Spicing up efficiency

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With 9,000-plus products available – from office furniture and large laser printers to pencils and other small consumables – there are also a wide variety of demand levels, some products turning much faster than others. In total the company handles more that 10,000 calls daily and despatches in excess of 50,000 customer order lines.

Bernd Schiel, senior projects manager of Office Depot’s European Engineering department, says: “With such a large number of different items, we have developed an operation which uses several different ways of picking customer orders.”

In the new 20,000sq m distribution centre at Ashton Moss most of the picking is split into a series of so called picking loops. These are each designed to handle various sizes of customer cartons. The picking loops all link up with the main conveyor, which carries cartons to the various zones around the warehouse. Each of the picking loops is designed to a particular type of product and based on the pick frequency of the items.

All picking takes place from either carton live or pallet live storage provided by Bito Storage Systems. Manual picking from the live storage takes place into the customer cartons, which move around the warehouse to be loaded with product in a variety of picking zones.

Faster moving items such as inkjet printer cartridges are picked automatically and dispensed onto a moving belt, which transports them to drop into a carton at the end of the machine. However, the automatic picking machine is loaded manually and for this vital replenishment operation products are held alongside the machine in Bito carton live storage, allowing cartons of product to move forward under the power of gravity, ensuring that when a carton is emptied a replacement immediately moves into the vacant space without any warehouse staff intervention. In other picking areas, for each customer carton staff are directed to the correct items using pick by light indicators mounted on the front of the carton live storage system. The carton is then released and gets transferred back onto the central conveyor to continue its’ journey around the distribution centre.

There is also a full-case picking operation which means taking full cartons, such as paper, from a pallet and placing it onto a belt conveyor. There are several full-case picking loops within the warehouse and all are fed with two- or three-deep Bito pallet live storage.

The warehouse is also busy with staff replenishing the live storage areas from the rear. Forklift trucks replenish pallets as emptied ones are removed in the picking area, directed by Office Depot’s control system. Powered pallet trucks carry carton loads for manual replenishment of the carton live storage operations. Static shelving is used for slower moving items, where the throughput and picking frequency do not justify the greater efficiency afforded by picking from live storage. Some items are stored in an automated miniload in a goods to man operation. Larger slow moving products are stored in a 10,000-pallet very narrow aisle (VNA) area along with reserve stock, allowing full case picking without taking up space in the highly efficient live storage picking areas.

Completed customer cartons travel through automated packing and lidding machines, so that they are presented to the despatch area completely sealed and ready for delivery. At peak times of demand, the new Ashton Moss facility can despatch 30,000-plus cartons daily.

There was no main contractor during the implementation of the new distribution centre, with Office Depot co-ordinating the project itself. So the company had close relationships with key suppliers, such as live storage picking company Bito. “We have worked with Bito before at our distribution centres in Hamburg, Madrid and Lenzberg. They have become our preferred supplier for live storage based on quality, service and cost,” says Schiel, who is happy with the live storage installation at the Ashton Moss site. “The carton live is totally boltless and can easily be fitted to other companies racking.”

Schiel says: “Staff were involved from the beginning. Once they started coming to the new distribution centre, they were eager to contribute and excited to move away from our old Chadderton site.”

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