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Huge distribution warehouse with high shelves and loaders. Bottom view.

3PL Automation can prevent businesses being left out in the cold

21/1/19

Warehouse with cold misty air - missing walls and windows

 

A cold-storage business installed an automated warehouse which output pallets in an unexpected order. Optima developed integration with the Netherlands-based control system and custom picking functionality while discovering that suit trousers are inadequate for -27 degrees.

The Project

3PL, or Third Party Logistics, is used in supply-chain management to outsource part or all of a business’ distribution and fulfilment services and is something we have provided for a number of companies across a range of industries.

Each and every instalment brings with it its own set of challenges for us to overcome and none more so than cold storage, which provides unique problems which are unlike many other in the warehouse industry.

A cold-storage customer of ours recently acquired a new warehouse with an automated chamber attached, which is effectively a sealed warehouse building with no lighting and no aisles between the racking and not surprisingly this brought with it a number of issues.

The Problems

In this case the only access for pallets into the space was through a wide door where they are loaded on to robotic shuttles and carried off into the vast dark storage area which can store around four times more items than regular cold storage facilities – saving on cooling as there’s less air between the pallets to keep cold.

To make things more complicated the chamber is constantly kept at -27 degrees so workers are only allowed in for maintenance and only for very short periods of time with robotic shuttles delivering the pallets to the doors when ordered by using a controlled system that we were asked to integrate with our Optimiser software.

Picture of icicles

Initially it seemed as simple as sending orders to the system when they are placed on Optimiser prior to being picked, but to be efficient, the automation system needed to deliver relevant pallets that are closest to the door, not necessarily specific pallets that are required.

This meant that if Optimiser asked the automation system for specific pallets, there would have to be a lot of shuffling around of pallets first, taking a lot of time and effort, so enabling the automation system to deliver whatever pallet it prefers means this isn’t necessarily the same pallet as the one allocated to the order in Optimiser.

The Solution

To get around this problem we carried-out bespoke improvements that allows Optimiser to accept whatever pallet was delivered, even if that pallet was supposed to be for a different order, and though it might sound trivial, this required quite a bit of development.

The project was a large-scale collaboration between Optima, the customer and the provider of the automation software based in the Netherlands and ultimately meant that Optimiser now issues instructions to the existing automation system, which means that the customer is able to store and cool stock much more efficiently, ultimately saving time, effort and man-hours.

Our Thoughts

“The communication from Ortec was great, which meant we could easily understand how their warehouse control system worked and could collaborate a solution that would work best, while warehouse operators worked with us on changing their operating procedures,” explains David Appleby of Optima.

“It was also fun for the project manager to experience -27 degrees in his suit trousers!” he laughs. “They obviously didn’t let him in for long as it was so cold pick axes were needed to clear the opening to the chamber as it had completely iced over.”

 

If you need new WMS software, want a better of way of dispatching orders, or are interested in how to make your warehouse more efficient, then why not see how we can help?

Contact Us on 01270 500777 today, and tell us what you need.