New automation for slow movers

A new and interesting automation solution for slow velocity products

One of the greatest challenges to operating a grocery distribution centre is the requirement to manage a continuously increasing assortment of products. This challenge impacts all departments including grocery, dairy, deli, produce, meat and frozen food.  Take a moment and think about all of the healthy and organic food choices that we now have at the supermarket. All of these new products have to be supplied through traditional distribution channels to support the stores. As such, grocery supermarket companies are constantly under pressure to add more products within their distribution centres.

Unlike Europe, within North America, the vast majority of grocery retailers and wholesalers operate conventional distribution centres. This means that products are handled within the warehouse using people, pallet jacks and forklift trucks for the most part. In this type of operation, we typically try to keep pick facings at floor-level to prevent people from having to pick products vertically since vertical picking is slower and more labour-intensive. This implies that warehouse floor space is the basic constraint that limits how many products can be serviced from a conventional distribution centre.

To accommodate product assortment growth, most grocery distribution centres utilize similar techniques, and most of these techniques negatively impact labour efficiency. For example, the use of handstack racks or case flow racks for slow moving products is traditional, but these solutions are inefficient. Rather than pallets being stored and letdown by forklifts, associates must touch individual cases by hand and this causes the handling cost per case to increase significantly.

There are several fundamental reasons why grocery distributors are now investing in warehouse automation for slow moving products:

  1. 1. The need to support significant increases in product variety. This is especially an important issue for grocery wholesale distributors. For example, Sobeys is a hybrid retailer/wholesaler that has to service its own stores as well as multiple client accounts, whereby each client account requires their own assortment of branded and private label products.
  2. 2. Warehouse floor space limitations.  If pick facings are kept at floor-level only then by definition the square footage of the building becomes the limiting factor as to how many pick locations can be supported. While mezzanines can be constructed to increase the working floor space within a distribution centre, mezzanines tend to be expensive to construct and they are not necessarily a solution that works for every department or for every building.
  3. 3. The need to improve labour efficiency. The cost of warehouse labour is generally much higher in the grocery industry relative to other industries. Increasing the use of a storage media where cases need to be touched multiple times by hand is not a solution for reducing labour requirements and in fact the opposite is true. Automation investments not only reduce distributor center labour cost, they also reduce the reliance on labour to get the job done.
  4. 4. Warehouse labour availability. Recent reports are now emerging that the warehouse and distribution centre industry is facing its most severe labour shortage since 2007 and the expectation is that this trend will continue to worsen well past next year as the percentage of people who are active in the work force continues to decline as the baby boomer bubble retires. This is known as the age dependency ratio and you can learn more about this here.

A new and interesting automation solution for slower movers

A large retail grocery company in the Southeastern U.S. is currently implementing a new full-line one million square foot distribution centre that includes an automated freezer with a high bay warehouse (HBW) equipped with twelve automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) cranes.  The ASRS concept here is different and is worthy of an explanation:

  1. 1. Incoming pallets are received on the dock by forklifts. Pallets are offloaded to conveyors that move the unit loads to induction points for storage into a high bay warehouse that has over 40,000 pallet positions.
  2. 2. Fast moving products are moved into and out of the high bay warehouse in full pallet quantities by twelve storage and retrieval machines (SRM). The SRM retrieves the full pallet from storage and automatically replenishes the pallet into dedicated pick locations.  The standard approach is to utilize a 2-deep pallet flow rack to always hold two pallets in the pick slot for these items.
  3. 3. The interesting aspect of this automated system is how slow moving products are handled. The SRMs retrieve pallets of slow moving products but instead of replenishing these pallets to pick locations, they are transferred to a pallet delayering machine. The machine automatically removes the top-most layer(s) of product from the pallet and deposits the layer to a uniquely designed 40” x 48” plastic tray, which is in two connected pieces, front and back. The residual product pallet is returned to storage by the ASRS and the tray is automatically replenished by the SRM to its assigned pick slot.
    1. 1. Several pick face options are available to reduce the building footprint: 1-tier full height loads; 2-tier half high loads; or 3-tier and 4-tier layers using a split-tray system. This system allows up to 8 pick facings (i.e. 8 products) to be implemented within a standard 8-foot wide rack bay.
    2. 2. The pick slots are similar to angled flow rack roller lanes that are designed to accommodate the 40” wide tray.  The lanes are automatically replenished from the back and picked from the front to support FIFO rotation which is critical for perishables products.
    3. 3. The order selector reaches into the front of the pick location to pick cases from the tray. Once the front half of the tray is fully selected, it is detached from its hinges and removed from the pick slot.  This allows the back half of the tray to slide forward on rollers towards the front of the rack.  The beauty of this innovative design is that the operator is always working ergonomically from the front of the rack. This approach removes all of the bending, reaching and associated injuries when operators try to access cases at the back of the pick location.
    4. 4. The operator deposits the removed portion of the tray into a designated drop-off location for tray accumulation.  Eventually, the trays are automatically recirculated back into the system by the SRM.
    5. 5. The cases of merchandise are then picked to a pallet jack or conveyor.  Order picking is done with voice headsets to pallet jacks at both floor level and on a mezzanine level to take advantage of the height of the building.  It is a competitive advantage to supply stores with a high variety of frozen food products in the Southern U.S. market, therefore this retailer needs to support a wide assortment of frozen food items within their distribution centre.

