After introducing an integrated robotic solution at their distribution centre in South Australia, Galipo Foods managed to double their picking rate. Here Nathan Narayanan, General Manager at the company explains why the benefits of the solution far exceed just productivity gains.
Galipo Foods is a family-owned food service distributor, based in South Australia. The business started in 1983 and has now grown to become the largest food distributor in South Australia, servicing approximately 3,000 customers with more than 7,000 products. Its warehouse distribution facility covers 15,000 sqm, and is serviced by 48 trucks and 170 employees.
In 2018, the organisation started to strategise what the future of the business would look like, during this time a facility expansion programme was launched. “We put together our five-year plan and as we were starting to build it we asked ourselves the question: what kind of technology we want in this new facility? Keeping in mind that this was a five to seven-year plan, we knew we needed to be ahead of the curve,” Nathan Narayanan, General Manager at Galipo says.
From here, Nathan started to look at the latest technology in the warehouse sector. “We looked at what the next ten years of warehousing would look like, and that’s when we started looking at implementing Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR),” he says.
Galipo had already implemented technology into their warehouse operations back in 2015, with the deployment of Cohesio Group’s voice-aided picking technology. “By introducing voice, we already had a lot of efficiency and productivity gains. Compared to many of our competitors in this space, we were already more advanced in using tech to improve productivity,” Nathan says.
When it came to choosing an implementation partner for the next phase of technological development at Galipo, Nathan had no doubt in his mind he would work with Cohesio – an Australian tech integrator and developer who specialise in voice and robotic supply chain solutions.
“I knew the leadership team Cohesio from their previous workplaces, but our decision to work with them went beyond that. They were the only provider who could come up with the right solution for us. When we started to explore the voice solution, I knew I didn’t want a new Warehouse Management System. I wanted a connector between my business and any technology we were going to implement, and Cohesio was the only provider who could come up with this,” Nathan says.
Ahead of the curve
Once Nathan engaged Cohesio in the project, the discussions began to take place in November 2018. “This is where we started to put together a plan and strategy. We worked very closely with Cohesio. They understood that the margins are tight in our sector so it’s absolutely critical to run a lean operation,” he says.
Galipo signed off the project in January 2019, with implementation starting in March and the project went live in June.
According to Nathan, there are synergies that both Galipo and Cohesio share – largely due to Galipo being a family-owned business and Cohesio being a disruptive tech hub “With Cohesio you feel like you are an important customer. They really make you feel like you mean something to them and they are completely engaged and invested in the project,” Nathan says.
Another feature both organisations share, is the ability to be nimble. “We had a very short timeframe. We wanted to make a statement to the industry in being the first food service provider to implement this kind of solution so we wanted to turn it round very quickly. We’re able to be very nimble, going from case study to analysis to sign off in a short time. And Cohesio was able to do the same,” Nathan says.
The project has enabled Galipo to become the world’s first AMR project in a temperature-controlled environment, which Nathan is extremely proud of. “Both businesses saw the reasons to turn this around very quickly, and we all worked really hard to do this,” he says.
Change for good
According to Nathan, Galipo has always tried to ensure that everyone recognises that change in a business is a positive thing. “We’re all very receptive to the idea of change. One of the main advantages we have at Galipo is that we work together and understand why change is important. We have always recognised the benefits of changes in technology and this instance is a prime example of that,” he says.
When the organisation implemented voice, Nathan says that they made a pledge to the business that there would be no redundancies. “In fact, since 2015 we have only grown our workforce,” he says.
This pledge was reinforced when the decision to deploy robotics was made. “One of our key focuses was to get deliveries out quicker and earlier than the current rate we were dispatching at. I explained to the team that we would redeploy people into newer areas so we could achieve better service levels. Everyone understood this and embraced the changes,” Nathan says.
Phase one of the solution comprises of 12 robots, deployed into the refrigerated warehouse located in Dry Creek, South Australia. Since the AMR project was implemented, Nathan recalls that there has been an increase in ten full time employees. “For us, it’s not just about increasing top line, but about how you increase value to your customers,” he says.
There is also the added benefit of upskilling. “Suddenly you’re no longer a warehouse picker but an operator of a robotics warehouse which requires a different level of skill,” Nathan says.
Doubling picking rates
With implementation taking place just over six months ago, Galipo is already realising significant efficiency gains. The AMRs have doubled the pallet-picking rate, allowing the team to better meet customer demands.
“Part of the reason I considered this kind of technology is because I recognised that when you look at traditional picking rates, you see workers walking from bay 7, to bay 14 back to bay 1. This involves a lot of lost time walking, you lose so much productivity when you walk from one location to another to get product,” Nathan says.
Sometimes the walk time was far exceeding the pick time. Nathan recognised that the only way to minimise it was to get the location to come to the picker, rather than the picker go to the location.
“The other day I went to do some traditional picking, and while you may be able to pick at 177 cases an hour, the only way to pick at 400 an hour is to have all the products come to you,” Nathan says.
Which is the case when AMRs are deployed. Additionally, with traditional picking sometimes a picker can get to a location but there is no stock left on the shelf. “This never happens with AMRs, the stock is always on the shelf,” Nathan says.
Nathan also notes that there are numerous benefits that go beyond the fundamentals of efficiency gains. “Stock segregation, hygiene, stock rotation – these are all benefits we have found from the deployment of this technology. When you try and calculate a return on investment it’s not just about productivity gains.”
A further requirement that Galipo had was to ensure that downtime was kept to a minimum. “For a business like ours, servicing commercial kitchens that make orders on a day-to-day basis we just simply cannot afford any downtime. Cohesio completely understood this. It was all covered from a strategy point of view and they have made sure that we have a two-hour back up plan so that we don’t lose any productivity if something was to go wrong,” he says.
In addition, the beginning of the project only involved 20 or 30 lines so that the environment could be operated in as a test. This was done for an entire month before shifting nearly 700 lines into the operation.
“We approached the project slowly, to ensure that we were completely ready. I had my project coordinator pretty much picking every day, We were on the ground that month ensuring that everything worked smoothly,” Nathan says.
This project represents a new frontier in the use of AMR technology and is the result of a collaborative effort with robotics manufacturer Geek+, Cohesio and Galipo Foods.
“The implementation was such a huge success that Cohesio is here right now implementing phase two in the cool room,” Nathan says. Galipo has ordered 20 more robots and went live with phase two in February 2020.
“Cohesio is a business to be proud of within Australia. To have an organisation as committed to embracing technology and helping businesses like ours here in Australia is a really great win,” Nathan says.
Nathan notes that in deploying this kind of technology, a lot of the credit usually goes to the business that utilises the technology but not the one that came up with the solution, and he humbly suggests that Cohesio need to be acknowledged for all the great work that they have done in coming up with this solution.