IDSnet integration drives automated line

Coca-Cola Amatil’s Northmead plant will have the first highly automated, very repeatable processing line that’s virtually free from human intervention — from cans unloaded on the dock, to end-product stored in a high-bay warehouse.

Earlier this year, Matthews Intelligent Identification worked with Coca-Cola Amatil’s Northmead, NSW, plant to integrate coding equipment across its small PET bottle line. The resulting streamlined production offers major cost and output benefits in a plant that runs 24/7.

Northmead plant’s manufacturing manager, Cameron Tully, says besides the financial benefit, two other valuable gains have been peace of mind and noise avoidance.

“What it means is that when we are running, we are getting it right first time. It avoids the likelihood of product re-work, or even product write-off, just because of the wrong code being applied. That is a major contributor in achieving manufacturing lean practice.

“So there’s peace of mind there, but the other thing is that it has taken away a lot of ‘noise’ — or problems —  on that line. That too, has been very beneficial. We see some real advantages in the integrated system.”

Using iDSnet, Matthews integrated some 8 Linx coders, which it had supplied earlier, linking them all back to a central PC control.

Peter Evans, CCA’s site electrical engineer at Northmead, says the integration has achieved many goals.

“Since the integration, we’ve had no instances of re-work. Previously, if an encoder or trigger pulse failed, someone on the floor would have to physically see there was no code on product before we caught it.

“Complicating that, was operators individually adjusting all machines. The wrong code could potentially be entered into one machine, and if the codes on the carton and bottle were different, the pack would have to be pulled to bits, with all those bottles re-packed.”

The IDSnet integration sees a single operator, from the central PC, selecting which products will be run just by pushing one button. Information sent to the coders includes ink colour, and downloads to all the machines on that line.

“So in the case of Coke Zero, which needs a white code on the black lid, it tells only the white machines to run.

“The software can also do a check between two coders to make sure they are running the same code. It also does check counts between the sensor and the print signal.”

The savings were immediate in potential human error and production uptime.

Another goal of integration was to minimise machine downtime.

“If there’s a fault with a coder,” Peter says, “it will send a message through to that central control PC that a jet’s not running for example.” 

The software allows CCA to drill down on the health of each machine to detail previously unobtainable. For instance, each encoder and sensor, on individual machines, can be checked for operability. Monitoring depth also means operators can see what a single jet is doing from the control room, right down to how the ink is reacting on the machine.

Simplified maintenance is another benefit.

“Each coder also automatically generates an e-mail via the central PC on run hours, alerting our maintenance planner that it is due in so many hours time. Our planner then organises with Matthews to do the service. From a maintenance perspective, because we run 24/7, it’s a big plus.”

The IDSnet integration that has streamlined CCA’s small PET bottle line production activities will soon be extended to Northmead’s large PET bottle line and a new can line, including integrating fillers, right through to encompassing SSCC palletising labels.

Cameron Tully says, “We are putting the Matthews system on our new can line. This will be the first Coca-Cola plant in the southern hemisphere, probably one of the first in the world, where product processing will not be touched by any human intervention. It will be highly automated, and very repeatable.”

It will work like this: when a truck pulls up, cans are automatically unloaded off the dock; the cans go right through the line, then the finished product will be picked up by an automatic guided vehicle (AGV), transported a few hundred metres to the end feed of an automated, high-bay warehouse, and stored. A truck delivering for a major customer, such as Woolworths or Coles, can then pull up, and be loaded with pallets of product.

“It will be a showpiece line for CCA and the Coke system,” Cameron says.

Cameron says CCA Northmead began looking at Matthews’ system in terms of coding.

“The ideal being that we hit one button in terms of code and all the relevant coders on the line are updated. It’s a good system, so we’ve looked at where else we can apply it.”

Kinglifter in Australia

The KingLifter is designed and manufactured by Terberg Machines (based in the Netherlands) and comes to Australia with an impressive and proven track record throughout Europe. According to Clark Equipment, Australian transport and logistics operators have been impressed by its outstanding power-to-weight ratio, fast mount and dismount (less than 60 seconds), minimal overhang (1080mm) at the rear of a truck or trailer, and ergonomic design with safe driver position.

The KingLifter is available in three basic dimensions that can be tailored to any specific application, and delivered in custom livery. The KingLifter S is the most compact in the range and is ideal for restricted access and confined turning spaces. Its low tare weight and excellent load capacity make it a viable alternative to fixed loading devices such as the tailgate loader.

The most popular all-round machine in the range is the KingLifter M with its impressive list of drive and mast options to suit a wide range of applications. It has been successfully employed in transporting beverages through to building materials, agriculture and horticulture, chemicals and waste collection, petrochemical products, public works, internal transport and logistics, and long loads.

The KingLifter L is the most powerful all-round machine in the range. Operators can specify their machine from a comprehensive list of options including 38.0 hp or 50.2 hp direct-injection diesel engine, 1-wheel or 3-wheel drive, 4-way steering, 2000kg or 2500kg lifting capacity, 2800mm to 4050mm lifting height, super reach for loading from one side only, fixed or retractable legs, plus fork and wheel options. 

