Load optimization, pick accuracy and quality challenges lead Coop towards warehouse automation
Given the vast geography of Norway in relation to its small population and widely scattered store locations, retail distribution in that country presents considerable challenges. While the hurdles are similar to those faced by many if not most retail distributors, the hurdles facing supply chain operators are magnified.
“The transportation costs within the food supply chain are decisive,” explains Halvor Nassvik, senior manager for the project Coop Logistics center Gardermoen. “This is due to the small amount of population and the numerous small stores spread over the entire country. Moreover, Norway has a north-south expansion of more than 2,000 km or 1,250 miles.”
As a result, every pallet and every trailer must be optimally filled with goods when servicing the individual stores. In addition, error-free picking and high product quality are mandatory to offer an excellent store service to the customers.
Another consideration in the decision to automate was the present and projected labor pool available for manual material handling. Citing a low unemployment rate and a high wage level, Nassvik stated, “We believe also that in the future it would be difficult for us to find young people for this physically demanding and mostly monotonous work.”
Proactively addressing these challenges, the retail chain, Coop Norge Handel SA, undertook an automation project involving the logistics processes of all assortment ranges and temperature zones in their central distribution center located near Oslo, Norway. After signing the contract at the end of 2010, Coop started construction in August 2011, with WITRON beginning its installation in mid-2012. The first products from the dry goods assortment were shipped in autumn 2013. Chilled goods followed in the spring of 2014, and frozen goods in autumn of that year. After a little more than one year, all Coop stores got deliveries from the new distribution center.
WITRON’s role included the design and realization of all material flow, IT, control, warehouse management, and mechanical components. All conveyor system elements and stacker cranes were designed and produced by WITRON’s subsidiary, FAS. A WITRON on-site team remains responsible for the entire service and maintenance of the system and ensures continuously high availability of all logistics components during working hours.
Services all temperature zones, serves dual distribution role
The “Coop Logistikksenter Gardermoen (CLog),” located close to the Oslo airport, serves as a regional distribution center for the area around Oslo, where Coop Norway makes approximately 40 percent of its revenue. In this region, CLog supplies the stores with a complete range of merchandise: Dry (+18 degrees C), fresh produce (+12 degrees C / +7 degrees C), perishable (+2 degrees C), and frozen goods (-25 degrees C). CLog also acts as a national distribution center for slow and medium movers for the dry goods and perishable products to four regional distribution centers of Coop in Norway. The 559,000 sq. ft. facility supplies about 1,300 stores across the country with more than 17,000 different products. The plant can pick up to 480,000 cases daily at peak production.
A combination of automated systems are used
WITRON’s “Order Picking Machinery” (OPM) is a fully automated tote picking system that is used in all temperature zones due to its flexibility, while its “Dynamic Picking System” (DPS) addresses the picking of small-volume items in the dry goods assortment and the fresh food area. The “Car Picking System” (CPS) is used to pick bulky goods of the dry goods assortment. An automated shipping buffer optimizes the processes in the dispatch area. The material flows in all warehouse areas and temperature zones are designed and connected in an intelligent manner so that the number of remaining pallets can be reduced to a minimum and to ensure a maximum consolidation of customer orders in the logistics area where they are picked.
DPS picks directly into the shipping carton
The highly dynamic and automated picking of small or “less-than-case” items in the DPS is supported by a pick-by-light system. The DPS works according to both principles “goods-to-person” and “person-to-goods.” Depending on the order structure, the goods are arranged optimally in the pick front by stacker cranes, slotted either permanently or based on demand. The DPS technology enables the direct storage and picking in an automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS). The picking of dry goods and fresh products at Coop’s distribution center is not done in a “classic way” from tote into tote, but from tote directly into the shipping carton. The reason for this type of picking process is here again the long transportation routes. Since the most distant store is some 1,700 km / 1,000 miles away, a return of the totes to the stores and back to the distribution center would not be cost-efficient. Moreover, the shipping cartons picked in the DPS system are supplied directly to the OPM system, ensuring an optimal order consolidation between both systems.
Shipping buffer reduces trailer-loading times
Another technical highlight in the system is WITRON’s fully automated shipping buffer. The temperature in the dispatch area at Coop is constantly kept at +4 degrees C., allowing it to buffer picked orders from the different temperature zones to prepare for shipping.
“This is done automatically and system-controlled and more cost-efficient in height rather than manually and expensive on the ground storage area,” explains Jack Kuypers, Vice President WITRON North-West Europe. “Thus the marshaling space needed is minimized. Moreover, Coop benefits from the very short distances to be covered by the employees in the dispatch area when loading the trailers. Therefore, the loading time at the gates will be reduced and the trailers can leave the distribution center earlier to supply the stores.”
RFID pallets utilized
Coop makes use of RFID-tagged pool pallets from NLP, that country’s cooperative plastic pallet pool, as well as wooden pallets, which are automatically tagged with a RFID-label in the receiving area. Coop wanted to use these pallet types in the automated logistics system in a flexible manner. While the scanning and processing of different methods pose various demands on the control technology and the used scanner technology, WITRON states that this task was successfully completed so that both types can be identified and handled in the entire material flow without any problem.