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WesTrac powering the future with automation

WesTrac’s Warehouse Operations Manager, Natalia Trewin, and Warehouse Supervisor, Georgia Denton.

One of the world’s largest authorised Cat® equipment dealers, WesTrac, has automated its Tomago spare parts warehouse in NSW with the Dematic AutoStore system. MHD found out more from WesTrac and Dematic.

WesTrac is one of the world’s largest authorised Cat® equipment dealers. It provides customers with a wide range of machinery and equipment, along with comprehensive whole-of-life management solutions aimed at making equipment ownership and operation as easy, profitable, and safe as possible.

This support covers the mining and construction industries in Western Australia, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Employing more than 4500 team members and approximately 450 apprentices in its nationally accredited training institute, WesTrac is dedicated to delivering exceptional value to employees, customers, shareholders, and the community.

WesTrac’s commitment to excellence revolves around long-term customer relationships, unwavering dedication to customer service, safety, quality, and environmental concerns.

“WesTrac is one of the largest authorised Cat dealers in the world and our Tomago warehouse in NSW has an essential role to play in this, as it is the central distribution centre for our 17 regional branches, as well as our seven main workshops here on site,” explains Natalia Trewin, Warehouse Operations Manager, WesTrac.

“The Tomago facility is a high-volume operation, storing 80,000 SKUs and we pick 40,000 lines a week here.”

WESTRAC’S GROWING INVENTORY AND CUSTOMER-BASE

The previous WesTrac warehouse was constructed a decade ago. It was operated manually and over time WesTrac had seen a 30 per cent increase in inventory and customer base growth, resulting in a surge in orders to fulfil.

“Previously, operators worked on a double storey mezzanine with a very manual picking process where they walked up and down aisles with trolleys and RF devices being directed to pick orders,” says Natalia.

“Our team members would be picking from shelves that ranged from foot height all the way up to shoulder height.”

WesTrac’s Tomago warehouse needed a solution that could help overcome the challenges of a competitive labour market.
WesTrac’s Tomago warehouse needed a solution that could help overcome the challenges of a competitive labour market.

WesTrac is well-known for its technological innovations through Cat equipment, but it’s also committed to internal projects that offer real advantages to its customers.

Operating around the clock, seven days a week, to offer efficient service to customers, WesTrac’s Tomago warehouse needed a solution that could help overcome the challenges of a competitive labour market.

“As a customer-focused organisation, we knew we needed to keep looking for improvements and efficiencies to keep up with technological advancement,” adds Natalia.

“We needed to maximise our existing floor space, and to diversify our storage solutions, so we looked at what we could do to densify our existing footprint.”

ADVANCEMENT THROUGH AUTOMATION

After evaluating multiple automated solutions, WesTrac decided on an AutoStore™ solution powered by Dematic, which is driven by Dematic’s intelligent software.

AutoStore is an automated storage, goods-to-person (GTP) picking and fulfilment solution, designed to maximise warehouse space and minimise manual labour.

When compared to a typical manual warehouse operation, AutoStore streamlines the process significantly, creating a highly efficient picking system – with one picker working at the equivalent of four to five manual pickers.

“AutoStore was chosen for its densification capacity, the software-powered smarts behind its picking processes, and the speed at which it is able to pick parts for us,” says Natalia.

The Dematic Autostore system is designed to enhance space efficiency and accelerate the processes of selecting and storing parts, ultimately streamlining the parts distribution process.

The system resembles a large Rubik’s cube with densely packed totes that can be subdivided into various sections based on the parts being picked. These totes are stacked within a cube, and robots are responsible for identifying part storage locations and retrieving them from the cube.

“The WesTrac AutoStore system features 15,350 segmented bins, 24 robots, four inbound conveyor ports for replenishing products into the system, and six goods to person (GTP) stations underneath a mezzanine tunnel,” explains Seth van Dijk, Business Development Manager, Dematic.

“Customers place their orders, the WesTrac warehouse management system then drops those orders into the Dematic warehouse control system. The WCS then directs the robots to go and retrieve all the SKUs that are needed to fulfil those orders and delivers them to the GTP pick stations.

“It’s there that a WesTrac operator will be instructed to pick the right products into the applicable order totes, before placing it on the conveyor to be directed down a sorter. At the end of the sorter, those orders are then packed and dispatched for delivery to the end user.”

Initially, part locations were determined using historical consumption data, with the software-powered robotic system adapting these locations based on real-time usage data over time.

An important part of the product range able to be handled by the Dematic AutoStore system is Cat Reman Parts – used items which are factory remanufactured to their original specifications, so they deliver good-as-new performance and long life.

The recycled range provides same-as-new performance and reliability at fraction-of-new costs, while reducing the supply chain pressures and environmental impact of importing new components from overseas.

AutoStore is a uniquely scalable solution. The grid can be easily expanded with minimal interruption and progressively filled with bins as storage demand grows.

Businesses only need to invest in enough capacity to cover the short-term, allowing businesses to save their money for later, when the business reaches its growth targets, without overcapitalising if it doesn’t.

AutoStore is also one of the most sustainable warehouse picking solutions available today. AutoStore robots use power regeneration technology to reduce energy consumption, and typically consume less power than a toaster.

AUTOMATION SUPPORTED 24/7

Dematic worked closely with WesTrac to design and integrate the AutoStore system. The installation of AutoStore commenced in August 2022 and in June 2023 the new system was launched and became operational.

“When you’re very invested in the project, go live is a bit of a nail-biting experience,” says Georgia Denton, Warehouse Supervisor, WesTrac.

