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Maximising supply chain competitiveness

With exceptional throughput capabilities, Multishuttle solutions offer the highest pick rates among all GTP systems. Image: Dematic.

A comparative analysis of leading automated Goods-to-Person (GTP) order fulfilment solutions. By Dave Lamb, Consulting Manager – ANZ, Dematic & Philip Makowski, Director Marketing – APAC, Dematic.

In today’s global marketplace where customer expectations are constantly evolving, supply chain efficiency is paramount for businesses seeking to gain a competitive edge.

A key differentiator has become the ability to handle diverse products and deliver orders rapidly, accurately and at the lowest cost to various channels —including businesses, brick and mortar stores, and online customers.

However, supply chains face numerous challenges: labour shortages, increasing costs, and land and real-estate constraints to combat transportation challenges and be close to customers who expect speedy delivery. With these fluctuating market dynamics, supply chains can become a competitive differentiator.

Customers demand products to be affordable, readily available, delivered quickly, with minimal errors and a seamless returns process. Additionally, the rise of e-commerce has further heightened the need for efficient order fulfilment processes. To remain competitive, businesses must navigate complexities such as SKU proliferation, seasonal fluctuations, and disruptions caused by environmental and geopolitical factors.

Automation technologies have emerged as valuable tools for addressing these challenges and enhancing supply chain resilience and agility. By automating key processes such as order picking and fulfilment, businesses can improve efficiency, accuracy, and responsiveness. 

Four leading automated goods-to-person (GTP) order fulfilment solutions — Dematic Multishuttle® GTP, AutoStore™, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) Shelf-to-Person and AMR Bin-to-Picker — have emerged globally and in APAC as the leading solutions for supply chain optimisation.

So, which automation solution is the best fit for your operations? Let’s look at the challenges supply chains currently face and compare the leading systems available today.

Enhancing Order Fulfilment Efficiency with Goods-to-Person (GTP) Systems

Within warehouse and distribution centres, picking stands out as one of the most labour-intensive tasks, particularly when it comes to eaches or item picking. In manual operations, this process can consume a significant portion of staff time, with up to 65 per cent of employees dedicated to picking tasks. However, much of this time is inefficiently spent travelling between locations rather than the actual picking task.

To address this inefficiency, GTP systems emerged to optimise the picking process by eliminating unnecessary travel. In GTP systems, workers remain stationed at designated picking areas while items are automatically delivered to them from storage as needed, precisely sequenced for efficient fulfilment. These systems can accommodate various picking methods, including discrete or batch picking, and can be tailored to fulfil different types of orders, whether that’s store shelves or online purchases.

In AMR systems, robots can easily be added or removed as throughput requirements change. Images: Dematic.
In AMR systems, robots can easily be added or removed as throughput requirements change. Images: Dematic.

While GTP solutions like Multishuttle, AutoStore, AMR Bin-to-Picker and AMR Shelf-to-Picker operate on similar principles, they differ in their storage and pick station technologies, resulting in variations in operator pick rates, ergonomics, suitable products, storage density, throughput flexibility, security features, scalability, and maintenance requirements. Therefore, when implementing a GTP system, it’s crucial to consider these factors alongside specific business and operational needs to design the most effective solution for the operation.

AMR Bin-to-Picker

The AMR Bin-to-Picker systems represent the cutting edge in Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) technology, designed for order picking tasks. These systems feature an AMR tower unit responsible for storing and retrieving totes from shelves, transferring them to an AMR tote mover, and ultimately delivering them to a designated pick station. Key features include storage height up to 10 metres high in shelves and single or double-deep configurations. 

Pros:

Quick system implementation, reducing setup times.

Pick rates from 400 order lines per hour per picker.

Exceptional accuracy in order fulfilment.

Flexibility to adjust throughput by adding or removing AMRs.

Scalability, enabling easy expansion to accommodate growing storage and throughput demands.

Maintenance-friendly design allows for easy rotation of AMRs for servicing.

Robots have low energy requirements.

Cons:

Storage height capped at 10 metres.

Lower storage density than Autostore.

Pick rates may not match those of some Multishuttle GTP systems.

AMR Shelf-to-Person

AMR Shelf-to-Person systems are the original AMR order fulfilment solution, where AMRs bring a shelf of products to an operator for picking. The shelves can be used to store a variety of items, such as small units, large items in cartons, through to hanging garments.