Visit www.clarkequipment.com.au.

Mobile forklift goes nationwide

Specialist Australian forklift manufacturer, DMA Mobile Forklifts Pty Ltd, has experienced strong growth in the last eight months following steady enquiry about the company’s unique mobile ‘forktrucks’. 
 
What began as a simple business idea only two years ago has blossomed into a burgeoning business, seeing deliveries of the versatile forktruck all around Australia, as well as generating widespread interest as far away as New Zealand.
 
Combining the lifting power of a forklift with the convenience and road going capability of a small truck, the mobile forklifts are well suited to a large variety of tasks and applications.
 
Manufactured in partnership with TMF Engineering Solutions in Shepparton, Victoria, DMA Mobile Forklifts are designed on the Isuzu NKR 200 cab chassis and feature a rearward facing 2-tonne forklift capable of lifting up to 4.8 metres.
The vehicles feature dual gearing, brakes and steering allowing complete control from both the forklift and the truck cab, while a reversing camera helps ease of use and improves safety.
 
The latest trucks also have a tow hitch fitted rated at 3,500 kg, enabling owners to tow materials to the site, which can then be unloaded once the trailer is unhitched.
 
Whereas traditional forklifts need to be loaded onto a truck or trailer, transported to the work site and then unloaded, with the process reversed once the job is completed, the DMA forktruck can be driven straight to where it’s needed at legal road speeds.
 
Once the fork truck arrives on site it can begin the job immediately, allowing for timelier job completion and far less expense to the client.
 
According to DMA Mobile Forklifts’ proprietor, Ray Cox, recent demand for the forktrucks has been strong. "Trucks have already been delivered to just about every state with several more on order," Mr Cox said, "there’s even been keen interest from New Zealand where we soon hope to send our first shipment of trucks.

World

After groundbreaking research and development, the structural design team at Dematic has created a new drive-in rack system.  According to Dematic, the new drive-in system is the lowest cost solution for high density storage on the market, and the new design has been optimised by using stronger and bigger components, but less of them.
 
Drive-in pallet racking is the lowest cost and most popular form of high-density pallet storage. While providing excellent storage capacity, drive-in racking does restrict access, with the first pallet in being the last pallet out. Drive-in racking is ideal for many industry sectors including general manufacturing, food manufacturing and the cold storage industry.
 
According to Dr Murray Clarke, Dematic’s structural design manager, the challenge for the design team was to examine ways of improving the structural efficiency of the system and standardising the component designs and manufacturing processes whilst not compromising on load capacity or safety.
 
“Four years ago we sat down with a blank piece of paper and an overarching philosophy to make the drive-in system bigger, better and stronger whilst reducing the number of components to ensure it remained cost competitive,” said Clarke.
 
“We examined the key components and looked at ways of simplifying their design and manufacture, as well as installation. We started with the uprights, which were previously available in 90 mm and 110 mm configurations, and increased these to 125 mm and 150 mm in width. This has enabled us to reduce the number of uprights, cantilever brackets and beams in a system. At the same time, the components we have developed have applications in other areas such as mezzanine floors and high rise racking as well,” he said.
 
Probably the most innovative element of the new system is the new and patented pallet runner. According to Dr Paul Berry, senior structural engineer, the new pallet runner is the result of extensive theoretical analysis, supported by prototype testing, to optimise the design.
 
“We spent many hours examining the shape and configuration of the pallet runner, and we are confident we have designed the most advanced one in the world,” said Berry. “The new patented design is capable of large spans, easily managing spans of 2400 mm, and it minimises the vertical deflection and virtually eliminates horizontal deflection and twist. Also, the pallet runner is bolted from underneath, avoiding any catchpoints, and has holes punched at 50 mm intervals, providing greater flexibility in frame depth,” he said.
 
The new system also includes innovative, one-piece, formed cantilever brackets that wrap securely around the upright, ensuring negligible rotation under load. The streamlined ‘Protect-a-Rack’ wraps around the base of the upright with the angled profile deflecting impacts and the streamlined design maximising clear bay entry.
 
Heavy duty bracing connects symmetrically to the upright, which increases the strength and load-carrying capacity while reducing the amount of bracing needed. A backstop is positioned at the end of the pallet runner to prevent pallets being pushed too far into the depth of the rack, eliminating potential damage to spine bracing and further increasing safety. Heavy duty, purpose designed floor channels help guide the forklift, ensuring quick and easy alignment, safer handling, and greater protection of the rack.
 
“The inherent flexibility within the system’s design makes it modular and capable of accommodating most customer requirements, including custom pallets,” said Berry. “For example, we’ve had great success in the cold storage industry where pallet density is the key issue and we’ve had to construct the drive-in around cooling fans.  It hasn’t been a problem, and because everything is so modular we are able to provide faster installation times,” he said.
 
