Successful collaboration between neighbours
Grey delivery boxes move in rapid succession along the conveyor belt high above our heads, as if they are chasing each other along a giant toy racing track. As if by magic, they are automatically loaded to the brim with precisely counted bottles of shampoo and sun lotion, toiletries, sweets, herbs and spices. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a worker in sight at Meijer’s distribution centre in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Before the individual articles speed through the warehouse, they are delivered by forklift on pallets and ‘decanted’, i.e. unpacked and sorted for storage, as Ed Vance, a regional account manager at Dematic, explains. At the end of the process, the Aisle Ready Tote system, or ART for short, requires only a fraction of the workers previously needed to fill the ‘totes’ with the necessary articles so that they are ‘aisle-ready’ for the supermarkets. Between 90,000 and 150,000 single items can be processed every day, six days per week in a three shift operation.
People come into play again when the automated system feeds totes from the ASRS into several short conveyor belts. The warehouse staff scans the tote label prompting the system software to illuminate the store totes with open demand for those items. The store totes have a barcode that corresponds to the relevant aisle in the supermarket branch that has ordered replenishments. The benefit is that staff at the Meijer supermarket receive a pre-sorted delivery and can quickly restock the shelves with the missing articles, which are grouped together depending on the department in which they are sold: there might be three pots of oregano for the herbs shelf, for example, or five tubes of mascara for the cosmetics department. One of the major benefits of the ART system is that it keeps the supermarket ‘in-stock’ metric for all items served by ART high. The stores and merchandising team value this in-stock metric because it generates top line revenue.
Dematic plays an important part in this, particularly when it comes to storing more and more items in less and less space: around 11,000 square metres of floor space was previously required in the warehouse, whereas Meijer now needs only around 4,600 square metres for the same quantity of goods. And there are already plans for more automation. “We want to extend ART and have just added two lines to the six existing ones. And we expect to continue growing in the next few years,” explains Mike Graham.
Graham is looking forward to collaborating with the KION Group in the future: “We are excited about the synergies between Dematic and KION with its traditional material handling equipment,” he says. “Hopefully further investment will be made, which will bring about new opportunities for automating the supply and distribution of goods.”