"When we analyzed our old warehouse back in 1999, we found that we were making 11,000 unnecessary pallet movements each day," says Joergen Larsen, the warehouse distribution manager. "We wanted to design a system to fully automate both the pallet handling and the picking process. We handled 9,000 cases an hour that needed to be sorted and batch picked."
The Koege facility receives and sends out 6,000 pallets and half pallets each day—some 15 million cases a year. Unlike AH, which delivers only cases to its retail customers, 70 percent of Netto's products are delivered on mixed pallets, which it creates with three LayerPickers. The units handle 85 percent of the picking from pallets. They pick whole layers of pallets, remove slipsheets and de-palletize layers to single cases.
The system includes automated pallet conveyors from the storage area to the LayerPickers and case handling conveyors to an automated sortation system.
"Our new facility handles triple the capacity of our old warehouse," says Larsen. "We could have never reached this volume without the automated system."
Is It Right For Your Operations?
Automated layer pickers have become popular in Europe over the past five years and it's a trend that is taking hold across the pond. A growing number of grocery retailers in the United States are demanding rainbow pallets containing a wide mix of SKUs. For the wholesalers, distributors and suppliers that fill those orders, it typically means that order selectors assemble pallets with individual cases pulled from storage racks by hand.
That is a labor-intensive, physically de-manding and costly exercise that is quickly becoming unnecessary, thanks to layer pickers such as Univeyor's unit.
In addition to K+N, AH and Netto, com-panies such as Kroger, Coca Cola Australia, Edeka and Mercadona are using the Layer-Picker in their facilities.
While these units require capital invest-ment, typical payback takes about one to three years, according to Univeyor's Dohn. "The majority of the savings come from a substantial reduction in manpower," he says.
Take K+N, for example. Its automated storage area requires only four workers per shift to supervise equipment operation, replenish picking areas and forward completed pallets to the dispatching area. The same area used to require at least 15 people per shift prior to the automation.
As labor is reduced, warehouse operators can also eliminate many of the occupational safety concerns associated with manual case picking because workers do not have to bend and lift cases to take them from one pallet to another. They can also reduce the amount of product damage and picking errors associated with it.
For any distribution center that is doing a lot of manual picking, a solution such as the LayerPicker may be right for your operations.