The State of Automation

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By Bob Trebilcock · February 24, 2011

TAKING A HOLISTIC VIEW
As is the case with Office Depot, companies that own their own stores and control their distribution and transportation processes are justifying automation by taking a holistic view of the supply chain, starting with what happens in the store. “In Europe, we are implementing systems in the retail channel where the focus is on improving the materials handling in the distribution center to reduce the cost of operating in the store,” says Strayhorn.


In the past, companies have implemented systems that build aisle-ready pallets, meaning that all of the items on a pallet will be putaway in a specific aisle in a specific store. Sophisticated examples can design a pallet so that the top layer will be stored on one end of the shelf with the bottom layer on the other end of the shelf.

Strayhorn is now seeing systems that take that concept one step further, to loading containers—and not just pallets—with product in the order it will go on the shelf. “We’ve developed a system that picks women’s T-shirts by size and places them in store-ready cartons in the order that they’ll sit on the shelf in the women’s department,” he says. “The store associate simple opens up a tote, puts the cartons on the counter, and they’re done.”

Likewise, one of Witron’s customers in Southern California justified the cost of a highly automated system on transportation savings. “The system builds a pallet in an aisle-ready fashion that ends up saving them about half a person per store over several hundred stores in their region,” says O’Farrell. “But the automation is able to build a load that is taller than the load they can build manually. That’s generating a 20 percent to 40 percent savings on transportation because they’re getting more cube on the truck.”

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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