Research Category: Conveyor System

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Researchers: European Conveyor System
Location: Hampshair, United Kingdom

Research Details


A sophisticated conveyor system with a high degree of computer-based automation and control has been designed and installed by European Conveyor Systems to enable a leading manufacturer of navigation and communications products to respond to rapidly expanding sales.

The products which are mostly enabled by GPS technology, are used in cars, boats and aircraft and also by motor-cyclists, walkers and athletes. Global sales have been approximately doubling year on year and currently stand at 1 billion a year, of which some 40 per cent are in Europe.

In order to respond to the growing volume of European sales, the company decided to move to a new distribution centre near Southampton to serve Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The building has 12,000m of warehousing space and has been equipped with 5000 pallet locations, 1500 bulk pick locations and 900 small pick locations. Some 500 orders a week are completed for distributors and subsidiaries, and a further 900 items a week go to individual customers who have ordered via the internet.

Following a lengthy and demanding selection process, ECS was appointed to design and install a fully automated system to serve the order-picking function in the warehouse. It would replace an existing conveyor system that involved a considerable amount of manual handling and would not be able to provide the throughput required.

The new conveyor system links 16 zones in the picking area with the despatch area with minimal manual handling of the tote boxes that carry the picked items round the system. Altogether, the system includes 850 metres of conveyor, of which 460 metres are zero-pressure accumulation sections that allow totes to queue without making contact with each other. The nominal capacity is 750 totes an hour.

Once an order has been inducted and associated by scanner with a specific tote, it travels automatically to the appropriate picking zones. If a tote becomes full, staff at a pick station can add another via the computer system. Completed orders are conveyed to one of six despatch lanes where they are checked. Large orders for distributors are usually packed on pallets for delivery by lorry, while small ones – typically for individual customers -- are put in padded envelopes and posted.

The control system has a complete SCADA over-view of every section of the conveyor, which gives management real-time information about the order-picking situation, so that staff can be deployed in the most efficient way. The SCADA system also allows precise identification of faults or problems for maintenance and repair.

At present all the picking zones are on the ground floor, but the conveyor system has been designed so that a first-floor mezzanine can be used as a secondary picking area relatively easily in the future as sales increase.

ECS has included part of the original conveyor system in the new installation, which reduced the total cost considerably. All the work was carried out while the warehouse continued to operate.

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