Leading Swiss retailer Coop has implemented a compact, six-aisle Dematic Multishuttle system in Bern for the precisely sequenced picking and despatch of meat, dairy and ultra-fresh products to its network of 135 sales outlets. From afternoon till early morning, the Multishuttle is continually retrieving trays of yoghurt, meat, pasta and sandwiches, which are then loaded for delivery to stores by an automated rolling container loading system.
Previously in Coop's Bern distribution centre, goods from the ultra-fresh section - products with a use-by date of less than three days - were manually picked and loaded into the rolling containers in the evenings from 6 pm to around midnight, and the meat section from midnight to 10 am in the morning. Personnel levels for this labour-intensive task were high and, with order assembly taking place within a cold storage environment, unpleasant for the staff.
The challenge was to come up with an automated solution that would fit within the 30 year old DC, which had a low ceiling height of just 4.8 m. The variety of different pack types and sizes and the need to continue deliveries to the sales outlets during the testing and commissioning phase, was another significant challenge to the implementation partners.
Space-efficient integrated system solution
Dematic's integrated system solution comprises an automatic depalletiser, a six-aisle Multishuttle warehouse with 54 shuttles for the storage and sequential removal of trays, as well as a station for the automated stacking and loading of the rolling containers, with individual sections of the system connected by conveyors.
Initially the system for the 1,700 m2 area was set up for processing Coop's ultra-fresh and meat products.
The ability to also process its milk products via the Multishuttle system has further improved system utilisation and efficiency.
The product ranges are complementary, as the dairy products do not need to be picked until the afternoon.
This means the system's return on investment will be significantly shorter, even though the Multishuttle system needed to be larger.
To make optimal use of space and to be able to equip all six aisles of the Multishuttle with nine levels, Coop installed low profile ventilation ducts in-house. This provided sufficient headroom for a 33 m long by 4.5 m high Multishuttle system with 6,500 storage spaces for double-deep storage of 600 x 400 mm size trays.
Order picking and assembly
In the incoming goods section are two feed points - one for automatic unloading of pallets and one for rolling containers. Installed in direct proximity to this is a manual infeed for products which cannot be palletised, placed into storage or identified.
The rolling containers reach the depalletising station via a chain conveyor, with a buffer station for a maximum of three further trolleys. Here, a gantry robot receives the goods, initially in stacked form, before a transfer forklift deposits the individual layers onto the conveyor, where the packs are separated.
Whether the articles are depalletised in one or two layers depends on their weight as well as the pack type, and the resulting height of the two-layer pack.
To fill the Dematic Multishuttle warehouse optimally, the system strives, where appropriate, to place the articles into storage stacked up to six deep. In this process, every storage compartment is assigned only the articles or goods that are intended for the same outlet.
Despatch order processing
From 3 pm, outward storage movements are initiated for the dairy products, with the Multishuttle system simultaneously feeding three outgoing goods levels, each equipped with a packing forklift and a rolling container loading station. Rolling containers are loaded complete and in sequence for each level.
The high performance of the Multishuttle system permits the loading sequence in which the articles are to be packed onto the rolling containers to be created directly on the transfer runs.
This means that no downstream technology is required for sequencing. This simplifies the process, saves space, and any errors can be more easily rectified so that only packs for the same rolling container are transported on a line.
The final rolling container loading is then processed via a vertical storage pack forklift for each outgoing goods section and a pusher that slides the stack onto the rolling container. An employee then secures the rolling container with a lashing strap and pulls it off the conveyor.
The system, refrigerated continuously to between 3 and 5 °C, has been in full operation since May 2012. Its operation is controlled by Dematic's Warehouse Management System (WMS), which is interfaced to Coop's ERP system.
During the construction phase, Coop temporarily transferred the crossdocking process for meat goods into a nearby building. The high turnover, ultra-fresh product range was the first to be loaded into the system, followed by Coop’s meat products. In the third and final phase of the commissioning process, dairy products were inducted into the system.
Flexibility and high throughput rates
The system offers considerable flexibility - this means that changes can be made quickly and easily.
This was of benefit to Coop during the commissioning phase. Each of the three outgoing goods areas can carry out 800 movements an hour.
With a stacking factor of 1.5, the system has an output of 3,600 trays per hour.
The Multishuttle system achieves the best output levels when things are really buzzing in the DC. In daily operation, it has been shown that when the volume increases, the stacking factor and throughput rates also increase without additional personnel being required.
This means that on quiet days, Coop has a stacking factor of 1.1 or 1.2 and, on busy days, such as Fridays, a stacking factor of 1.5 or even 1.7.
The experience that Coop was able to gain from this automation project has been very important for further restructuring processes and commissioning projects in its other distribution facilities in Switzerland.
Commenting on the project, Domenico Repetto, Head of the Bern Logistics Region at Coop, said: "After checking the proposals we compared the solutions from the various logistics automation suppliers and, in Dematic, we ultimately found a partner who was able to handle the project despite the DCs ceiling height limitation."