At the Littlewoods distribution centre in Burton-on-Trent, operated by Wincanton, a two-tier cross-belt sorter incorporating 338 separate carriages is a key element of the fulfilment solution implemented by Dematic. Capable of handling a huge variety of individual items, it has enabled Littlewoods to implement a system where precisely the right quantity of each product line is despatched to each store, pre-sorted by department. Furthermore, some 85 per cent of the centre’s throughput is cross-docked, keeping inventory costs to an absolute minimum. By handling individual items in reusable tote boxes, rather than bulk quantities in cartons, over £1 million per annum has been saved in packaging costs.
There are 450 output lanes from the sorter, three for each store. These are dedicated to womenswear, menswear and childrenswear, so that the goods can be despatched to stores pre-sorted. At the 16 induct points, staff take goods from tote boxes and place them onto a conveyor belt, according to instructions issued via a PC screen and LED display. Goods are inducted onto the system in batches, and the sorter takes responsibility for directing the correct quantity of each product line to the appropriate stores. Potential throughput is 20,000 items per hour, but the design allows for the inclusion of four more inducts, which would increase the throughput figure to 24,000 items per hour.