutionised the storage and sequencing of totes in split-case order fulfilment. Blackwoods’ Multishuttle 2 system – the first of its type in Australia – operates at up to twice the speed of the first generation model, further increasing productivity and throughput.

The system includes two aisles, with totes stored double deep over 25 levels high. Each aisle is serviced by two elevators, one feeding totes into the aisle and one retrieving them, with each elevator capable of handling two totes at a time, doubling the throughput for every cycle of the lift.

The ultra space-efficient Dematic Multishuttle buffer storage and sequencing system stores 27,200 totes. 

To accommodate Blackwoods’ wide range of SKUs – from small nuts to large industrial fittings – dividers within the totes enables them to store two, four or eight SKUs, with the system’s 27,200 totes housing 35,000+ SKUs.

The Multishuttle system software is self-learning, and stock locations are controlled on a dynamic basis. Each time a SKU is retrieved, the system examines how often the SKU is required, and puts the tote away accordingly, with fast-moving SKUs stored towards the front of the system and slower-moving SKUs stored towards the rear. The Multishuttle is capable of supplying around 1000 totes/hour to the GTP workstations.

Stock is retrieved from the Multishuttle system and is delivered to the GTP workstations in the precise sequence required for order assembly – heavy items first, fragile items last, by family group or in whatever sequence needs dictate – ensuring very high productivity and throughput rates.

Dual-purpose Goods-to-Person (GTP) Workstations

Each GTP workstation is dual purpose, enabling Blackwoods to run some for picking and others for replenishment depending on the workload, optimising flexibility. The workstations are designed to process up to 500 picks/hour but, in practice, Blackwoods’ value-adding activities during picking can reduce the rate down to around 200 picks/hour.

Blackwoods’ GTP workstation configurations – in which a single stock tote and multiple order totes are presented to the operator – eliminate all of the time wasted travelling, locating and identifying stock, and enables multiple orders to be fulfilled concurrently.

Easy to read and use touchscreens with graphic displays of the product to be picked, optimise accuracy and productivity. 

Through the use of clear, easy-to-follow visual guides and pick-to-light displays, picking errors are virtually eliminated. An integrated weighscale also checks expected weights, further enhancing accuracy and ensuring that any errors are identified and corrected on the spot.

Staff work in parallel at multiple picking stations, unaffected by each other’s pace, and pick stations can be opened and closed according to volumes on a particular shift. The system provides full redundancy as orders can be processed at any location, with all stations operating independently.

Blackwoods GTP workstation configurations enable up to six orders to be picked concurrently. In addition, the workstations include an additional order location for processing urgent orders, such as customer pick-ups. The extra location can also be used to replenish urgently required stock to the Multishuttle storage buffer.

Orders are typically launched at the GTP workstation and after the GTP portion of the order is complete, the operator simply pushes the order tote onto a conveyor, which transports the tote through Pallet Live Storage (PLS), longspan shelving and Carton Live Storage (CLS) areas to complete the order.

SKUs not suitable for GTP

Slower-moving SKUs and goods not suitable for storage within the Multishuttle system are stored within a combination of Pallet Live Storage (PLS), longspan shelving, Carton Live Storage (CLS) and selective rack. After all the required SKUs from the GTP system have been picked into the order totes, the system’s integrated conveyor system transports the order totes to the raised storage level PLS and longspan shelving picking module, where any additional SKUs from this area are picked and added to the order tote.

Tote scanning and voice-directed picking optimises accuracy and productivity 

To ensure accuracy, the order totes are scanned and all picking in the PLS and longspan shelving picking module is voice directed. When all of the items for an order have been picked in the PLS and longspan shelving areas, the order tote is pushed onto a central take-away conveyor, which transports it to the ground level CLS picking module, where any final items required for an order are picked.

After items required from the CLS picking module have been placed into the order tote, it is pushed onto the central take-away conveyor, which transports the order tote to the DC’s conveyor sorting system, where the orders are automatically sorted to the appropriate shipping lane for checking, packing and despatch.

Integrated system software

Dematic’s PickDirector Warehouse Control Software (WCS) controls the real-time flow of the GTP workstations, as well as voice-directed picking in the PLS, longspan shelving and CLS areas. It also controls the flow of orders through the system to despatch.

Dematic’s Manager Direct & Wholesale Distribution, Darren Rawlinson, said: “Our PickDirector Warehouse Control Software integrates with Blackwoods’ WMS to provide total visibility of all picking operations within the warehouse, and provides Blackwoods with real-time system performance and order status data.”

Blackwoods GTP system performance

“The GTP system has now been in place for over four months, and we’ve been very pleased with the output,” said Tony Pantilas.

“It’s delivering to what Dematic said it would from both a pick rate and productivity perspective, and the system has also been very reliable.

Mr Pantilas added: “When we first started, we didn’t have all our products in the Multishuttle system and around 25% of our throughput was coming from the GTP system. That’s now increased to around 50% and we expect it to increase to 75% as we move more products into the GTP system.

“One of the benefits of the GTP system is that it is easy to operate,” said Mr Pantilas.

“We have had multiple people using the GTP from forklift drivers to packers. In fact all of our staff are very keen to work on the GTP. It’s easy, it’s clean, it’s safe, and it also gives them another skillset,” he said.

“Obviously there’s got to be some sort of training prior to going onto the GTP, and we have prepared a training package which explains how the system works.

“A team leader typically spends an hour or so training a new team member. It’s a very simple process and, within an hour or so, most people are comfortable and proficient with the requirements,” explained Mr Pantilas.

The new generation Multishuttle runs at twice the speed of the previous model. 

Flexibility for responsiveness and future growth

Darren Rawlinson said the major challenge Dematic faced in coming up with the most appropriate integrated order fulfilment solution for Blackwoods was the incredibly diverse range of SKUs and the very high service level it provides to its customers.

“Our system design had to be very flexible in regards to Blackwoods’ product range, provide very high levels of accuracy and also be responsive to its customers’ changing needs,” said Mr Rawlinson.

He added: “Accordingly, our Multishuttle and GTP system layout was designed with expansion in mind.

“Space has been reserved for a future aisle, which would provide 50% more storage capacity, together with additional GTP workstations to enable Blackwoods to further increase throughput.”

Blackwoods Multishuttle GTP system benefits

  • Consolidation of two DCs totalling 23,000 sqm into one new 14,000 sqm DC
  • Dematic Multishuttle providing very high productivity and throughput rates: 1000 totes/hour
  • Delivers SKUs to GTP workstations in exact sequence to optimise order assembly
  • Lighter weight, low voltage Multishuttles use less energy and provide quieter operation
  • Self-learning software controls tote put-away, constantly increasing tote retrieval efficiency
  • Improved inventory management, with ongoing checkweighing and cycle counting
  • Error-free put-away process ensures inventory accuracy, reducing stock-outs
  • Space reserved for extra aisle provides future flexibility, reduced initial investment
  • Dual-purpose GTP workstations suitable for both picking and replenishment
  • GTP system facilitates rapid picking of urgent or customer pick-up orders within 15 minutes
  • Intuitive, easy-to-learn system, with just one hour of training required for new operators
  • Aiming for 75% of all products to be handled by the GTP system with a 95% reduction in picking errors
  • GTP system provides full redundancy as orders can be processed at any location
  • Enhanced OH&S with increased separation of staff and forklifts
  • PickDirector WCS seamlessly integrates with Blackwoods’ WMS for total visibility of picking, and real-time system performance and order status data.

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