Automation supports order fulfilment

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Tradeteam, Exel’s independent distributor of beers, wines and spirits, has been supplied with a versatile automated handling system at its Burton-upon-Trent national distribution centre to support order fulfilment operations. The system was designed and installed by Univeyor.

With a customer base including small retail outlets, public houses and off-licences, Tradeteam required the flexibility to deal efficiently with part-case orders that often comprise single bottles of different products. The Univeyor solution centres upon a powered roller conveyor line running through a racked storage area supported by picking stations incorporating a series of automated barcode scanners.

At the start of the order fulfilment operation, pre-assembled empty boxes are placed onto the Univeyor conveyor system. Each box carries a barcode giving comprehensive details of a particular order. As the boxes travel along the conveyor, they pass through a series of automatic barcode scanning points. When the box reaches a station where products on that particular order are located, it is moved automatically onto an adjacent stationary line and is manually scanned by an operator.

The operator’s hand-held scanner displays the items required and, once the relevant bottles have been picked and placed into the box, the operator returns the box to the conveyor to proceed to the next station or onto the end of the system if the order is complete. Six separate manned picking stations are incorporated into the Univeyor system. Ongoing order analysis ensures that the most popular products are located on racking closest to the pickers at all times to ensure optimum efficiency and productivity.

Once the boxes reach the end of the conveyor, they are automatically scanned and diverted to one of four consolidation areas for onward delivery to customers. While some parts of the picking system for part-case orders are still manually controlled, the automation of the rest of the system has delivered greater efficiency by speeding up the process and leaving less margin for error.

Colin Turton, Tradeteam’s general manager at Burton, says: “Versatility and flexibility are essential qualities here at the national distribution centre. We cope with extremely large full-case orders as well as small ‘pick and mix’ type orders from local retail outlets.”

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