With a family of iconic brands including Bonds, Holeproof, Jockey, Berlei, Hard Yakka, King Gee, Clarks, Hush Puppies, Tontine and Sheridan, Pacific Brands is one of Australia’s leading clothing, footwear and homewares distributors.
Supply chain initiatives
One element of this transformation program was the Greenfield development of a national distribution center supporting the major underwear and apparel brands within the Pacific Brands stable.
“As part of reviewing our capabilities we realized that our supply chain network had become very fragmented,” said Pacific Brands General Manager Logistics, David Miller.
“Pacific Brands identified that significant supply chain and customer service benefits could be achieved by consolidation, initially of a number of Victorian operations and then eventually incorporating tasks from the New South Wales DCs as well.”
Key selection criteria when evaluating potential locations for the new DC for Victoria included proximity to suitable road, rail and air infrastructure; with Pacific Brands opting for an 8 ha site in the Wyndham Industrial Estate at Truganina in Melbourne’s Western Suburbs. Pacific Brands appointed Dematic as the ideal partner to assist with the design of the new DC internal infrastructure and implementation of leading edge order fulfillment technologies.
Implementing a new national DC
Distribution at the new 42,000 sqm DC has been progressively ramped up since commencing operations in December 2011.
“Our strategy was to stagger the relocation of the various brands into the DC over a six month period, so that we had sufficient time to bed each business down before moving on to the next,” said Mr Miller.
“The first was Brand Collective, which distributes leading fashion labels including Mossimo, Stussy and SuperDry. We started transferring stock into Truganina in the last half of November 2011, and began picking and shipping orders on December 5th, 2011.
“Some people had transferred from other parts of the business, but the majority working in the DC today were new to Pacific Brands, and many were completely new to distribution,” said Mr Miller.
“Staggering the implementation gave us a great opportunity to train our people and get them used to the new systems, technologies and processes, and to identify and sort out any problems we discovered along the way.
“After Brand Collective was established at Truganina, we progressively brought the remaining Victorian operations of Holeproof, Jockey, Hosiery and Bonds Socks into the DC. With the new DC up and running, we then decided to integrate Bonds and Berlei from NSW, with Berlei being the last to be integrated in July 2012.”
Flexibility a key driver in DC design
When Pacific Brands and Dematic started working on the integrated logistics solution for the DC, flexibility was a key driver.
“When you are distributing a diverse range of brands with different order profiles and lifecycles, it is essential to have flexible order fulfillment systems, which can be easily ramped up to meet peak seasonal and promotional demand requirements,” explained Mr Miller.
“Flexibility is also critical to ensure the systems respond effectively to changing market demands.
“Since we started working on the project, like many other suppliers to the retail industry, Pacific Brands has experienced a shift in customer buying habits,” he added.
“The rapid growth of online shopping, in particular, means we now have to pick and pack an increasing number of orders for single line items.
“Larger customers are also ordering smaller quantities of goods, more frequently.
“To cost-effectively process such orders requires a flexible approach to order fulfillment, and this was one of the main reasons we implemented voice picking as our key order picking technology,” he said.
Why voice picking is the best fit for Pacific Brands
Pacific Brands had prior experience with Put-to-Light (PTL) directed trolleys. While they provided high accuracy and productivity, their operation required comprehensive training and experience before users were capable of performing at optimal levels.
Voice-directed computing, on the other hand, is very intuitive and easy to learn.
“Because the system records a voice template for every individual user, it doesn’t matter if the user has a strong accent, which is important as we employ a lot of people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds,” said Mr Miller.“Training people to use voice is also very straightforward, with many operators up and running within a few hours,” he said.
A significant advantage of voice-directed computing for order picking is that it leaves the user’s hands and eyes free at all times.
This makes handling and picking goods of all shapes and sizes faster and safer, with the technology also delivering productivity, accuracy and OH&S benefits.
Because their hands are free, it allows users to lift and handle boxes naturally, which delivers manual handling and safety benefits. Voice also eliminates the repetitive hand movements involved in using RF terminals.
The comparatively low cost of equipping a user with a voice terminal and a simple trolley for assembling orders is less than 20% of that required for a comparable PTL-directed trolley.
This makes the financial decision to add extra voice-enabled trolleys an easy one when order volumes increase.
Cluster Picking with voice-enabled trolleys
Operators with Voice Terminals cluster pick up to eight work assignments at a time using the Voice Trolleys, optimizing picking productivity, accuracy and throughput.
Each of the eight work assignments on the trolley is identified with a barcoded label, with the operator scanning each of the eight work assignments to initiate cluster picking for that group of assignments.
Dematic’s PickDirector directs the operator to pick all of the goods required for the eight work assignments on the trolley, and instructs them to ‘put’ the required quantity for each order to the relevant carton or tote on the trolley. The cluster picking process continues for each new product required to fulfill the batch of eight work assignments, until all goods for the work assignments have been picked.
When a cluster is complete, the cartons/totes are placed onto the conveyor system, which transports them to dispatch.
Smart integrated conveyor system
The backbone of the DC is its integrated conveyor system, which transports cartons/totes throughout the facility, including the 5,400 sqm raised storage area.
The conveyor system includes 32 discrete carton live storage zones and four large trolley zones, with the smart zone-skipping system only delivering orders to those areas where goods are required.
Pacific Brands currently uses two sizes of cartons and satchels in totes for all split-case order fulfillment.