The use of a detachable hinged split tray is an innovative idea that is now installed in three sites within North America.  The company that has patented this tray concept is Swisslog. In our opinion, this solution provides an excellent strategy for improving the storage and handling of slow moving products, regardless of whether they are ambient, chilled or frozen. We predict that more retail and wholesale grocery distributors will invest in this semi-automated technology in future as it provides an affordable alternative to implementing fully automated case picking solutions.

Marc Wulfraat is president of MWPVL International, a supply chain and logistics consulting firm.  He can be reached at 514-482-3572; and at


MB2-700 braindumps MB3-700 braindumps MB6-869 braindumps OG0-093 braindumps VCP-510 braindumps VCP550 braindumps 070-178 braindumps 070-331 braindumps 070-467 braindumps 070-667 braindumps 070-684 braindumps 070-687 braindumps 1Z0-051 braindumps 1Z0-060 exam dumps 1Z0-478 exam dumps 1Z0-485 exam dumps 1Z0-897 exam dumps 200-120 exam dumps 220-801 exam dumps 500-201 exam dumps 70-346 exam dumps 70-412 exam dumps 70-458 exam dumps 70-486 exam dumps 820-421 exam dumps 820-422 exam dumps C2170-008 exam dumps C2180-275 exam dumps C2180-276 exam dumps C4040-123 exam dumps JN0-343 exam dumps M70-201 exam dumps M70-301 exam dumps NS0-504 exam dumps 70-410 exam dumps PW0-204 exam dumps 3001 exam dumps 050-720 exam dumps 070-480 exam dumps 070-487 exam dumps 1Z0-062 exam dumps 1Z0-597 exam dumps 1Z0-899 exam dumps 250-310 exam dumps 350-018 exam dumps 400-051 exam dumps 70-178 exam dumps 70-331 exam dumps 70-413 exam dumps 70-465 exam dumps 70-467 exam dumps 70-484 exam dumps 70-485 exam dumps 74-338 exam dumps 74-344 test 810-420 test 70-410 test 050-SEPROAUTH-02 test 200-120 test MB2-703 test 070-462 test 70-462 test 70-461 test 070-410 test JN0-102 test 70-411 test C_TADM51_731 test C4090-958 test 70-483 test EX300 test 070-461 test MB2-702 test MB7-702 test 220-802 test 400-101 test 646-206 test 700-501 test 70-480 test C4040-108 test MB2-701 test 070-411 test 100-101 test 640-554 test 700-505 test 70-457 test 70-460 test C2150-197 test EX0-001 test 070-243 test 70-466 test C_THR12_66 test C4040-225 test 1Z0-061 test 70-347 test C4090-452 test VCP-550 test 070-177 test 070-412 test 70-417 test 70-463 test 70-488 test C_HANATEC131 test C2090-303 test C2090-614 test 70-331 test MB5-705 test 070-247 test 070-347 test 070-463 test 300-206 test 70-243 test 74-325 test C2020-622 test C2030-283 test C2090-540 test C2180-278 test HP0-J73 test ICBB test 070-246 test 070-341 test 070-417 test 070-457 test 070-458 test 1Z0-481 test 1Z0-599 test 300-207 test 70-246 test 70-414 test A00-240 exams C_TAW12_731 exams C4030-670 exams C4040-224 exams C4090-450 exams C4120-783 exams EX200 exams MB2-700 exams MB3-700 exams MB6-869 exams 70-346 exams 70-412 exams 70-458 exams 200-120 exams MB2-703 exams 070-462 exams 70-462 exams 70-461 exams 070-410 exams 70-410 exams 050-SEPROAUTH-02 exams 200-120 exams MB2-703 exams 070-462 exams 70-462 exams 70-461 exams 070-410 exams JN0-102 exams 70-411 exams C_TADM51_731 exams C4090-958 exams 70-483 exams EX300 exams 100-101 braindumps 70-410 braindumps 050-SEPROAUTH-02 braindumps 200-120 braindumps MB2-703 braindumps 070-462 braindumps 70-462 braindumps 70-461 braindumps 070-410 braindumps JN0-102 exam dumps 200-120 exam dumps MB2-703 exam dumps 070-462 exam dumps 70-462 exam dumps 70-461 exam dumps 070-410 exam dumps JN0-102 exam dumps 70-411 exam dumps 70-480 PDF exams C4090-958 PDF exams 70-483 PDF exams EX300 PDF exams 070-461 PDF exams MB2-702 PDF exams 1Z0-061 220-801 70-465 C4090-958 MB6-700 OG0-093 646-206 EX0-001 70-413 M70-201 117-101 810-420 C2180-276 70-410 exams 1Z0-062 exams 70-466 exams 200-101 exams 70-489 exams MB2-701 exams 640-864 exams 070-177 braindumps 070-412 braindumps 70-417 braindumps 70-463 braindumps 70-488 braindumps C_HANATEC131 braindumps C2090-303 braindumps C2090-614 braindumps 70-331 braindumps 400-101 braindumps