Smart robotic technology has helped Nestlé overcome the occupational health and safety issues of manually handing about four million cases of products in its consumer food and beverage, food service and pet food businesses.
The innovative robotic layer picking system received recognition at the recent 2011 Australian Supply Chain and Logistics Awards in Perth. Located at Nestlé’s Arndell Park national distribution centre in Sydney’s western suburbs, the system was integrated by Dematic and has been hailed as a world-first project in supply chain management.
The 80/20 rule
Nestlé’s distribution centre stores and distributes several hundred products from the organisation’s consumer food and beverage, food service and pet food businesses. The company distributes about 80 per cent of orders as full pallets, but the remaining 20 per cent come in pallet layer and full case quantities. In the past, this has meant a lot of manual handing — about five million cases per year. The new robotic solution eliminates most of that.
The system comprises a four-axis robotic layer that is equipped with dual bellows and a vacuum-gripping head capable of handling packaging types such as cartons, bags and bottled beverages.
Nestlé’s SAP warehouse management system downloads orders into Dematic’s PickDirector warehouse control system to initiate picking. In turn, PickDirector interfaces with Dematic’s FreePick Maximiser software to order the stock in the right sequence to fulfil the next wave of orders.
As new pallets of stock are fed into the system, the layer picker selects the required layers and transfers the stock to one of four customer order pallets. Any stock remaining on a pallet either forms the basis for another order via the system’s FreePick Maximiser software, or is returned to the adjacent reserve storage bays for use at a later stage.
Completed orders are checked for weight then stretch-wrapped and labelled, ready for collection and transport to despatch by forklift. Orders that require individual case picks to be added to the layers exit the system, where the distribution centre’s new voice picking system completes the process.
The FreePick Maximiser software can cross-match orders and pair them with compatible order profiles. It means up to 50 per cent of goods don’t have to be physically picked, although throughput is generally about 20 per cent.
Other winners at the 2011 Australian Supply Chain and Logistics Awards:
- University of Wollongong - Sydney Business School won the Australian Training, Education & Development Award
- Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of Queensland (WCRAQ) won the Australian Environmental Excellence Award
- Rick Ralph won the Australian Industry Excellence Award
- Amy Vassallo took out the Australian Future Leaders Award.
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