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ny’s bottom line, cost savings and efficient
use of physical space.
Sometimes, manufacturers worry that the
types of packaging or containers for their
products can have an impact on the ability
to install an automated system. However,
as technology advances, solutions are be-
ing created to pick a wide variety of prod-
ucts, regardless of how they are packaged.
One of the world’s largest grocery
retailers, The Kroger Company (Kroger)
(NYSE:KR), built a brand-new, state-of-
the-art, fully automated fluid milk plant
— one of the first dairies in the U.S. to
deploy robotic technology that enables
packing, picking and palletizing of crates
in the cold storage areas entirely by
automation. Not only does the system
reduce the reliance on human involve-
ment, which minimizes the workers’ ex-
posure to work-related strain, but it also
meets the company’s high standards for
energy-efficient and green initiatives.
The 215,000-square-foot facility process-
es fresh conventional and organic milk
in half-gallon and gallon containers and
packages aseptically processed milk,
creams and juices in quart-sized and
smaller bottles. The new, fully automated,
robotic production storage, handling and
order processing system includes a ware-
house management system (WMS), ro-
botic gantries, software modules and an
inter-platform communications system. It
handles stacks of and individual plastic
dairy cases on non-traditional, knee-high,
plastic belt conveyors that allow the cas-
es and/or stacks to be picked according
to the company’s specified sequence.
Once picked, the products are palletized
and immediately loaded on the trucks in
This end-to-end solution services more
than 160 stores across two states, provides
rapid material handling, ensures flexible use
of space and improves labor savings. It also
facilitates the collection of detailed product
data, which can be used in dispatch oper-
ations and production planning. This data
provides the company with 100-percent
traceability, an important factor for perish-
able dairy products and consumer safety.
With the rise of e-commerce and the
increase in consumers’ demand for the
products they want, when they want
them, retailers must create omni-chan-
nel strategies that seamlessly integrate
online and brick-and-mortar entities
throughout the supply chain.
Accommodating these new demands and
strategies requires manufacturers to turn
to technology and automation to augment
current operations, while also identifying
opportunities for continuous improvement.
The transition from picking large quantities
of product to picking individual items can
be time-consuming and inefficient. The
use of automated storage and picking
systems can alleviate this disconnect.
Automated systems can be programmed
to identify and execute the most effective
path to picking an order, eliminating the
need for individuals to walk long aisles
across the warehouse for various items.
An automated system for the goods-to-
person market should be able to accom-
modate a large number of SKUs, whether
handled in plastic crates, containers,
trays, totes or bins. High efficiency
and accuracy of the system are key to
ensuring effective productivity levels and
unmatched customer satisfaction. By
integrating an innovative shuttle device to
store and retrieve goods, these systems
are cost and space efficient and allow
warehouses to retrieve any product in a
storage area with one fast movement.
In addition, automated systems acquire
data throughout the picking and packing
process. Using historical data such as the
number of orders fulfilled or the amount of a
specific SKU packed will help management
make data-based decisions to improve
productivity and predict volume spikes.
Looking at orders in real time also helps to
optimize efficiency by shuffling the orders
to find the most efficient picking routes.
On a larger scale, automated systems are
able to consider all aspects of getting the
product from the warehouse to the custom-
er in order to maximize overall efficiency for
the whole process. For example, auto-
mated order picking systems can enable
order pallets to be stacked higher — to the
limits of the truck, instead of the limits of a
human’s reach — making deliveries more
efficient. Automated order picking can also
save money on shipping costs.
Consumer preferences will continue to
change, as will manufacturing best practic-
es and the entire supply chain landscape.
However, there will always be a need to re-
main competitive, address concerns of key
stakeholders and find new ways to meet
consumer demands. With flexible technol-
ogy solutions, manufacturers can ensure
these priorities will be met and get ahead
of the curve with systems that easily scale
based on the needs of their organization.
While many hesitate to embrace advanced
technology such as automation, due to fac-
tors such as reliability, job security and costly
investments, benefits of a proven solution
can outweigh any initial concerns through
increased efficiency, fast ROI and overall
employee and consumer satisfaction.
Tom Pollard is an applications engineer for Cimcorp,
a manufacturer and integrator of turnkey robotic gan-
try-based order fulfillment and tire handling solutions.
that the types of packaging
or containers for their
products can have an impact
on the ability to install an
automated system. However,
as technology advances,
solutions are being created
to pick a wide variety of
products, regardless of
how they are packaged.
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