Asda boosts online offering with dedicated fulfilment centre

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Supermarket giant Asda has opened a semi-automated fulfilment centre dedicated to its online channel to help support future growth.

The retailer has seen strong growth in business generated from its online shopping operation, achieving record sales in 2010 which it expects to grow further in 2011.

Up until 2010 all internet orders were satisfied from the retailer’s supermarket stores.  In some areas of the country store capacity was maximised so Asda piloted a dedicated centre in the Leeds area. 

This centre is equipped with shelving to hold the complete range of ambient, chilled and frozen product on offer. 

Internet orders are picked on two levels before being consolidated at ground level then being loaded onto delivery vans. 

After completing the pilot, Asda embarked on a roll out strategy to establish dedicated semi-automated fulfilment centres at several locations, the first of which in Enfield, North London went live in August 2010.

Vanderlande Industries was selected to supply the materials handling system which was designed to provide flexibility for expansion in the future.

“The new facility enables Asda to grow its online market share in a region where it’s constrained with normal store capacity,” says Graeme Douglas, supply chain director, 

“Due to the potential size of online demand our new facility firmly establishes our infrastructure to deliver Asda price and every day low cost to more and more potential customers in the future. It also allows Asda to offer a broader range specifically to meet our customers’ needs. The centre has been designed to meet these needs, on a large scale, but in an efficient and customer-focused environment.”

The site is operational 24/7. Order picking occurs mostly during the day under the control of the Asda host system.

Goods are picked into order totes from shelving laid out in the style of a supermarket. 

Individual pickers work within defined zones within the shelving area, and only pick goods that are stored within that zone.

Each picked tote contains either a complete or a partially complete customer order.

As part of the picking process, an order label is printed and applied to each tote. Included on the order label is a three-digit load number, which equates to a particular dock door.

The host system associates the order label with the tote identifier. Totes are placed onto the system in a random sequence and a belt conveyor transports them from the picking area and via a sorter to the marshalling areas adjacent to the dock doors. 

Gaps are automatically introduced between totes before they are presented to a barcode scanner.

Prior to sorting the scanner reads the three-digit load number on the tote’s order label and the control system determines the correct destination and orientation for each tote. 

The position of each tote is tracked automatically from the point at which its order label is scanned. After being scanned the totes are transported to one of nine destinations. 

When the tote reaches its destination on the conveyor system it is sorted to an outfeed spur. 

Each spur services two van routes, each van route has its own dock door. The two dock doors are situated to the left and one to the right of the spur.

If necessary, totes are turned 180 degree after the barcode scanner, so that the order label is presented to face the correct dock door. 

A van route is made up of several customer orders with each customer order usually containing multiple totes. 

For multi-tote customer orders, the opportunity exists for the operators in the marshalling areas to consolidate partly filled totes to minimise the number of totes loaded onto the vans.

The totes are sorted into the correct van round, delivery sequence, then married with chilled and frozen product which is picked manually in temperature-controlled areas.  Van loading takes place between 7am and 7pm.

In addition to supplying the system, Vanderlande Industries has signed a contract with Asda to provide help desk support and to service the system three times per year.

Looking forward, plans are already being discussed with Vanderlande to accommodate for future growth.

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