With storage in shelves, Shelf-to-Person systems are limited to storage heights of less than 3 metres, with pick slots ranging from ankle height to upper slots requiring a small step ladder for access. If higher warehouse headroom utilisation is required to maximise capacity, companies typically utilise mezzanines for additional Shelf-to-Person modules (or other storage solutions if applicable to a particular storage and order profile).

As pickers pick items from shelves in this solution, AMR Shelf-to-Person systems tend to have the lowest pick rates of the four main GTP systems. With pickers having to find and select the correct storage slot in the shelves, there is also more room for error.

With these factors in mind, AMR Shelf-to-Person systems are typically applicable in small order fulfilment systems or where headroom utilisation, storage capacity, pick rates, and ergonomics are less of a consideration.

Pros:

Potentially fastest implementation times.

Lower cost for smaller systems.

Cons:

Pick rates typically at 150 order lines/hour, the slowest of the four GTP solutions.

Headroom utilisation.

Mezzanines, if required, add considerable capital costs.

Lower accuracy – can be addressed with product scan, which impedes pick rates.

Picking ergonomics are not optimal.

AutoStore

AutoStore is an all-in-one storage buffer and order fulfilment solution. Offering ultra-high-density automation storage for small items, an AutoStore system can reduce space requirements down to 25 per cent compared to conventional shelf storage. With a flexible, modular design, AutoStore systems can fit into existing facilities, around building columns and in compact spaces, and be readily expanded as required. The storage is in a cubic grid up to 24 bins high and it self-organises products according to throughput. 

Pros:

Highest storage density of any GTP solution.

Ultra-high accuracy.

Robots have low energy requirements.

Easily expandable.

Flexible system layout.

Throughput and storage scalability independent of each other – can increase throughput by adding robots or increase storage by expanding the grid.

High product security as storage locations accessible only by robots.

Cons:

Flat SKU profiles can reduce robot efficiency if they spend more time ‘digging’ relative to ‘delivering’.

May pose challenges to fire regulations in certain situations.

Multishuttle Goods-to-Person Systems

Multishuttle Goods-to-Person systems integrate advanced pick stations with Dematic Multishuttle systems, employing multiple shuttles within an aisle to store and retrieve products for seamless delivery to pickers. With exceptional throughput capabilities, this solution offers the highest pick rates among all GTP systems. With the patented Dematic Inter-Aisle Transfer (iAT) technology for enhanced storage, retrieval, and picking flexibility, these systems offer optimal height utilisation of up to 20 metres and can store products in single, double, and triple-deep storage configurations.

Pros:

Pick rates exceeding 600 order lines per hour per station, the highest among GTP solutions.

Significant return on investment (ROI) despite higher system costs, thanks to unparalleled productivity gains and potentially lower building expenses.

Dematic iAT technology enables product redirection to any pick station, reducing the need for connecting conveyors and resulting in a reduced building footprint.

Maximised headroom utilisation.

Cons:

Longer system implementation time compared to other GTP solutions.

Comparative Analysis

Each automation solution offers unique advantages and considerations, making it essential for businesses to carefully evaluate their options before making a decision. AMR Bin-to-Picker systems prioritise speed and flexibility, making them ideal for dynamic environments with fluctuating order volumes. AutoStore excels in maximising storage density and space optimisation, making it suitable for businesses with space constraints. Multishuttle systems prioritise throughput and scalability, making them ideal for high-volume fulfilment centres where productivity is of utmost importance, and with the capability to go high, they potentially provide the highest storage capacity in tall warehouses.

Partnering for Success

Selecting the right automation solution requires careful consideration and collaboration with a trusted partner. Working closely with suppliers like Dematic, who offer all the leading GTP technologies, ensures businesses receive tailored solutions that address their specific needs and objectives. By leveraging the expertise of experienced providers, businesses can navigate the complexities of supply chain automation and gain a competitive advantage.

Automation a Necessity

Automated GTP solutions offer tremendous potential for enhancing supply chain efficiency and agility. In an era defined by rapid change and intense competition, automation is not just a luxury but a necessity for businesses seeking to thrive in the modern marketplace. 

AMR Case Study: Radial

Radial Europe, a leading global e-commerce third-party fulfilment provider recently sought to enhance its operations in response to the growing demands of the fashion and health & beauty industries and the evolving needs of consumers. Radial Europe’s customers include doTERRA, Calvin Klein, Cole Haan, Express, Gymshark, Lucky Brand, TaylorMade and Tommy Hilfiger. 

With a commitment to customer satisfaction and operational excellence, Radial Europe embarked on a journey to modernise its manual distribution centre in Ommen, Netherlands, recognising the need to streamline processes and improve efficiency amid the rapid growth of e-commerce.

