Staff no longer have to walk to Moscow every week. Logistics systems integrator SDI Greenstone has supplied a high-capacity automated sortation system to Bertram Books, one of the UK’s top book wholesalers.
Unique in the book industry, the new £1.4 million ‘bomb bay’ system will enable Bertrams to process up to 2,000 orders, comprising around 50,000 individual books, each day. The system, which will also be used to sort incoming consignments and to process returns, replaces a laborious, time-consuming and potentially inefficient manual handling operation. It will enable Bertrams to keep pace with sustained growth and streamline its service to customers.
Founded 40 years ago and recently re-located to a 12,100 sq m head
office/distribution centre complex in Norwich, Bertram Books supplies around 2,000 customers in the retail book business on five continents, as well as distributing books for smaller publishers and operating call centres for Book Clubs run by major national newspapers. The company also provides a host of support services. The Norwich warehouse holds more than 1.5 million books, with around 3,000 new titles being added to the range each month. Bertrams claims to be able to source any one of the three million-plus books currently in print.
Until now Bertams had been assembling orders by hand, customer by customer. This meant that staff had to walk round the bulk warehouse to pick books one by one; the distances travelled each week equated to walking to Moscow and back. This was slow and extremely labour intensive, and at peak times such as Christmas the company was heavily dependent on temporary staff. With the continuing expansion of its customer base and the introduction of new support services this system was becoming inefficient, error-prone and costly.
With the new system titles are picked from stock in batches and
automatically assembled into individual customer orders on the SDI Greenstone sorter. Bertram Books’ chief executive Terry Reilly says: “People are arguably our biggest expense. The SDI Greenstone system brings much more structure and discipline, and will reduce troublesome bottlenecks at both the goods-in and order assembly ends of the operations. The system will reduce unit costs significantly.”
The sortation system offers high capacity and an enormous degree of
flexibility; there is no other system like it in the book industry. On orthodox bomb bay systems items are sorted by dropping through base flaps on trays carried round a rotating horizontal carousel. What makes the Bertrams’ system unique is its double, dual action, trays. The 800 x 400 mm trays are split into two sections which can operate together or independently to drop items into customer-specific tote boxes beneath the carousel. Small books are loaded into either of the tray sections whilst larger volumes occupy both sections.
The carousel has been built onto a 4.9 metre-high mezzanine to avoid encroaching upon valuable floor space in the warehouse. Arranged around the rim of the carousel are 200 drop zones that can be assigned to specific individual customers for each sortation wave. The tote boxes are positioned beneath the drop zones.
Orders arrive daily at Norwich by phone, fax or EDI. The day’s picking lists are assembled and all the required titles, for all the customer orders, are collated into batches – much quicker and more efficient than picking individual titles for each customer. The batches of books are taken, in totes on trolleys, to the SDI Greenstone sorter.
The totes are then transferred by powered spiral conveyors to induct
stations, where they are placed into the sorter’s dual-action trays. To give maximum flexibility to the system there are five induct stations located around the carousel.
The books are placed in the trays with their existing ISBN bar codes (which Bertrams uses for all inventory control) facing upwards. Scanners above the rotating carousel read the books’ bar codes and this information is fed into the system control software, developed by SDI Greenstone’s sister company RTI, which interfaces with Bertrams’ order processing system.
The sortation system software automatically counts the progress of each tray-set round the
carousel and as the tray passes over the appropriate customer-specific drop zone (identified via Bertrams’ order processing system) solenoids are activated to open the bomb-bay flaps in the tray, either singly or together depending on the book or books in the tray, to release the items into the tote box below. Outfeed conveyors then take the customer tote boxes to the despatch area for delivery.
With its dual bomb-bay arrangement the SDI Greenstone system has double the capacity of a comparable ‘orthodox’ sorter, and is capable of activating around 28,000 trays per hour. This is more than enough to enable Bertrams to process up to 2,000 orders each day, the equivalent of around 50,000 individual books.
The sortation system will also be used to handle incoming stock – around 70,000 new books arrive at the Norwich warehouse each day. The books are loaded onto the sorter, which separates them for putaway in the appropriate zones in the bulk storage areas. Returns are also handled on the system, with the books sorted for sending back to the publishers. In this instance the system is instructed to sort by publisher, rather than by individual title, again with reference to the books’ ISBN codes. The speed and accuracy of these sortation processes, which again replace cumbersome manual operations, will bring significant improvements and economy to the stocking and returns processes.
SDI Greenstone won the Bertram Books contract in a competitive tender. “In association with logistics consultants we approached several systems providers worldwide,” says Terry Reilly. “SDI Greenstone won the business on the strength of system functionality and flexibility, overall service and price. The company was the only one that could provide a full project management service, handling all the work in house – not just the sorter and its software but all the infrastructure such as the mezzanine, the sprinkler systems, all the electrical work and the associated health and safety issues. Other companies would have had to bring in third parties for this work.
“Ours is a growing business in a highly competitive market. The SDI
Greenstone system has made an enormous contribution to sharpening our competitive edge. Orders received before 6.00 pm can now be sorted and despatched, to be ready on our customers’ shelves the next day.”
Tel: 01788 574666
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