Australian clothing and linen retailer Best & Less had been operating from two distribution centres in Sydney and Brisbane for several years before moving to a single automated warehouse.
The 387,500 sq ft site provides more than twice the floor area of the previous two buildings combined.
Paul Viljoen, general manager of Best & Less, said: “Our basic requirements for the system were that we should be able to get at least 10 years of use out of it, so it had to be robust, expandable and able to handle variation in what part of our product comes in directly and what part from suppliers. In addition we had certain specifications about cartons, volumes, sizes, peak days etc.
“We considered mechanical sorters, shoe sorters and tilt trays, but finally decided on the Crisplant cross-belt sorter. Following our earlier talks with other suppliers we believed that we knew what we wanted in terms of the layout and concept, but Crisplant helped enormously to the point where we actually changed the whole arrangement of the chutes, which was a major improvement.”
In its two previous distribution centres, Best & Less’s warehousing and cross-docking was a purely manual operation.
The firm has two sources for product. One is from warehouse racking which comprises about 35 percent of our stock and which it imports itself. The rest of the stock is imported by local suppliers, most of whom have their own facilities.
Stock taken from racking for delivery to our stores we label within the distribution centre, and everything we receive from suppliers will already have been labelled by them.
Operations were shifted from the Sydney centre to the new building over a period of two to three weeks in April 2011 and the actual building of the sortation system commenced soon after.
Some 75,000 sq ft of space was left without racking in the new facility so that manual operations could continue while construction progressed. The Brisbane centre closed down in July, and construction of the sortation system was concluded on schedule and automated operations went live on 11 November.
The new system uses Crisplant’s low-energy LS-4000CB cross-belt sorter, powered by linear synchronous motors and controlled by a Crisplant Sorter Control system.
The system loop is approximately 265m long with 183 chutes. It can handle cartons up to 20kg, and 1000mm long x 800mm wide x 500mm high.
Viljoen said: “In the new system, when we receive stock we put it directly onto the loop sorter at one of two induction points. The barcoded labels are scanned automatically, which acts as a receipt and tells the system which destination chute to deliver the box to. When the box reaches the correct chute, the Crisplant cross-belt sorter ejects it from the conveyor and it slides down to join the boxes that have already been delivered to that location.
“This is what makes the system so effective and different from other sortation systems I’ve seen. With Crisplant we designed the chutes so that they would hold more or less a whole pallet of boxes. Most sortation systems basically operate on a ‘first in, first out’ basis and the worker building the pallet has to use them in the order in which they come down the line. This can be difficult and inefficient as there is a wide variety of shapes and sizes that has to be fitted onto the pallet as neatly as possible.
“In our new system, however, the chutes can hold sufficient cartons to make up an entire pallet, and the chutes are fairly wide, so the worker has a choice of 15 to 20 cartons from which to make up the pallet with as few spaces as possible. This is very important for us as we pay pallet rates to stores, so we always want to get as much onto a pallet as possible. It’s a really essential factor in minimising transport costs.”
The facility has capacity of approximately 4,000 items an hour with two inductions another four can be added without changing the loop. More chutes can be added and the sorter speed can be increased.