Warehouse technology: The path to an omnichannel fulfilment centre
With the rapid development of e-commerce, companies are looking to reduce order processing time to handle more orders and enable same-day deliveries. A modern warehouse should offer European standards for freight handling and customer service, which is positively influenced by automation. This is exactly the task KAPELOU’s team realised in a project with a well-known national chain of department stores.
“Epicentr K” in figures: 68 department stores with a total area of 1.5 million m2 , an assortment of 1,000,000 articles, over 3,000 suppliers, 34,000 employees and 160,000 orders per month. In addition, there is the largest logistics centre in Ukraine, Kalynivka, which handles 75% of the goods deliveries to the affiliated department stores. So we had the task of increasing the capacity of the most modern warehouse complex in Ukraine, with 72,000 m2.
Given the high work intensity of the logistics centre around the clock and the SKU storage time for online orders (3 to 5 days), the following objectives were set:
- Implementation of a modern fulfilment centre to further develop online sales;
- automation of existing offline warehouse processes;
- combining online and offline processes to ensure omnichannel;
- facilitating the work of warehouse staff;
- integration of the facility with the warehouse management system (WMS).
Detailed analysis of the customer’s warehouse processes. The KAPELOU solution approach.
A basic approach to the implementation of the project: we started with a detailed analysis of the client’s data, its warehouse model AS IS. Based on this, the team of experts developed a 3D model of the warehouse, taking into account the throughput capacity of each area. As a result of this in-depth work, a concept was created for the automation of all important areas of the warehouse in order to achieve the required efficiency.
In the first phase, we analysed the initial data provided by the client. As the warehouse is an omnichannel warehouse and the flow of goods is heterogeneous, we identified different future flows of goods. For each flow of goods, we created a forecast – how many plastic trays, boxes, pallets, orders, loads, etc. will be received and transported per hour.
We then outlined the processes to be implemented for each flow of goods and determined which warehouse processes could be combined and where they overlapped. For example, for both online and offline delivery, it is necessary to pack the collected small orders in corrugated cardboard packaging. Accordingly, the need for a packing station is calculated. The second example is the load on the sorting line: it is necessary to combine the load from different goods streams.
Next, we created an overall diagram of the flow of goods in the warehouse (material flow) – a graphical representation of all flows of goods.
Then we determined the different types of warehouse equipment in each area that should be used to achieve the specified throughput capacity. For example, vertical conveyors for boxes and spiral conveyors for vertical movement between storage levels could be used – the selection was based on the calculated throughput capacity. In addition, all requirements for size, weight and type of goods were taken into account.
The next phase involved 2D drawings, visualisation of the project in 3D, emulation of the movement of goods and their vertical movement with vertical conveyors – all to underpin the warehouse technology performance calculations.
During implementation, each of these phases is coordinated with the client and the project partners. Once the concept has been agreed and approved, detailed planning, manufacturing, assembly and commissioning are carried out.
Goods receiving area
A special feature of this project is not only the number of items, but also the complexity of the goods in terms of size, weight and fragility. We have already taken this into account at goods receiving and optimised the algorithm for goods receiving with roller conveyors, size 3 barcode readers based on linear scanners, weighing modules and rejectors.
The weighing module and the 3-barcode readers are used to identify and control goods receiving at the corresponding warehouse ramp. Machine vision automatically scans the barcode of each crate entering the warehouse. This identifies each crate and assigns it to the appropriate conveyor line.
By using this system in the goods receiving area, we have automated several warehouse processes that take place in this area at the same time:
- Re-labelling the barcode and entering the new goods description into the database;
- checking the correspondence between the estimated and actual weight of the goods;
- cross-docking of full factory boxes (mono goods);
- raising of the mezzanine and completion of the gravity racks;
- forwarding of totes to the sorting area by shop and department;
- reloading onto pallets to replenish the first and second levels of the warehouse.
Sorting by branch and department
Thanks to comprehensive logistics planning, goods are immediately allocated to 3 areas: Cross-docking on the transport routes, storage in the warehouse, order picking in the end stores.