Facing challenges associated with high-volume volatility, a sprawling storage area, and a diverse array of 20,000 constantly changing SKUs and 67,500 bin locations, Radial Europe identified the need for a cutting-edge automation solution to meet the escalating demands of the industry. In collaboration with Dematic, Radial Europe deployed an innovative Bin-to-Picker Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) system at a new facility in Groningen.

The Dematic solution, incorporating nearly 300 Bin-to-Picker and tote transport AMRs, transformed Radial Europe’s operations by significantly reducing storage space, enhancing storage density, and accelerating picking productivity. One of the key highlights of the solution was the implementation of GTP functionality, eliminating the need for extensive travel and optimising efficiency.

Offering ultra-high-density storage, AutoStore™ systems can reduce space requirements to 25 per cent. Image: Dematic.
Offering ultra-high-density storage, AutoStore™ systems can reduce space requirements to 25 per cent. Image: Dematic.

Following the successful implementation of the automation solution, Radial Europe witnessed a remarkable improvement in operational performance, with picking speed quadrupling and packing performance increasing by one-and-a-half times. Moreover, the error rate significantly decreased, attributed to the elimination of long walking routes and the seamless integration of AMRs into the workflow.

“We are now in a stronger position where we can fulfil every requirement a customer has. They simply tell us what they want to have happen and we can do it. Automation has proven to be a tremendous help in achieving the goals we had from the start,” said Ron Kleinsmit, Warehouse Manager at Radial Europe in Groningen.

AutoStore Case Study: Benetton Group

Benetton Group, one of the best-known fashion companies in the world with brands such as United Colors of Benetton and Sisley, has a retail network of over 4,000 stores.

Working in partnership with Dematic, Benetton Group implemented an AutoStore™ system in its logistics facilities in Villorba, Italy to boost the company’s e-commerce channel by optimising storage capacity and order processing.

The Dematic AutoStore system, comprising 60,000 bins and 53 mobile robots, was seamlessly integrated into Benetton’s logistics operations, transforming the order picking process. The mobile robots, traversing the top of the storage units and descending into the bins to retrieve items, significantly enhance picking efficiency while reducing the travel distances previously undertaken by Benetton staff. Additionally, Dematic’s advanced software oversees and manages the entire operation, ensuring seamless integration and optimal performance.

“We chose Dematic because we were interested in a partner with significant experience in the e-commerce sector and a solid international background,” says Valentino Soldan, Head of Logistic at Benetton Group. “The AutoStore-based solution will meet our business needs perfectly, and we are confident in facing an increasingly challenging market with a structured and technologically advanced solution, capable of accompanying our development for many years to come.”

Multishuttle GTP Case Study: Bollore Logistics

Bolloré Logistics is a global leader in international transport & logistics and a tier-1 partner to some of the world’s best-known brands. The company’s Singapore operations have grown into a key regional centre with the largest distribution operations for the company in Asia-Pacific. 

Building on the success of its Dematic Multishuttle GTP automated solution for its ‘Green Hub’ facility, Bolloré planned its new ‘Blue Hub’ facility to support further growth of its business and to help it expand the number of clients it could service, particularly in the perfume and cosmetics sector.

Offering ultra-high-density storage, AutoStore™ systems can reduce space requirements to 25 per cent. Image: Dematic.
Offering ultra-high-density storage, AutoStore™ systems can reduce space requirements to 25 per cent. Image: Dematic.

At the heart of the 50,000sqm ‘Blue Hub’ distribution centre, is an eight-aisle Dematic Multishuttle storage and retrieval system which securely stores more than 35,000 totes of products. The Multishuttle works as a high-rate fulfilment engine, delivering totes to pickers at seven ergonomically designed workstations, where operators fulfil orders whilst remaining in the one place, streamlining the fulfilment process, improving productivity, reducing operating costs, and improving workplace safety and health for operators.

Frederic Marcerou, Managing Director at Bolloré Logistics Singapore points out three main business drivers in mind when building this customised distribution centre,

“Here in Singapore, a big component is the cost of the space,” says Federic. “So, automation is helping us with storage densification to reduce our footprint. And this is the first big advantage. 

“The second one is in terms of productivity. We are able to be much more productive than we were in the past when pickers went into the aisles, to each shelf, doing manual picking. 

“And the third one, which is as important, is operational excellence. This system allows us to improve our operational excellence and the service we are giving to our clients.”

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