High-speed picking for logistics involving meat products

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Some twelve months ago, the Finnish meat producer ATRIA OY expanded the distribution centre at its headquarters in Nurmo.  This expansion incorporated the modular storage and order picking solution Ergonomic-Dynamic Picking System (E-DPS); designed and delivered by general contractor for warehouse logistics, Witron, headquartered in Parkstein, Germany. As a result, an already efficient order picking environment increased by a factor of 1.6 with the same number of employees.

In combination with the Order Picking System (OPS) from Witron, which has been in service since 2000 and earned ATRIA the distinction of Logistics Company of the Year 2003 for Finland, the inclusion of E-DPS allows ATRIA OY to process an additional 78,000 order lines a day shipped out of Nurmo.

After just over a year, we can now say that E-DPS has made our logistics markedly quicker and more flexible, says ATRIA Project Manager, Jaakko Takala, on the basis of events so far. This will secure us a decisive advantage over our rivals for the next few years, given that our market environment is one dominated by fierce competition. Through the expansion of the logistics capacities in Nurmo, a total of more than one million kilograms of meat products and sausages can now be dispatched daily. This equates to virtually double the previous logistics available capacity.

 
E-DPS delivers optimal results
This expansion of logistics capacities has become necessary due to the fact that the turnover volume at ATRIA was continually increasing to the extent that the existing OPS system in the distribution centre built in 2000 would soon be pushing the limits of its performance capability. We also discussed the option of outsourcing these additional picking capacities to a service provider or simply installing a second OPS system from Witron alongside the first one because of our positive experiences with it, comments Takala, Project Manager at ATRIA. In the end, with the particular fact that our order structure has changed considerably in the past few years prompted us to opt for the brand new E-DPS because it will deliver the best results for us in terms of picking speed, flexibility and cost efficiency.
What is most impressive about this compact warehouse module is its outstanding output and the decoupling of the various business processes. We have realised our logistics targets in ideal fashion with E-DPS our benchmark has shown that, with minimal staff numbers and space requirements, we have achieved far greater efficiency than we would have with more traditional methods, explains Takala. ATRIA has spent around EUR 40 million in total on this second expansion of the logistics centre. The investment in the Witron logistics systems came to roughly EUR 22 million.

High-speed picking with outstanding ergonomics
The distribution centre in Nurmo uses the highly dynamic stacker cranes known as Picking Mini Loads (PMLs) for product retrieval from storage.

Up to three PMLs are combined per E-DPS module to form a unit and serve the picking stations allocated.
On the basis of approx. 400 tote movements per PML per hour, an extremely impressive picking performance of roughly 1,000 order lines in total per basic module per hour is possible!
There are currently 30 of these PMLs and 20 progressive, highly ergonomic and customised picking workstations in use at ATRIA OY.

Tested early in the Witron Technology Centre
The fact that we were the pilot customer for E-DPS did not worry us in the slightest because of our successful collaboration with Witron in previous years, comments Jaakko Takala. We have the utmost confidence in this companys expertise. We also had the opportunity early on in the project to carry out extensive tests using our own articles, and to familiarise ourselves with the new technology at the Witron Technology Centre in Parkstein. A wide variety of picking systems are installed and in operation with full material flow in the Witron Technology Centre (WITEC). It is used intensively to test new technologies and to conduct a wide range of different tests together with the customer.

Picking harmonised with production
With average inventory holdings of roughly two days, the logistics handling of ATRIA products places exceptionally high demands on the speed, flexibility and functionality of the plant. Because of the limited shelf lives in the meat and sausage sector, as well as the fact that there were two picking systems working in parallel (OPS and E-DPS), the ramp-up of the new system in particular was a very important phase for the logistics at ATRIA. The optimised controller for goods receipt from production determined whether picking in the two systems would be able to work at the level of output required in each case, remarks Josef Bauriedl, Project Manager for Witron Logistik + Informatik GmbH, in reference to an added special feature of ATRIA logistics. The E-DPS workstations, optimised completely to suit the operators, led to a considerable improvement in individual picking performance. 
In the food trade, there is an increasingly visible trend towards more individual and frequent delivery cycles this means for logistics that smaller shipments must go hand in hand with a greater number of deliveries. This flexibility also needs to be evident in order picking, ensuring continuous delivery capability as well as enabling the generation of additional demand. Here it is certainly an advantage to ATRIA to have production and logistics based in the one location. This enables very efficient operations, comments Takala, ATRIA Project Manager.

Long-standing collaboration with Witron pays off
At this point, it undoubtedly helped that ATRIA and Witron knew each other very well on account of working together on the OPS installation, and we therefore managed to realise the E-DPS installation with strong cooperation and communication, says Bauriedl, Witron Project Manager. This is another reason why ATRIA decided to opt for another Witron solution in the form of E-DPS.

Given that both OPS and E-DPS are standardised systems based on the Witron module strategy, it took no time at all to upgrade the OPS software that had been in use for more than 5 years and then synchronise it with the new E-DPS solution.

Business from long-standing customers is extremely important to us and comes with considerable efficiency gains for both partners. But in Atrias case, we were not dealing with a typical follow-up project, such as an aisle expansion in an existing system. Instead, we were looking at integrating an additional picking system alongside the existing solution, explains Bauriedl. Even with this project all the benefits of doing business with established customers were noticeable. Such benefits include the fact that the people involved usually know each other, and a whole range of costly and time-consuming preliminary tasks generally do not have to be performed a second time. For Witron, this is also an important sign that the companys innovative system solutions have won market approval on account of their measurable economic benefits and that customers are extremely satisfied with them.

Picking performance improved by a factor of 1.6 transportation costs cut
The results after the introduction of E-DPS speak for themselves. With the same number of employees, our picking output has increased once again by a factor of 1.6, Jaakko Takala happily concludes. In our fiercely competitive market environment, this will secure us an extremely important cost advantage over our rivals for the next few years and will put us in a position to sustainably increase satisfaction among our customers. Although other companies are now starting to use automated picking processes too, ATRIA is able to profit from its long-standing position as an innovation leader, established with Witrons help, and from minimal logistics costs in this area.
What is more, the fill of the totes has increased some ten percent with E-DPS, since missing articles can now be supplied later to the customer totes. Of course, this saving in terms of dispatch totes also leads to considerably lower transportation costs within the entire supply chain. We are extremely happy with the performance of E-DPS, remarks Takala. And we also know that the system is getting even better by the day. In the past, ATRIA would occasionally have to resort to manual picking as well to cover short-term peaks in demand E-DPS has enabled ATRIA to completely eliminate this very expensive and inefficient practice from the handling process. So, all in all, E-DPS gives us the ideal means to supply more than 4,000 customers daily with over 600 different articles of top quality and perfect freshness, comments Takala. That is what ATRIA is all about.


Author: Thomas Whrle, journalist, Karlsruhe.

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