Alliance picks the right remedy

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Alliance Healthcare has increased efficiency at its Exeter distribution centre after installing BITO’s Carton Live Storage (CLS) system which locates product nearer to where it needs to be picked.

The system has been built around the picking conveyor loop for manual picking and a new A-Frame picker which was installed by Knapp when the company moved to the 56,000 sq ft facility in January.

Alliance Healthcare’s Exeter Service Centre supplies some 9,500 medical product lines to pharmacies, hospitals and dispensing doctors throughout the South West.
The picking process begins when the company’s standalone, company-wide order and delivery system releases orders for picking.

It instantly selects the appropriate size tote which is barcoded so the system can track it as it passes the readers and directs it to the required location for the items on each order. Once dispatched onto the transport conveyor the order’s tote goes first to the A-Frame, a unit that comprises rows of dispensing channels holding vertical stacks of the fastest moving products. Products are ejected from the automated system into waiting totes as they are required.

Around 70 per cent of picking takes place on the A-Frame, with remaining products being picked manually.

Orders requiring products from the A-Frame only are taken directly to dispatch. If other items are required for the order, the tote continues to the two manual picking areas which comprise one aisle for medium speed goods where products are picked directly from the CLS and another aisle for slower goods where products are picked from both the CLS and shelving.

When a tote arrives on the transport conveyor it gets pushed off at the right station onto the picking conveyor which runs beneath the CLS pick face on one side of each of these aisles.

The picker scans the bin with a wrist-mounted scanner and the pick information is displayed on the scanner’s LCD screen to allow quick and accurate location of the correct product on the flow shelves.

Once picked the tote is scanned again to let the system know the pick is finished at that location.

It goes back to the transport conveyor and continues to the next station. Once the order is complete it goes to dispatch where it is put on the required delivery vehicle.

The density of storage provided by the CLS allows products in the manual pick areas to be close to hand and each person picks only within a small area, avoiding long, time-consuming walks.

In the previous facility the manual process used to take up to five minutes as stock was stored in ten rows of conventional racking, each about 30m long. It now takes seconds.

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