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St Ivel's NDC - "slicker than a knife through Utterly Butterly!"

St Ivel’s new automated National Distribution Centre at Brockworth Business Park was officially opened in by Unigate Chief Executive, Sir Ross Buckland.

A fully automated chilled distribution centre, it is the culmination of more than two years research and careful planning undertaken in partnership with Wincanton Logistics. It has been created to enable St Ivel to meet the ever changing demands that consumers are placing on retailers in the grocery sector.

The 175,000 sq. ft. automated centre has over 10,000 pallet storage facility, more than 50 picker trucks and over 1,000 pick faces on two levels. The automated system has the ability to pick in excess of 15,000 cases per hour, take in 9 loads an hour and to despatch over 10 loads per hour.

A key feature of the centre is the fully automated high bay system of eight aisles, which enables individual access to pallets stacked in a single deep, two pallet-wide bay configuration

Radio frequency technology, from TouchStar, has also been employed in key strategic areas to improve workflow.

The centre operates ex factory collection from seven St. Ivel UK factories, as well as stock collections from European factories. A forty eight tractive unit and sixty eight trailer fleet deliver to one hundred and fifty customer locations.

Each St. Ivel factory has a production speciality e.g. yoghurt, desserts etc. All factories are linked to the NDC via the warehouse management system, which runs on an IBM RS6000 hardware platform. The WMS was originally supplied by Calidus (Open Business Solutions) but Wincanton acquired the source code for in-house maintenance of the package.

As soon as a pallet of goods is produced at any of the factories, the central WMS receives notification of it’s existence. The system therefore provides for totally transparent tracking of that pallet, from production or quarantine state, to assignment to a load awaiting delivery, to ‘in transit’ en-route to the NDC.

On arrival at the NDC most consignments are automatically unloaded using the Swedish Trancel equipment. The trailers that are used have specially modified floors that freely allow the trailers to be used in a traditional manual fashion or as an automated option. The pallets are automatically checked for height, weight and profile using Erwin Sick laser technology. Those pallets which are rejected by the profile gauge are directed to the correction point where the pallet can be adjusted and re-submitted.

The goods-in process involves a heavy degree of interaction between the WMS and Wincanton’s Movement Control System (MCS) which was supplied by DAI of Manchester. Whilst the WMS is responsible for controlling the stock and all messaging to St. Ivel, the material flows in the warehouse are controlled by the MCS. So, the WMS informs MCS of the arrival of a consignment and the associated pallet ‘stock trace’ details. In conjuction with the profile gauging exercise, bar code labels on the pallet will also be scanned to determine it’s ultimate location within the NDC. If the pallet contains stock items that are not already present within the high bay and those items are required for despatch, the pallet will by-pass the high bay and be directed straight to a despatch point or pick face. On arrival at each of these points, instructions are provided via the TouchStar Radio Data Terminals (RDT’s).

If a pallet is to be stored within the high bay, then the MCS will send a confirmation to the WMS that the product is stored, along with it’s location. Product putaway logic ensures like product and date codes are spread across crane aisles. Each rack level is fully protected by an in-rack sprinkler system.

The overall stock availability within the NDC is, again, totally visible on a real-time basis to all seven St. Ivel factories. As Ryan Gregory Wincanton’s Systems Manager explains “The factories can adjust production loads very easily based upon stock availability and incoming order volumes. The St. Ivel
Sales order processing system interfaces directly with the WMS, downloading order number and associated product detail. Those orders are then required to be transferred to another of our key IT systems, the ‘Freighter’ transport scheduling software.
Picking generally takes place from around 4pm each afternoon. The load plans are released at this time and the WMS calculates the optimum pallet-fill for those orders and, utilising the TouchStar radio infrastructure, creates case picking tasks for the warehouse team members, who are using up to 75 RDT’s on forklifts and picking mechanical handling equipment.

Once the pick task is complete, RDT functionality controls the movement of pallets through automatic stretch wrappers, labellers and into marshalling. This ensures that the position of any pallet within the warehouse is fully visible to WMS at any one time.

Marshalling tasks are created on the RDT’s and direct the team member to one of the flow racking or multi-drop lanes. The TouchStar system with it’s interface to WMS continues to control the movement of pallets onto the nominated vehicles and eliminates incorrect loading.

RDT’s are also used to co-ordinate a perpetual inventory process. When a picker picks from a location and that pick is confirmed, the picker is further prompted to record the level of remaining stock in that location. Any apparent errors or mis-picks are highlighted by the WMS to the Wincanton inventory team, who proactively remedy the problem before it escalates.

Wincanton are delighted with the way in which all elements of the system have performed, “The particular software configuration we use, coupled with the TouchStar radio infrastructure, already had an established track record at other Wincanton third party sites. When you consider that, on a single evening, we could be picking over 100,000 cases the system has to be inherently robust.”