An additional tool developed by the Dematic team is the sophisticated design software program ‘Rackman’, short for rack manager.
 
“The ‘Rackman’ program provides Dematic and the Colby distributor network with a very valuable tool and a marked competitive advantage,” said Clarke. “By entering the customers’ requirements, we are able to configure the best and most cost effective storage solution. ‘Rackman’ configures the system and carries out advanced structural calculations to ensure it is compliant with design standards.
 
“The customer can tweak the design and change the height and weight of pallets and the program will check the design and calculate the required floor loading. Finally, the cost of the storage system is calculated, all in a matter of a few minutes. This would have taken hours not so long ago,” he said.
 
 “The market has responded in a positive manner to the new drive-in rack and we already have a number of happy customers in a range of installations, across a number of industries,” said Clarke.
 
(end)
 
Caption (1): Dr Murray Clarke (left) and Dr Paul Berry with the new drive-in rack system installed at Dematic’s Belrose manufacturing facility.
 
Two more images to come.

Outsourcing logistics functions: examining the trend

Shams Rahman
 
The logistics sector in Australia worth approximately A$57 billion or 9% of Australia’s GDP (Commonwealth of Australia, 2002). The significance of logistics as an economic activity is obvious when comparing its contribution with economic contributions of other sectors such as construction (5.9%), retail (5.2%), tourism (4.5%) and education (4.4%) (ABS, 2000). Of the A$57 billion logistics sector, approximately A$26 billion (or about 46%) worth of logistics functions are currently being outsourced to 3rd party logistics (3PL) providers and the market is growing.
 
In this study we have adopted the following definition of outsourced logistics functions:
 
“The outsourced logistics involves the use of external companies (3PL providers) to perform logistics functions that have traditionally been performed within an organisation. The functions performed by the 3PL providers can encompass the entire logistics process or selected activities within the process.”
 
Using a sample of companies listed in Australia’s top 500 companies, this study examines the following:
•           Level at which the decisions to outsource are made.
•           Length of contracts with 3PL providers.
•           Types of logistics functions outsourced.
•           Satisfaction level of customer with 3PL providers.
•           Organisational impact from using 3PL services.
This study was conducted in 2003. To assess the trend in the outsourced services, the results of this study were compared with two previous studies in Australia conducted in 1995 and 1999.
 
A total of 200 firms were selected for the study. Logistics/operations managers were identified and sent copies of survey questionnaires, together with a cover letter and a pre-paid reply envelope. In order to maximise the response rate and to avoid non-response bias affecting the transferability of the findings, the following procedure was used: first, companies listed in the database of participants were contacted by phone. The names of the relevant managers and their current contact details were obtained. Where possible, an attempt was made to speak to the relevant manager about the aim and the content of the survey. Then a reminder call was made to the relevant managers approximately two to three weeks after the mail out. Those who had not responded were encouraged to do so, and those who had not received the package were sent a second copy. The survey resulted in a response rate of 18%. A large proportion of the companies who responded had between 101 and 500 employees (39%). Thirty per cent of the companies had over 1,000 employees, and about one-quarter (25%) of the companies had between 501 and 1,000 employees.
 
Trend in the usage of outsourcing logistics functions over the period of 1995-2003
 
The survey revealed that 66 per cent of the respondents use outsourced logistics functions from one or more 3PL providers. Of those companies currently outsourcing, about three-quarters (74%) indicated that their companies use services of more than one contract 3PL provider. Compared with a 1996 study, this study showed a slight increase (from 61% to 66%) in the extent of the use of 3PL services. However, this increase is not as significant as in the case of US where the use of 3PL services increased from 65% to 83% between 1991 and 2003. This could reflect the expansion of service offerings by providers to users, an increase in specialised 3PL services, and the competitive nature of Australian companies. This supports an earlier theoretical proposition which suggests that one important reason for the growth of 3PL services is that companies compete in a number of businesses that are logistically distinct due to varied customer needs.
 
At which organisational level the decisions to use outsourced logistics services are made?
 
The surveyed firms were asked to indicate the organisational level (corporate, divisional, and local level), at which the decision to use outsourced logistics services originated within their companies. In 65% of cases, this decision was undertaken at the corporate level. This finding represents a significant departure from both the 1995 and 1999 studies, where the figures were 38% and 51% respectively. These results indicate that the decision to use outsourced logistics functions are becoming the realm of the corporate, rather than the divisional or local level.
How long are the contracts with the 3PL providers?
 
The respondents were asked to indicate if their current contracts were less than one year, between one to three years in length, or over three years. The results showed that of respondents who used 3PL contracts, 61% had been using them for more than three years. This result is consistent with the findings of previous studies. However, compared with the previous two studies, this study recorded a significantly larger percentage of respondents using 3PL contacts for less than one year. This is an important observation which was not reflected in the previous Australian studies.
 
Which logistics functions are being outsourced?
 