Transport between the storage areas is carried out via 3,000 m of conveyor systems. By integrating systems from our own production and a high-speed “Cross-Belt” sorter from a Dutch manufacturer, sorting is carried out at a speed of 10,500 parcels per hour. The cross-belt sorter automatically distributes the parcels to 154 channels.
With two-stage roller conveyors, the first stage is used for the automated transport of trays with goods, the second for the accumulation of empty trays. The foldable sections of the conveyors are designed for the free passage of people and warehouse equipment within the goods sorting area of shops and departments.
In order to increase the storage area, we installed a mezzanine floor with shelving on the 5,000 m2 site. This not only increased the usable storage area threefold to 15,000 m2, but also created 460,000 storage spaces for over 1,000,000 items.
The belt conveyors in the storage area transport the trays at a 16-degree angle and are wave-shaped so that the warehouse staff can move freely between the right and left storage areas.
We enabled the circulation of pallets and the transport of empty stackable totes between the storage areas using special platform vertical conveyors. In this way, we optimised the process of feeding totes to the upper levels of the mezzanine floor – to the storage and picking areas. The platform vertical conveyors have another important function: they transport pallets with packaging material to the packaging area. The branched system of automated warehouse technology, especially the vertical conveyors, has significantly shortened the distances employees have to travel.
The packaging area of the warehouse
The packaging area is equipped with gravity racks that allow containers to be grouped together into a “wave” of orders. In the buffer sequencer area we have installed the following:
- stacking stations with four levels (each level stacks a “wave” or part of it on its work surface);
- sorting vertical conveyors that distribute the bins to each level according to the “wave”);
- output vertical conveyor (outputs the “wave” or part of it in a logical order);
- pick-up roller conveyor for the vertical conveyor.
In order to distribute the flow of goods and to avoid congestion in this storage area, we have installed conveyor lines with different heights – 1600 mm and 750 mm. In this way, the flow of goods is decoupled from the storage/packaging areas.
KAPELOU storage technology used in the project:
- Belt conveyors;
- Driven and non-driven roller conveyors;
- Vertical conveyors for plastic trays and corrugated cardboard boxes;
- Buffer sequencer;
- Automated corrugated picking system;
- Control software for the operation of the systems – WCS.
- Platform with shelving;
- Cross belt sorter;
- Spiral conveyor;
- Gravity racking;
- Telescopic conveyors;
- Modules for weight and dimension measurement;
- Barcode reader in 3 sizes, barcode scanner;
- Platform vertical conveyors for pallets.
Technology implemented in the project
Pick-to-light: Distribution of orders by cells according to the “wave”. Pick-to-light is also used to bundle containers in gravity racks.
Cross-docking: The term refers to fast, speed-oriented shipping. It is used when delivery times are limited and fast shipping is required. In cross-docking, goods are delivered to a specific warehouse from where they are then shipped regionally.
Goods to Person (G2P): Goods are transported between warehouses using conveyors. The technology saves double the time in picking as staff stay at their assigned locations and do not have to manually move goods through the warehouse.
Machine vision: The machine vision module is installed in the sorting area. It reads the information from the packages of goods and the WMS sends them in a specific direction via the roller conveyors.
Weight and dimension measurement modules: They facilitate the process of sorting and segregating goods in the warehouse according to certain characteristics. They increase the speed and accuracy of goods processing.
Thanks to the automation of the warehouse of the logistics centre in the Kalynivka settlement, the client was able to achieve the following successes:
- Optimisation of order processing;
- reduction of personnel costs;
- increase in efficiency of individual areas – picking, packing, dispatch and sorting of goods by direction.
In many years of cooperation with the client and taking into account the specifics of each area of the warehouse, we implemented the largest and most modern fulfilment centre in Ukraine, processing 10,500 packages per hour of different weights – from 0.2 to 30 kg. Moreover, together with the implementation of automation, we have created a storage capacity for more than 1 million SKUs.
A special feature of this project was the fact that for the first time we realised a quadruple integration of customer processes, the KAPELOU automation system, Quantum’s WMS and the Vanderlande sorter.
A clear result of the automation is the speed of processing and dispatching orders for a transport route in less than 30 minutes. A similar technique of freight handling is used in Amazon’s warehouses. We thank “Epicentr K” for the many years of cooperation and trust!