Knapp cures Co-op Pharmacy’s automation problem

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The Co-operative Pharmacy now has the capacity to fulfil 160,000 order lines in one shift, following a £16m investment in a new, automated national distribution centre at Meir Park in Stoke-on-Trent, designed and installed by Knapp.

This means it can make daily deliveries to all stores, moving 420,000 units in 6,000 totes.

The facility has been operational for less than a year, but the business has already seen a 26 per cent rise in operating profit to £18m in the first half of 2010.

Prior to the move, the company was supplying its high street stores from several smaller warehouses, which Jonathan Bomphray, head of logistics and operations, says was less than ideal.

“We wanted to serve our 800 branches, which between them dispense over 60 million prescriptions a year, from one system. This would give us greater control over our own brand ranges and the opportunity to hold and distribute additional seasonal lines, as well as offering a degree of protection against market shortages.”

The 183,000 sq ft Meir Park site, which has a 28,000 sq ft mezzanine floor, is around four times the size of the company’s former facility. Around 80 per cent of products are dispensed via completely automated handling equipment to totes, while the remaining 20 per cent are picked manually using RF technology.

Incoming goods are decanted into totes at one of 32 workstations and then transported by conveyor to an automated storage and retrieval system. The ASRS can accommodate 82,200 totes and is served by six miniload cranes in aisles 10m high by 60m long.

Goods from the ASRS are used to feed ten manual picking stations, which use RF picking techniques. It is also used to replenish three A-frame autopickers, which are fully automated picking machines featuring a total of 3,720 channels. It ejects goods onto a moving central belt, with individual orders collated in specific sections, before being deposited into a separate tote.

There is also a picking area for whole pallets, featuring ten picking stations with 68 flow rack channels.

Totes ready for dispatch are automatically lidded and sealed before being palletised by one of two robots which have a combined throughput of 2,400 totes per hour. These are then automatically shrink-wrapped by machines with a capacity of 80 pallets per hour.

All movements at the facility are controlled by Knapp’s Klass-X control system, operating under Co-op’s WMS.

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