The typical user of 3PL services purchases multiple logistics services and thus the range of services used is quite extensive. Respondents indicated that the most frequently used logistics functions were: warehouse management (64%), order fulfilment (59%), fleet management (41%). Product returns, shipment consolidation and order processing all recorded 27%. There appears to be a sharp increase in the use of warehouse management and order fulfilment compared with the previous Australian studies. Fleet management has fallen but the relationship between fleet management and shipment consolidation has remained consistent.
Are customers satisfied with 3PL providers?
 
About 86% per cent of respondents claimed that they were satisfied or very satisfied with using 3PL providers. Compared with the finding of the 1995 study, the level of satisfaction has dropped (from 96% to 86%). The results also show that the satisfaction at the ‘very satisfied’ level has dropped, and the level of dissatisfaction has increased. However, Lieb and Kendrick (2003) have observed that an important indication of the satisfaction of a firm with 3PL services is its plans for future usage of such services. This information was captured by asking: ‘How would you modify your company’s use of contract logistics companies if given complete responsibility for the decision?’ Of the companies who responded, 81% indicated they would moderately or substantially increase the use of 3PL services. This finding is comparable with the finding of the 1995 study (84%).
What are the organisational impacts from using 3PL service providers?
 
Historically, the negative impact that accompanies a decision to use a 3PL provider relates to the downsizing of the logistics workforce of the user. Fifty-five per cent of participants in this study indicated that the use of 3PL service providers had permitted their organisation to reduce the number of full-time logistics positions. It showed that 80% of the users reduced up to 20% of their full-time logistics staff. This figure is higher than the results found in the 1995 study. In one-fifth of the firms, over 40% of the logistics staff was eliminated. This is larger than the 33% indicated in the 1999 study and the 22% in the 1995 study.
 
This study reaffirmed a consistent consensus that the major positive impact from using 3PL services relates to performance (86%), costs (82%), and customer satisfaction (82%). These findings are consistent with the results of the 1999 study. However, employee morale has been adversely affected in 50% of users. This is not unexpected, given the elimination in logistics headcount accompanying outsourcing. The study shows that most users perceive a very positive impact from system performance but this may be indicative that performance measures are anecdotal rather than objective.
Implications
 
The study’s findings have significant implications. We observe that the decision to use outsourced logistics functions is becoming the realm of the corporate, rather than the divisional or local level. This study indicates that a great many users are relinquishing in-house operations and using 3PL service providers and the main 3PL services used were warehouse management, fleet management and order fulfilment. The level of satisfaction with 3PL service providers is high and is reflected in the indication to continue their use in the future. Thus, it appears that the use of 3PL services will continue to grow over the next several years. However, it does not direct our knowledge as to what areas of the logistics services will be outsourced the most.
 
The choice to retain more than one 3PL provider may reflect the caution of Australian businesses in retaining a ‘fall back’ 3PL in the event of uncertainties. The use of multiple contractors may also reflect the specialist nature of logistics providers in Australia. The providers may specialise in only one or two functions such as transport and warehousing, and not in other functions that the user may require. Given the small industry syndrome in Australia compared with the US and European industries, this feature is quite understandable.
 
The results show that the use of 3PL service providers is increasing in two ways: first, more firms are beginning to use 3PL services and second, more Australian firms are using 3PL service providers for more functions along their supply chains, i.e. the scope and depth of outsourcing logistics services are increasing. This indicates that the trend has changed over the past seven years from an increase in usage of 3PL services to an increased usage as well as increased depth of usage of services along the supply chain.
 
Shams Rahman is the director of the Logistics and Supply Chain Management Program at the School of Management, RMIT University in Melbourne. Email shams.rahman@rmit.edu.au. Space constraints prevent us from reprinting the full reference list, please contact the author for further information.

What

There is a good chance if it’s in the fridges of the major retailers, it’s been handled by Pure Logistics.
 
Pure Logistics was born out of two proud Australian family companies, Scott’s Refrigerated Freightways and McColl’s Transport. Both were acquired by ABN AMRO Capital in late 2005. On March 1st, 2007, Scott’s McColl’s Group Holdings became Pure Logistics, providing a unifying identity through the creation and use of a new name and brand.
 
The name change is the beginning of a new era and is an essential element of the company‘s strategy; to be the leading specialist provider to the food grade and bulk liquid industry in Australia. Pure Logistics is at the cutting edge of refrigerated transport, cold storage, bulk liquid distribution and warehousing services to the food, resale, chemical and manufacturing industries. Pure Logistics works with all the major food manufacturers and retailers to ensure the varied requirements are always met in terms of warehousing, transport and logistics solutions.
 
The commitment that the company will execute is best summed up by Paul Graham, CEO of Pure Logistics: “Everything we do is built around this promise to our customers: we will protect the purity of whatever it is you ask us to deliver. We will do this through a combination of smart thinking, clever technology and a passion to get the job done. Whatever you entrust us with, we promise to carry it safely, carefully and with constant supervision.”
 
