Systems integrator SDI Greenstone is developing an innovative new automated sortation system to handle ‘designer label’ fashion clothing at Hansen & Cawley’s international distribution centre (DC) in Fuenlabrada, near Madrid.
The high-speed ‘bomb-bay’ sorter, which is governed by control software written by SDI group company RTI, will give Hansen & Cawley the capability to not only sort stock into batched orders for individual stores – the traditional function of such systems – but will also automatically ‘pre-sort’ incoming consignments. This will eliminate a number of manual processes between goods-in, storage, order picking and despatch, and will dramatically increase the speed of throughput in the distribution centre, potentially cutting stock-turn to as little as 48 hours. The system, which will in effect act as an automated cross-docking sorter, will thereby enable Hansen & Cawley to offer its customers an important competitive advantage by reducing the time taken to get their goods into the stores. Engineering work on the new system is being handled by SDI Iberia, SDI Greenstone’s newly-established sister company based in Barcelona.
Based in Madrid, Hansen & Cawley offers a range of third-party logistics services to major fashion houses such as Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, DKNY, O’Neill and Guess. The Fuenlabrada DC receives, consolidates and ships stock to stores throughout Spain and Portugal, and is currently handling more than one-and-a-half million items per year. The company is contracted to operate all of Armani’s distribution in Spain and Portugal, a vast majority of Guess lines, Calvin Klein Jeans and children’s clothing, DKNY jeans, Nautica shoes and all O’Neill lines.
Goods arrive, direct from the manufacturers or from other distribution centres, either in bulk or already pre-packed ready to go on display in the store. Individual items are scanned to enter their details into the warehouse management system (WMS). Many items are cross-docked for onward delivery to stores; others are put away into a racked storage area. This is on two levels, sectioned according to product, with four rows of shelving on each level. Bar codes on each location are scanned to inform the WMS where each item is stored. Picking lists, identifying the items required and their location in the racking, are generated from orders received daily at the centre from individual stores.
Assembling store orders ready for despatch used to be a manual operation. Now bulk assembly is undertaken automatically on the SDI Greenstone bomb-bay sorter, which comprises a rotating carousel carrying 94 trays with opening base flaps.
Picked goods are transferred, via pallet gates in the racking then onto a conveyor, to one of two induct stations, one at each end of the carousel. The induct stations have fixed scanners (one also has a manual scanner) which read the bar codes on the items as they are taken out of the boxes and placed into the bomb bay trays. Boxes allocated to individual stores are held in 80 ‘drop zones’ below the carousel. There are three drop zones for items whose bar codes cannot be read or which are not identified.
The sorter’s control software receives order assembly instructions from the WMS. As the tray passes over the appropriate drop zone the software activates solenoids, on each side of the carousel, to open the bomb-bay flap on the trays to release the items into the store boxes.
When the boxes are full, with the store orders complete, they given a bar code label and pushed onto a powered conveyor that runs centrally beneath the carousel. The boxes are transferred, via a spiral chute, to the Shipping Sorter, where their bar codes are read. This will direct the boxes, by activating pneumatic pushers, to one of six conveyor lanes, each dedicated to one the transport operators that Hansen & Cawley uses to deliver the goods to store. The boxes are then shrinkwrapped for onward delivery.
“With a capacity to sort more than 5,000 items an hour, the SDI Greenstone has dramatically streamlined order assembly operations,” says Hansen & Cawley’s Alejandro Del Pozo, “and we are now shipping around 20,000 boxes of goods each year. The scheme to use the installation for pre-sorting will bring even more impressive improvements.”
Because Hansen & Cawley knows in advance what goods are scheduled to arrive at Fuenlabrada each day, and what orders need to be assembled for which store, it was decided to short-cut the processes between goods-in and despatch – and to adapt the SDI Greenstone system for the job. This means creating a new ‘pre-sort’ function.
Within the new regime incoming items will go direct to the sorter. Driven by modified control software from RTI and logic that has been developed in house by Hansen & Cawley, the SDI Greenstone system will sort goods into ‘store groups’, where several stores require the same stock lines. The items will pass round the sorter carousel and be discharged into boxes in the normal way. Then as specific store orders need to be assembled, the items from the ‘store group’ boxes will be inducted back into the system for second-pass sortation into boxes for individual outlets.
SDI Greenstone and Hansen & Cawley are also considering yet a further refinement to the system, to enable it to pre-sort into store groups depending on order size – from one item to 1,000 for example – as well as by product lines.
“This could eliminate much of the manual put-away, retrieval and order-picking processes,” reports Alejandro Del Pozo. “It will save time, space and labour, and may even enable us to dispense with much of the inventory held in racks – which would be a major benefit to our customers as they will be able to greatly reduce the amount of un-sold stock sitting in a warehouse. It effectively becomes a just-in-time operation.
“Cross-docking in bulk is relatively easy. The SDI Greenstone system, however, now gives us the potential to virtually cross-dock orders of any size – a single pair of jeans to a whole box – and to turn round stock, from goods in at the warehouse to on the shelves in the store, in less than 48 hours. The SDI Greenstone system offers huge advantages at both ends of the distribution centre operation.”