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SDI Greenstone

•525 PER CENT INCREASE IN SORTATION CAPACITY
•RETURN ON INVESTMENT IN LESS THAN TWO YEARS
•RAPID CUSTOMER ORDER FULFILMENT

Holland's leading independent shoe retailer Ziengs has installed a high-speed, high-capacity, sortation system from systems integrators SDI Greenstone at its distribution centre (DC) in Assen, in the north east of the country.

The custom-designed automated system, which replaces a manual operation, provides Ziengs with an enormous amount of flexibility in three key areas: distributing new product lines to its outlets, re-stocking shops, and rapidly transferring goods between stores to meet local demands and to fulfil individual customer orders within an impressively short time. The SDI Greenstone system, fabricated and installed by Holland-based sister company SDI Promech, has enabled Ziengs to increase its product sorting capacity by a staggering 525 per cent. Such are the improvements that the new system has brought that Ziengs expects to recoup its capital investment in less that two years.

SDI Greenstone also achieved a major feat in building a sorter with the required capacity into the very limited space available at the DC. As Ziengs' Logistics Director Andries van den Berg comments: “Other companies that tendered for the contract told us it would be impossible to a fit a sorter with more than 10 drop-stations into the area available. They were wrong. SDI Greenstone's system gives us 110 drop stations.” This has been achieved despite having to design the system to fit within particularly low headroom, and to build it around several large structural pillars.

The SDI Greenstone system comprises a 35m-long oblong carousel equipped with 162 tilting plastic trays. Arranged around each side of the carousel are the 110 drop zones with inclined chutes, which are allocated, as required, to individual stores. Boxed shoes are manually loaded onto an induct station, and the bar codes on the boxes are read by an in-line scanner, communicating with Ziengs' warehouse management system (WMS). An automated conveyor then carries the boxes up to the sorter carousel where they are discharged one by one into the individual trays. The system's control logic ensures that the conveyor is in phase with the sorter so that the boxes drop precisely into the trays.

As the goods pass round the system the WMS sends signals to sorter's control software to activate solenoids that tilt the trays as they pass over the required drop-stations, so the shoes boxes slide out down the store chutes. Accumulated boxes are then removed from the chutes and placed into roll cages for onward delivery to Ziengs' stores.

The SDI Greenstone sorter , communicating with Ziengs' WMS and order processing systems, fulfils three distinct functions. Firstly, as Ziengs introduces new lines, the products are put through the system for distribution to individual stores in the quantities required. Secondly, the system handles routine re-stocking orders from stores, which are sent to the DC by EDI every day. The items are picked from the DC's warehouse and loaded onto the sorter and automatically discharged into the appropriate store chutes.

Thirdly, the SDI Greenstone sorter enables Ziengs to 'reshuffle' stock between outlets. The most obvious example of this is if a particular store does not have the exact type, or size, of shoe the customer wants. Through its real-time inventory database Ziengs can identify if those particular shoes are in stock in any of its other stores, and then arrange to transfer the items via the DC to the store where they are required. This reshuffling process is also used to adjust levels of stock and availability of specific product lines in individual stores, depending on the demands of the local market. “A particular line of shoes may be in great demand in one part of the country, but not in another,” explains Andries van den Berg. “The reshuffling system enables us to achieve an effective commercial balance between supply and demand across all our outlets – without having to bring in new stock or hold uneconomically high levels of inventory.”

These reshuffling operations are undertaken in bulk. Goods needing to be transferred between stores are routed back through the DC and put through the SDI Greenstone system for automatic sorting into their required destinations.

“One of the major benefits of the SDI Greenstone system is that it can handle all these different sorting operations in sequence – and at high speed,” explains Andries van den Berg. “This now enables us to get products to store – and to the customer – in the shortest possible time. If a store doesn't have in stock the type or size of shoe that the customer wants, we can now deliver it within as little as 24 hours. New or replacement stock generally arrives at the store within 48 hours.”

Ziengs' previous manual sorting operations were handling 8,000 items a day. The automated SDI Greenstone system is currently sorting up to 50,000 items each day – an increase of 525 per cent. The system can in fact operate even faster, sorting up to 60,000 items per hour.

With its high speed and capacious 110 drop stations, the sorter needs to be run only once a day to fulfil sequentially all the new product and stock replacement orders, and the reshuffling operations; the type of sort can be changed at the touch of a button. “With the meagre ten drop stations on the systems offered by the other companies who pitched for the business, we would have had to run several complete, stop-start, sortation cycles each day,” Andries van den Berg reports.

“With the system's speed, capacity and flexibility, and the fact that it enables us to reduce substantially our inventory at the DC, we expect to achieve payback within 18 to 24 months.”

SDI Greenstone has incorporated several special features and refinements into the installation. The induct station has a touch-screen display which enables the operator to select sort mode – new product, re-stock or reshuffle – and provides information on the status of the sortation process, including a live graphic of the carousel. A 'mirror-image' screen has been installed in the DC supervisor's office. The system generates daily reports on the sortation processes.

The system is also extremely quiet-running. The in-feed conveyor is manufactured from flexible nylon modules and the carousel's tilt trays run on rubber wheels, with all the drive mechanisms enclosed in casings lined with acoustic foam. A great deal of attention has also been paid to aesthetics and ergonomics, with all the carousel's structures and control equipment cabinets finished in Ziengs' corporate colours and all the guard rails contoured. SDI Greenstone has installed guide rails to enable the store trolleys to be easily and safely manoeuvred alongside the store chutes, and has even done away with the customary strident klaxon used to signal system start-up. Instead, Ziengs can download any – more attractive and pleasant – tune or tone desired; when the system was first commissioned, for example, it used the familiar Windows XP opening 'chime'.

“An automated process had become essential if we were to be capable of meeting future growth,” explains Andries van den Berg, “and we asked three companies to quote for a new sortation system. Apart from the vastly greater capacity and speed that the SDI Greenstone system offered, it was by far the most elegant, flexible – and simple – solution. There was a huge difference in the company's way of thinking, and its way of doing business. SDI Greenstone's approach is very much partnership-based.

“The SDI Greenstone system now enables us to get the right shoes, to the right outlet at the right time – rapidly, accurately and cost-effectively.”

For PRODUCT information please contact:
Gordon Smith, Managing Director
SDI Greenstone
Tel: 01788 574666
e-mail: gordon_smith@sdigreenstone.com

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