An automated conveyor system capable of handling up to 30 cartons a minute with minimal manual handling has been completed for wines and spirits wholesaler Waverley TBS by European Conveyor Systems.
Waverley's DC at Hemel Hempstead, including a conveyor system installed by ECS in 2000, was badly damaged by the explosion at the nearby Buncefield oil storage depot in December 2005. As part of the re-building project Waverley took the opportunity to further automate the order-picking process in order to minimise manual handling and ensure that orders could be fulfilled during peak periods.
The original ECS conveyor system had been designed to separate full case picking from single bottle picking in order to speed up order fulfilment. A special picking system nick-named Fast Alley was created solely for single bottles, involving a separate part-automated conveyor system serving an area with live storage modules. This arrangement has continued, with all orders being planned, picked and despatched using paperless systems.
At the input stage in Fast Alley pairs of pre-erected cardboard cartons are placed into wooden trays with a unique bar code 'licence plate'. A scanner reads the tray bar code, and the interface to the Warehouse Management System (WMS) allocates this tray to the next customer order. It is then released and routed automatically to each of the picking zones as required by the order list.
Once fully picked in each zone, the operator pushes the tray on to a take-away conveyor for routing to the next picking zone or to despatch if the order is complete. A facility has been included on the hand-held terminals to enter exceptions, such as out-of-stock items.
At this stage, whereas cartons with fully picked orders used to be manually checked, sealed and labelled, they are now check-weighed, strapped and labelled automatically by machines integrated into the conveyor system before passing on to a sortation conveyor that diverts them to a pre-determined despatch spur. A by-pass lane provides for non-standard items or cartons that are over or under weight.
Waste packaging materials are taken to a compactor on a separate conveyor that runs above the picking conveyors.