The Pure Logistics Group has three main classifications to its warehousing function that supports the group’s seven divisions. On the bulk liquids side, the group runs a number of ambient warehouses in all states. These are used for a combination of general warehousing contracts and also for consolidation before and after the linehaul leg. The cold chain division has major sites in each state that offer two major services: frozen storage at -20 ºC, and chilled storage at 0 to +4 ºC. This gives customers secure, reliable storage and warehousing services all hosted on one national warehousing system.
 
In addition these cold stores all have refrigerated dock space that forms the backbone of the cold chain division’s national network of chilled cross dock freight consolidation. This network will be moving onto a track and trace system for tracking pallets across the network – the first of its kind in Australia’s cold chain transport industry.
 
The cold chain division runs operations catering for the various requirements relating to meat, produce, and manufactured commodities in both chilled and frozen contexts. Pure Logistics also caters for goods in the confectionery sectors.
 
Pure Logistics has implemented the Paperless Warehousing warehouse management system (WMS) in all the major DCs as the national WMS solution . This allows for the monitoring and tracking of stock levels, stock rotation, use-by-dates, pallet numbers, lot and batch numbers. Accuracy rates associated with management of customers’ goods is near 100%. Errors are absolutely minimal. Orders can be received electronically and batch and date information can be utilized.
 
Pure Logistics utilises radio frequency (RF) infrastructure to scan stock barcodes and manage pallets that are consistent with standard serial shipper container codes (SSCC). Recently, Pure Logistics successfully migrated an old narrowband RF network to a new, modern, high speed broadband RF network meeting all the requirements of 802.11 G/B standards for this technology.
 
This revamped network allows for improved performance on an operational level delivered by improved first scan, increased reliability, reduction in downtime and improved speed in relation to data base updates. The Paperless Warehousing WMS operates 60-plus hand-held and fork mounted RF devices across the organisation.
 
Each of the cold chain facilities, that’s six sites nationally, is operating the Paperless Warehousing WMS. The Pure Logistics transport division (formerly McColls Transport) was operating a different WMS, and a further six sites are currently being replaced by the Paperless Warehousing WMS to provide a national standardised solution with Paperless.
 
According to national operations manager Dean Newman the Paperless Warehousing WMS is an integral element of the companies offering.
 
“We have quite an operation, each of our facilities around the country operates 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We deliver up to 80% of all refrigerated and perishable products to the retail sector nationally. There is a good chance if it’s in the fridges of the major retailers it’s been handled by Pure Logistics, and by the Paperless WMS” he said.
 
“Once we’ve implemented across the six new sites, the Paperless Warehousing WMS will be managing well over 50,000 pallet positions, and to give you an idea of the volumes, in the lead up to Christmas ‘06 we cross-docked up to 70,000 pallets a week.”
 
“I’ve been in the supply chain and logistics industry for over 15 years and in my experience the Paperless Warehousing WMS is the system most suited to our business, ” said Newman. “We enjoy the application, reliability is a key feature and we find it to be an exceptionally robust application,” he said.
 
“With the help of the Paperless Warehousing team we’ve been able to develop a first for the cold chain industry and that’s a track-and-trace facility capable of tracking a pallet at a granular level and even drill down to a carton level,” said Newman.
 
“This has been around in the dry freight industry for some 15 years, but it’s a first for the cold chain. It’s required a significant investment, however, ABN AMRO is prepared to invest to ensure we are providing the very best service to our customers,” he said.
 
“I’ve also been impressed with the team at Paperless Warehousing. Fundamentally they understand our business and the business of warehousing and meet the demands we drive at them,” he said.
 
“Enhancements to the system are not a problem and frankly they are very reasonable with the rates they charge for required changes,” said Newman, “I’ve worked with other WMS providers and charges for modifications have been astronomical.”
 
Pure Logistics is also a proud supporter of the community at large and in particular it is an Emerald Sponsor of CanTeen, the national support organisation for young people (aged 12-24) living with cancer, including cancer patients, their brothers and sisters and young people with parents or primary carers with cancer.
 
“We support CanTeen by supplying transport for the distribution of one million bandanas for the annual event, National Bandana Day,” said marketing manager Danielle Grant, “and we deliver them in our vehicles displaying the iconic CanTeen logo. It is a ‘moving billboard’ for CanTeen and especially important when we reach those kids affected by cancer who are isolated in regional areas,” she said.
 
“Supply chain is now a technologically advanced industry and it continues to embrace new and emerging technologies,” said Newman. “Another progressive initiative is our unique school community program, allowing students to gain first hand experience about the industry and road safety. Overall, it demonstrates how progressive warehousing and transportation has become. Hopefully we will attract younger generations into the industry,” he said.
 
“Future growth, both organic and through acquisition, is a key strategy for Pure Logistics, and the WMS enables us to consistently deliver a superior service in the cold chain industry as well as assisting with our ongoing business objectives,” he said.
 

Voice-directed order picking

Millions of cartons and products are picked each day in order fulfilment applications using voice-directed computing.
 
The hands-free, eyes free approach to order picking has quickly become a preferred order fulfilment solution for distributors around the world, saving thousands of dollars through enhanced order picking productivity and in the costs associated with rectifying picking errors every day.
 