Barcoded ID labels containing work assignment details are automatically applied to cartons as they are inducted onto the conveyor system. For totes, the license plate is scanned to link a tote number to a specific work assignment.
As goods are picked, the work assignment is returned to the conveyor system, which transports the carton or tote to the next location where goods are required, until the work assignment is completed.
When the last item for an assignment has been picked, the carton/tote is transported by conveyor to the DC’s 10 lane sortation area. Cartons are automatically sealed prior to being transported to the sortation system, which diverts them down the appropriate dispatch lane for order consolidation and palletizing.
Creating 50,000+ faces to pick
At 42,000 sqm, the Pacific Brands DC is large by any standard, however, between them, the seven brands serviced by the DC require more than 50,000 pick face locations.
Pas Tomasiello, Head of Integrated Logistics Systems at Dematic ANZ, said: “A significant challenge with this project was creating the necessary number of pick face locations for split-case order fulfillment.
“We quite simply couldn’t fit the number of pick face locations we required within the available floor space.
“Our solution was to use a large part of the airspace above the ground floor picking modules, and to carefully segment the pick face into a series of 32 discrete carton live storage zones and four large voice trolley zones, to minimize congestion at the pick face.”
Large mezzanine raises storage capacity
By including the 5,400 sqm raised storage area, the business was able to create several thousand more pick face locations.
Half of the mezzanine is a rack-supported ‘catwalk’ system, with the racking uprights from the lower level continuing up through the mezzanine floor, creating a mirror image of the long-span shelving below.
The other half of the mezzanine is standard ‘dance floor’ configuration, with the upper level completely independent of the ground floor layout.
“Because it is typically a very lightweight product, apparel really lends itself to being stored on mezzanine floors, and this is one of the largest Dematic has ever built,” added Mr Tomasiello.
A conveyor links the ground floor and mezzanine picking areas, automatically transporting orders through the various picking zones until all required items for an order have been picked.
Space-efficient storage systems
Dematic’s storage system design optimizes space efficiency and safety.
To minimize the potential for rack damage, all ground floor pallet locations serviced by forklifts are equipped with Colby Protect-a-RACK upright and end-of-aisle rack protection.
Space efficiency in the high-rise reserve storage area is enhanced with the use of narrow aisle racking, serviced by a combination of wire-guided Jungheinrich Stock Pickers and Turret Trucks.
Carton live storage is used to house the DC’s fastest moving SKUs within ground floor and mezzanine level pick modules serviced by the integrated conveyor system, with the remainder of the DC’s SKUs stored in space-efficient long-span shelving.
The long span shelving system features the first application of Dematic’s new ColbyRACK Step Beam. This enables the leading edge of wire mesh decks to be retained within the beam profile, rather than cascading over the edge of the beam.
Dynamic Slot Area and managing stock churn
To save the DC from having to put-away pallet loads of high volume stock that is required for orders, Dematic’s DC design includes a Dynamic Slot Area where up to 150 pallets of goods can be placed on labelled locations on the DC’s floor.
Stock required for orders is then picked directly from the pallet.
The short sales lifecycle nature of much of the clothing business, particularly fashion items, combined with seasonality, means Pacific Brands has to manage a high and dynamic stock churn rate.
“The information we get from our ERP warehouse management system and Dematic’s PickDirector makes sure we always have sufficient stock for orders available where and when we need it,” said Mr Miller.
“We have a permanent team dedicated to slotting product, with RF-directed equipment used for re-stocking and putting goods away.”
Integrated order management
Order picking is managed by Dematic’s PickDirector Order Fulfillment Software. PickDirector interfaces with Pacific Brands in-house warehouse ERP management system and provides Pacific Brands with a real-time paperless picking solution, plus additional tools to optimize and manage the operation more efficiently.
These include PickDirector Workload Analysis, which provides an overview of picking activity in each zone, and Productivity Analysis, which provides pick rates for individual pickers, zones or areas within the DC.
All packaging materials are recycled and, where possible, empty stock cartons are reused as order shippers.
Fire protection is provided by an ESFR sprinkler system, with water from the DC’s massive roof recycled for use in the system.
Energy-efficiency at the DC is optimized through the use of daylight harvesting with lux sensors automatically adjusting the level of lighting depending on ambient lighting levels, smart battery-charging systems for the electric forklift fleet, and an intelligent conveyor system which only runs when it is required.
Seasonal and promotional variations can have a huge effect on the volume of work passing through the DC at any given time. That is why Pacific Brands made flexibility and scalability a key driver in the DC design and operations.
“Automation has its place, but it also has very distinct limitations. For our style of dynamic operation, we believe the smartest logistics solution is one that can be scaled up or down to suit the required workload.
“And that is one of the main reasons why we have implemented voice-directed picking as the optimum solution for Pacific Brands distribution. Increasing our throughput handling capacity is as easy as putting an extra team onto voice-enabled trolleys,” said Mr Miller.
“To date, our best day yet from an output perspective was in the order of 142,000 handling units when we managed to pick, pack and ship these units over two shifts. This is three times the output we were achieving some three months prior. We are very happy with the distribution systems, and look forward to continuing to enhance their operation as we work out ways to leverage the technologies and systems even further.”
- Size: 42,000 sqm
- Pallet storage: 22,648 locations
- High Rise Storage: 15,364 locations
- Mezzanine Floor: 5,400 sqm
- Pick face locations: 55,000+
- Carton Capacity: 800,000+