“Everything went to plan, and it went really well. We were very happy when we started to see robots delivering parts down the chute. It certainly gave us a real sense of accomplishment and achievement.”

The Dematic Autostore system is designed to maximise space efficiency and accelerate the process of order picking.
The Dematic Autostore system is designed to maximise space efficiency and accelerate the process of order picking.

Given the complexity of WesTrac’s automation, it was crucial to have ongoing service and support from Dematic in place to enhance system uptime, maintain uninterrupted throughput, and ensure peak production efficiency.

Continual support brings various advantages, such as minimising downtime caused by component failures, reducing overall system maintenance expenses, extending the system’s operational lifespan, and the assurance that Dematic, the system’s designer and builder, is readily accessible for servicing the system.

“Dematic was really supportive during our implementation and go live,” says Natalia. “Whenever we had any questions about how the system was going to work or how we could optimise it, Dematic was always there to answer any questions we had.

“Now, if there’s a stoppage or some sort of issue that WesTrac sees with the system, we call the Dematic 24/7 hotline. On most occasions, we’ll be able to remotely log into the system, have a look at the software and report back on what might be the issue.

“If it’s something that’s electromechanical, then we have Dematic technicians that can come to site and rectify the system, with a view to returning to full capacity as soon as possible.”

To facilitate easy identification, each robot has been assigned a unique name, such as Wall-E and Bumblebee.

“As a way to keep our team members engaged in this project, we ran a competition to nominate names for all 24 robots,” says Georgia. “The winner of the competition was Cata-picker and some other great names we had were Pickerella, Pickachu, R2D3, and “Sir-Picks-A-Lot.”

EXCEEDING PRODUCTIVITY AND CAPACITY TARGETS

Dematic’s AutoStore system has introduced a new level of productivity for WesTrac, which is supporting the company’s growth trajectory and customer service.

“Since we went live, we’re already exceeding the targets that were set in terms of what the system was capable of doing, which was picking over 500 lines per hour, or 30 per cent more with our existing headcount,” says Natalia. “Whereas previously, with the same amount of people, we were only able to pick 300 lines.

“The speed and density of the solution means that we can get urgent orders out to customers within five to 10 minutes if needed. Our customers rely on us to ensure they can keep doing the work that they need to do, so it’s really important that we’re able to step up our service to meet their needs.”

From a storage density perspective, AutoStore has significantly increased WesTrac’s available space by 1000 square metres, facilitating increased responsivity, quicker parts distribution, storage of a broader product range, and extended delivery cut-off times while still guaranteeing same day delivery. All these factors contribute to an enhanced customer experience.

FAST RESPONSIVENESS TO CUSTOMER ORDERS

The dynamic AutoStore system uses AI to adapt to real-time usage data, ensuring optimal placement of high-demand parts, which in turn, supports faster customer order fulfilment.

“If we have a regional branch order a part before 4pm, they’ll have it before 8am the next morning,” says Georgia. “If a mining customer in our region orders something before 10am, they’ll get it that afternoon.

“When it comes to earthmoving machinery, the smallest of parts – like a tiny seal – can make or break a machine. Being able to prioritise these parts within AutoStore allows us to deliver them to our customers quickly, which has led to positive feedback.”

ENHANCED OPERATOR ENVIRONMENT

WesTrac’s AutoStore has also revolutionised safety standards through minimisation of human involvement in order retrieval and improved ergonomics. Now, all parts are delivered to an operator at around waist height, which avoids them bending or reaching to pick at low or high levels.

Furthermore, the reconfiguration of warehouse tasks under AutoStore enables the diversification of employee roles, with more focus on technology and safety, which is instrumental in helping WesTrac to attract and retain talent.

FLEXIBILITY AND SCALABILITY FOR FUTURE GROWTH

Storage space and commercial real estate footprints are key challenges for organisations like WesTrac. Either by leasing or buying an existing parcel of land, building new facilities, or making use of existing structures, an organisation’s commercial footprint can be a substantial (and growing cost) of business.

With the highest storage density of any GTP solution in the market, AutoStore maximises existing spaces, limiting the need for costly commercial real estate expansion. The system’s scalability also ensures readiness for future growth, making it a pivotal addition to WesTrac’s operational infrastructure.

Dematic’s service and support is crucial to ensure system uptime and peak efficiency.
Dematic’s service and support is crucial to ensure system uptime and peak efficiency.

“One of the great features of AutoStore is that we’re able to expand the system without interrupting operation of the existing system,” explains Natalia.

“It’s very easy to come back to site and put more robots on the grid, and then you have more throughput over the weekend. Additionally, the system is designed for us to come back and build more grid, buy more totes, and that way we can grow storage.”

OPTIMISED INVENTORY AND RETURNS MANAGEMENT

The Dematic AutoStore system enhances stock control accuracy and ensures seamless integration with existing ordering systems. This, in turn, positively influences the often very challenging returns process.

“When products are returned, we’re able to bring that product directly to an AutoStore port, then a robot will bring the appropriate tote to that port, and we can put that return back into the tote with the same parts without needing to walk through the warehouse,” says Natalia.

AUTOMATION POWERING THE FUTURE

Embracing advanced technologies, WesTrac is committed to using automation to offer enhanced support to its customers, marking a new era that is powering the future of the company.

“We’ve been in partnership with Dematic for over 10 years, and they’ve been supportive of us in optimising and improving our warehouse throughout that time, including with the implementation of the AutoStore,” says Georgia.

“We’re also now looking at what other automated technologies we can bring into our distribution centre.”

For more information on Dematic, click here

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