Voice-directed computing prompts the operator through a series of tasks with clear, verbal commands. These are transmitted in real-time by a radio frequency (RF) system that interfaces with the user’s host platform, typically a WMS or ERP system.
 
The operator wears a small headset and the lightweight, portable voice-computer is attached to a belt around their waist. This keeps both hands free at all times while picking and, because the operator doesn’t need to waste time looking at and reading the data on a screen or picking list, this enhances OH&S and substantially increases productivity.
 
At Dick Smith Electronics (DSE) national distribution centre at Chullora in Sydney, the introduction of Voice Picking has well and truly exceeded expectations, delivering a 22%+ productivity gain and rapid ROI.
 
Alan Hicks, national supply chain manager, Dick Smith Electronics, said: “Since introducing voice picking, we have significantly reduced the cost per pick and actually lowered our overall labour costs despite increasing throughput. Better job satisfaction and OH&S is a real bonus too.”
 
Trans-Tasman fashion and home décor catalogue distributor EziBuy has also achieved phenomenal results since introducing voice picking in its new DC at Palmerston North, New Zealand. In the largest application of split-case voice picking technology in New Zealand, EziBuy increased picking productivity from an average of 38 lines/person/hour to 89, and up to 160 in fast pick zones.
 
“EziBuy’s people took to voice picking very quickly. The feedback is always the same. They all love the hands and eyes-free picking opportunity that voice picking delivers,” said NZ logistics consultant responsible for the project, Scott Kerr, managing director, Kerrect Logistics (NZ).
 
In a different application of voice directed computing, Melbourne-based discount variety retailer, The Reject Shop (TRS), is using the technology to facilitate a batch picking and ‘put’ order picking process.
 
In traditional retail distribution centres, the typical practice is to assemble a complete store order at a time. The Reject Shop has turned that principle on its head and instead of carting the entire order around the DC and picking products, TRS batch picks all of a single product for all orders at the one time, and then allocates the required stock for each store in a voice-directed ‘put’ process.
 “Using voice picking as the enabler for our ‘put’ picking process has delivered excellent productivity gains, improved accuracy, reduced costs and increased throughput,” said The Reject Shop’s logistics manager, Philip Beckett.
 

Fire risk and warehousing

From aircraft hangars to agricultural storehouses, industrial commodities to retail merchandise, large volume buildings and storage properties such as warehouses and ‘superstores’ serve a variety of purposes.
 
Consumer and commercial goods ranging from fresh, frozen and packaged foods through to industrial products such as automotive parts, paint, paper, textiles and fertilizer are some examples of the high-value, and often highly flammable stock that occupy warehouse facilities.
 
To allow for the demands of maximum storage utilisation and a diverse range of contents, a typical warehouse configuration exists as a large volume area with high-bay racking, automated picking systems, and general and mezzanine storage sections.
 
Factors to consider
 
In warehouse environments, primary factors such as size and height, number of entry points, storage racks, and product flammability increase the fire risk, and subsequent detection of a fire event.
 
While conventional smoke detection may be adequate for general commercial applications, the unique characteristics of a warehouse facility highlight the fundamental disadvantages that conventional ‘passive’ smoke detection such as point and beam detectors have in application-specific environments.
 
Due to the height and volume configurations of a warehouse facility, the incidence of smoke
stratification is a major challenge to detecting a potential fire event.
 
As initial smouldering smoke does not have adequate buoyancy to reach the ceiling section of a warehouse, the design, detector location and level of response of point-type and beam detectors do not provide reliable or proactive smoke detection.
 
Not only can the positioning of stock and storage racks impede access and maintenance of conventional detectors, but the size, shape and positioning of stock may either obstruct or cause a beam detector to false alarm.
 
Other challenges to beam detection include structural movement caused by external climatic changes, increasing the incidence of a beam detector activating a false alarm. Plus there is the significant cost factor associated with the number of point-type or beam detectors that are required to protect a warehouse facility.
 
Installing an aspirating ‘active’ smoke detection system is the best way to avoid a warehouse fire.
 
Very early warning aspirating smoke detection
 
Very early warning aspirating smoke detection systems provide the optimum protection against fire by reliably detecting the presence of smoke at the earliest possible stage. Despite the key environmental challenges of a warehouse environment, aspirating smoke detection technology overcomes the difficulties associated with conventional detection systems.
 
Aspirating smoke detection cumulatively samples air via multiple sampling holes in a pipe network and transports the air sample to a centrally located detector for accurate analysis. By positioning the detector in an easily accessible location, programming and maintenance of the detector can be performed without disrupting routine warehouse operations.
 
A sampling pipe network can achieve a coverage of up to 2,000 m2 per detector, providing cost effective smoke detection, regardless of the size, configuration and warehouse storage requirement. With programmable sensitivity levels, each detector can be customised to address the unique environmental characteristics of a warehouse facility, such as external pollution and airflow from the dispatch and delivery areas.
 
