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SDI Greenstone sorter slashes order assembly time

An automated sortation system from SDI Greenstone has enabled Spanish childrenswear supplier Millamed to dramatically improve order fulfilment operations at its distribution warehouse in Malaga. The new system will handle in just one day what was previously taking Millamed a week to achieve.

To cope with an annual growth of more than 30 per cent per year in sales of its Charanga brand of children's clothing, Millamed needed to speed-up order processing at its new 12,000 sq m centre, to which the company has recently moved having outgrown its old 2,000 sq m facility nearby. Orders were being assembled manually for each of its 168 outlets in Spain, Portugal, the Middle East and South America, and the company was only able to complete two full picks each week. The company was also struggling to fulfil orders from its Factory Outlet branches, through which the previous year's Charanga ranges are sold.

The automated sorter from logistics systems integrator SDI Greenstone has solved the problem – not just for the present, but for the foreseeable future too, giving Millamed the capacity to cope with anticipated expansion over the next few years. The sortation system is now handling two full picking waves each day for the Charanga stores, as well as a single complete pick for the Factory Outlets.

SDI Greenstone's sorter comprises a 43 metre-long carousel, installed on steel framework 3.5m above floor level. Travelling round inside the carousel are 118 sets of steel trays with hinged twin base flaps – 'bomb bays'. Arranged around the carousel beneath the rotating trays are 100 'drop stations'.

The sorter is used to handle flat garments, packed in plastic bags, which comprise around 60 per cent of the items despatched from the Malaga centre. As daily orders are received from the Charanga outlets, the items are assembled from stock in batches, by product (and size and colour) rather than by individual store order, as was the case previously. The items are picked onto pallets that are then lifted up to the induct stations on the sorter. There are two induct platforms, each equipped with bar code scanners. Millamed operators offer the garments' bar codes up to the scanners (the goods arrive from suppliers with bar code labels already applied) and then place the items onto the trays. Alternatively the goods are simply placed onto the trays – with their bar codes uppermost so they can be read by in-line scanners above the carousel.

Control software on the sorter (written by SDI Greenstone's sister company RTI) interfaces with Millamed's warehouse management/order processing system (WMS). For each sortation wave the system assigns specific drop stations on the sorter to individual stores. As the trays rotate round the carousel the control software activates the bomb-bay flaps so that the items are released at the required drop station, where they are deposited into boxes. When each store order has been completed a blue light comes on at the relevant drop station – giving operators an easy at-a-glance view of how the sortation process is progressing.

At the touch of a button, printers, located by the sorter and also linked into Millamed's WMS, produce labels for each store order. The labels indicate the destination store, the contents of the order and the drop stations at which the boxed orders are waiting. Operators, working at floor level inside the carousel loop, apply the labels to the boxes at the drop stations. The boxes are closed and then pushed outwards onto gravity roller conveyor lanes that lead from the drop stations. Boxed store orders accumulate on the conveyors.

The operator presses a button above the drop zone to confirm that the label has been applied (the blue light then goes off) and the box has been transferred to the accumulation conveyor, thus making the drop zone available for the next sortation wave. SDI Greenstone has installed short conveyor lanes for small-quantity orders, longer conveyors for larger orders. Long or short conveyors, and the drop stations to which are they are connected, are automatically assigned by the WMS depending on the size of each store order at each sortation wave. The boxes are collected from the accumulation conveyors and transferred to despatch for onward delivery to the stores.

As well as being used to assemble orders SDI Greenstone's sorter is also used for inventory control. Flat-packed garments arriving from suppliers are taken from their transit boxes and individually fed through the sorter for counting and verification, with the information being loaded into the inventory control data in the WMS, before being put away into storage.

Each day the SDI Greenstone sortation system is running two pick waves for the Charanga stores and one for the Factory Outlets. “The system is a vast improvement over our old way of operating,” says IT Director Antonio Camas Rodriguez. “The old manual system was slow and labour-intensive and it was taking as long as a week to fulfil orders. We are now offering just a two-day lead time between receipt of order and delivery to store. More important, perhaps, the system gives us ample capacity to cope with future expansion.”

With sustained recent growth of more than 30 per cent per annum Millamed expects to increase its number of outlets from 132 to more than 270 within the next two years. At the moment the SDI Greenstone sortation system is operating for up to five hours each day, processing around 9,000 items. Its capacity, however, is much higher; the system is designed to handle more than 7,000 items per hour.

“This not only give us the ability to handle much high volumes – in terms of quantities and numbers of SKUs – but it can also enable us to improve service to the outlets even further,” explains Antonio Camas Rodriguez. “With the simple addition of extra scanning equipment on the sorter we have the potential to serve our outlets on a daily basis.”

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

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