Dematic implemented a world-first integrated system to automate the order picking and palletising of fruit and vegetables at Netto’s distribution centre in Køge, Denmark, around 30 kilometres south of Copenhagen.
More than 70% of order pallets are now picked and palletised automatically in the Danish supermarket chain’s central fresh goods handling warehouse.
Project highlights include:
- 15 cells containing palletising robots with new gripper systems for fully automated pallet picking, packing and palletising
- Integrated conveyor systems
- A manual pick-by-voice order picking area
- Order processing times of less than 30 minutes.
Automating fresh produce distribution
In the fresh produce sector, an efficient supply chain and one-touch handling are essential.
Netto’s integrated system incorporates completely new logistics technologies, high-performance robots and sophisticated software, facilitating fast one-touch handling, and minimising the potential for product damage during order assembly.
Denmark’s strict work safety regulations
A key driver for the project design is the fact that Denmark has some of the strictest work safety regulations in the world. These regulate, among other things, how much weight an employee can lift in total per shift, and up to what height goods can be accessed. Scissor-lift tables used to raise and lower pallets are therefore a typical feature in Danish logistics centres.
Goods receipt at Netto’s Køge DC
All fresh produce is delivered to the Køge DC on pallets stacked up to 2.30 metres high. After docking, incoming goods pallets are transferred to a roller conveyor or for allocation to the manual pick-by-voice order assembly area.
The conveyor system distributes incoming goods pallets onto a conveyor. Four in-feed conveyors transport the pallets to one of the 15 robot cells. The conveyor lanes are both feed and return paths and each lane carries single SKU pallets.
Order picking and palletising
When the stock pallets are fed into one side of the cell, the robot picks up one or two of the handling units (banana-boxes, fruit and vegetables in open plastic crates or cartons with a base of 600 x 400 mm) according to the settings in the IT system, so in one operation, it’s either a quarter or a half pallet layer that the robot picks and places onto order pallets with each pick.
Dematic’s Warehouse Control System (WCS) specifies any restrictions for pallet formation including weight and optimum volume utilisation.
A separate empty pallet circulation system was installed for the required empty pallets for order assembly. This pool consists largely of the empty incoming goods pallets, and the robots are equipped with an integrated pallet-gripping device for this purpose.
There are 15 robot cells in the Køge DC, each capable of picking from up to five SKUs at a time, which means that up to 75 product groups can be picked concurrently. Online buffer storage capacity at each pallet in-feed lane means there is no need for circulation or overflow paths for in-feed sequencing. This means orders can be picked in batches in the robot cells, one after the other.
Order management and control
Dematic’s WCS controls the inward goods deliveries, optimises conveyor routing and picking and palletising within the 15 robot cells.
Pallets are always built on the basis of a maximum of 28 different packs – in the worst case scenario, this means a maximum of four stops between the empty pallet and completed shipping pallet to the robot cells.
With the robot’s new gripper head technology, it’s possible to handle five SKUs on all 15 robot cells and, by placing fast moving items on more robot cells, Netto also has redundancy built into the system.
Pallet stretchwrapping and despatch
Completed order pallets in the robot cells are removed automatically by the pallet stacking rack systems via one of two roller conveyors connected at multiple points in the outgoing goods handling direction. In this process, the twin-track conveyor line is used both for loading and unloading the robot cells. Empty incoming goods pallets are picked up by the robots and transferred to the empty pallet conveyor line for ongoing use.
The final highlight of the innovative system design is the outgoing goods handling system, located on the second level. Here completed pallets are fed to a temporary storage location in their stacking racks on the roller conveyor tracks.
In an exact, predefined position underneath the outgoing goods handling system, a lift raises completed pallets out of their pallet stacking guides, up onto the second level, where the pallet is automatically stretchwrapped before being directed to despatch.
Innovative new technologies from Dematic
Manual pick-by-voice order assembly
Around 50 SKUs are handled in the manual Pick-by-Voice area. Dematic provided the entire communication structure, in addition to IT hardware such as application and database servers, and operational equipment including headsets, scanners, data terminals and PCs.
Integrated IT systems and software
The complex operating processes at Netto can only be optimised through a range of algorithms used by Dematic’s innovative software. Dematic’s IT system also automatically handles empty pallet management, calculates the order processing priorities and more in real-time, provides the optimum load equalisation between automated and manual picking by order profile, and supplies printers with the necessary label printing information.
In addition to the fast, optimised handling processes, the system has provided Netto with additional free space for despatch preparation and provides scope for further increases in incoming goods and throughput.
- Integrated, automated priority-led pallet formation
- Ergonomic design meets Danish OH&S rules
- Order pallets with fresh fruit and vegetables automatically assembled in under 30 minutes
- Optimum weight and volume utilisation through Dematic WCS specifications for pallet formation
- Compact design provides additional space for despatch preparation plus options for further improving incoming goods and despatch
- Single source system and IT design and supply, supported by a resident service contract