In addition to advanced smoke detection capabilities and programmable alarm thresholds, staged levels of response to an escalating fire condition provides the earliest opportunity for incident investigation and management, reducing the requirement for fire brigade intervention.
 
Performance-based design
 
Performance-based design determines the best fire protection system by assessing the environmental risks at the concept design stage, such as the internal and external environment, smoke source, smoke movement, heat transfer and smoke detection within the structure.
 
Leading aspirating smoke detection system such as VESDA offer performance-based technology, providing optimum protection of a warehouse facility by addressing the unique characteristics of size and height, high bay racking and storage, and automated picking systems.
 
Warehouse installation scenarios
 
For complete fire protection, the smoke detection system is flexible to allow pipe work to be mounted on the ceiling or roof, and also within the storage racking.
 
Many industry standards specify height considerations when installing a smoke detection system. The system addresses the issue of warehouse height and the occurrence of smoke stratification with multiple-level sampling. By positioning either drop pipe or sampling holes at specific levels of the warehouse ceiling and walls, the incidence of smoke stratification does not impede the ability to detect smoke at the earliest possible stage.
 
For warehouses that contain high-bay racking, sampling pipe/s can be located within the racking with sampling points located along the pipe work.
 
In large volume warehouse storage facilities, advanced aspirating smoke detection technology and flexible system design provides cost effective, low maintenance, early warning smoke detection.
 

What defines the success of an automated warehouse or distribution centre?

Pieter Feenstra
 
Every now and then you read a success story of an automated warehouse or distribution centre, but not all automation projects of this kind are an immediate success. The projects that are not an immediate success often do not make it to the press, as it might embarrass both the supplier of the facility and the customer.
 
It is, however, important to understand which factors define the success of an automation project in the logistics field. This is even more so because quite a few of these factors are not even related to the quality of the supplied facility or its supplier, the more obvious causes for a success. Rather, there are a lot of factors that have nothing to do with the supplier or the facility itself, like the products that are handled in the facility or the organisation that has to work with the facility.
 
If the factors that are described in this article are taken into account before, during and after the realisation of such a project, then success is not a coincidence or a matter of luck, but more a matter of good planning.
 
Design of the system
 
This is where it all starts. The design normally makes up only 1-2% of the total project value, but is crucial for its success and also drives the majority of the capital investment. In other words, without a proper design phase the success of a project is unpredictable and the capital investment might be much higher than it should be.
 
A good design needs close cooperation between specialists in the warehousing field and the ultimate owner/operator of the projected facility. This will ensure the combination of knowledge of automated logistics (by the specialist) and the knowledge of the operational environment (by the owner).
 
A whole article can be written covering just the design phase itself, as it usually consists of setting the strategic directions of the company, the analysis of current data (articles, flows etc.), and growth scenarios for a specific planning horizon, resulting in future data to be handled in the proposed facility. After that, different concepts will be developed (often including both manual and more mechanised concepts) and, based on upfront defined decision criteria (financial, qualitative etc.), one concept will be chosen and further developed during the detailed design phase.
 
It is crucial that sufficient attention is given to the design phase and especially the data analysis and growth scenarios. Often companies have a clear idea about growth in revenue and sometimes even volumes, but when it comes to growth in the number of articles (SKUs), orders and order lines, it gets more complicated. These last factors, however, are very important when evaluating different concepts. If detailed growth scenarios are not available or not predictable, the chosen concept must not be heavily dependent on this.
 
The supplier, the equipment, and the controls
 
It is obvious that as well as the quality of the supplier, the supplied equipment and the integration and controls of the equipment are crucial for a successful project. To make sure that one party is responsible for the overall technical facility, one option is to choose a partner who deals with both the design as well as the realisation (general contractor following a design-build approach). In this case the selected partner is accountable for both the quality of the design and also for the overall working of the completed facility.
 
Partners must be able to show references in the field and show a proven track record in both the design and the execution of automated projects. Talking to previous customers will help select the right partner for a specific project.
 
During the realisation of the project, the most important factor is the overall control of the facility, starting with machine controls through a layer of controls of the different subsystems, to the overall warehouse management system and visualisation system. The overall integration of the different components of an automated facility is often the biggest challenge, not so much the individual mechanical or electrical parts.
 
The products to be handled in the facility
 
The nature of products that will be handled in the warehouse is also very important for success. Often automated projects will have some requirements of the products (pallets, cartons), and these requirements must be met. The requirements often deal with pallet quality (no broken runners or sticking nails), load quality (within certain dimensions), and sometimes carton quality (in case of automated picking solutions).
 
A well-designed system will check the pallet integrity and their loads before they enter the automated part of the warehouse. This should prevent pallets getting stuck somewhere in the middle of the system, causing the system to come to a (full or partial) stop. Pallets and loads that do not fulfil these requirements will be rejected and must be corrected before they can re-enter the system.
 
The majority of rejects have to do with broken pallets (by manual handling), loads that are out of tolerance (for example, by having travelled long distances in a truck), and loose plastic wrap.
 
Even if they are rejected and do not cause system down time, these products might still require a lot of time (money) to be correct and/or adjusted. Nowadays systems are in place to avoid a lot of repair work, like systems to check empty pallets before palletising products (for example in the food- and beverage industry), and systems that automatically correct loads or exchange pallets. The tolerances within the facility may also have to be enlarged in order to reduce the number of rejects.
 
The operating organisation
 
At some stage the project supplier will have to hand over the finished project to the operating organisation, so they can start using it. This transition is crucial and is the factor that has the least to do with the technical factors described before. This has to do with proper change management, and is more than just supplying training and documentation.
      
The operating organisation will have to have a new look at their organisation and will have to find answers, possibly with the help of a change management specialist, to address questions such as: Will this system be accepted by our staff? Do we still have the right organisational set-up for this facility? Do we need other resources? How do we manage the transition process. Who are the process owners? What standard operating procedures do we need? etc.
It is very important to get the answers to the above questions right in a very early stage and have the operational resources, where possible, involved in the project, in order to create some ownership. In the end the equipment might be all working well, but if the organisation can not or will not work with it and get the maximum out of it, the overall project will not be a success.
 
Often it is this factor that gets underestimated and therefore does not get the attention that it requires.
 
Support of the facility
 
If the system is finally operational and is used, it will need to be maintained and supported in the proper way. This means that equipment needs preventative and corrective maintenance and the controls need regular check-ups and support in case of problems.
 
For the electro-mechanical part of the support, the format of the maintenance is dependent on the type of end-user. Often if the end-user is a retailer or a logistics service provider, the electro-mechanical support is outsourced to the supplier of the equipment. This can be done by either having dedicated supplier resources on site during operation, or by having a call-out service where the supplier comes to do preventive maintenance or is called out in case of problems. End-users who have their own production lines on the same site, like in the food and beverage industry, can opt to have the electro-mechanical service done by their already existing maintenance crew.
 
For the software and controls part of the facility, the supplier should be able to offer support on these system parts on a remote basis during all operational hours of the system. Due to the fact that the support can be done remotely, it does not mean that the support crew is actually present on the site.
 
Conclusion
 
Building an automated warehouse or distribution centre has many financial and/or qualitative advantages, and really can drive the bottom line result of an end-user. But it is important to look at the success factors and to ensure that these factors are properly addressed. If properly addressed, these facilities will have an even better financial result and will be fun places to work!
 
Pieter Feenstra is the managing director of Swisslog Australia. Visit www.swisslog.com.  
  
 

Parts aplenty

SSS Auto Parts Pty Ltd is one of the leading suppliers, importers and manufacturers of aftermarket automotive parts in Australia and New Zealand.
 
The company was established in 1987 in Melbourne and has become known as an efficient supplier of quality parts in the automotive industry. Today SSS has branches in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth to service its customer base throughout Australia.
 
The company continuously invests in product development and sophisticated information systems to provide its customers with the best quality and most complete range of products. This commitment to customer satisfaction has earned SSS the prestigious accreditation as an ISO:9001 Quality endorsed company in 1998. SSS Auto Parts take pride in quality management and supply chain excellence.
 
The company has enjoyed continuous growth in the past years with warehousing space at a premium. The year 2004 saw SSS Perth invest in two mezzanine floor systems through storage systems manufacturer, APC Group. Totalling approximately 850 square metres, the mezzanine areas satisfied SSS Perth’s storage requirements until December of 2006, when SSS Perth again opted for the same manufacturer.
 
A rapidly expanding business saw SSS Perth faced with a problem of storing an increasing number of line items in an increasingly crowded space. A three-tier raised storage system offered full use of ceiling space and provided complete flexibility for the full range of products. The new system allows SSS Perth to provide ultimate levels of service, support and reliability that this demanding industry requires.
 
The new three-tier system saw immediate improvement in the ability to manage inventory levels, with emphasis on detection of slow moving items, whilst being safe, clean and efficient. Installed on a footprint of just over 800 square metres, it provides 4675 square metres of clear storage space. The system is designed around two main pallet entry points secured by two pallet access gates. These entry points negate the need for goods inward staff to carry replenishing stock lines to the second and third levels by hand, allowing them to fork load a pallet to either point at any one time, and restocking shelves from that level.
 
Stock is stored on a mixture of storage surfaces. Larger, bulkier items such as bonnets and doors are stored on pallet racking-based longspan shelving, while smaller stock lines such as switches and fuses are stored comfortably on APC’s universal steel shelving system. The system has been designed so staff can pick items from the face of the bay, saving time on moving cartons to access the back of the bay.
 
One of the important factors for SSS was that all APC racking uprights are full-length, one-piece units, providing a stronger and more reliable system. Imported racking uprights in similar lengths often have to be spliced and are usually combined with lighter gauges of steel to the top of the upright. Complementing the uprights are double-crimped boxed beam sections, providing the ultimate in structural rigidity.
 
 

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