Ever-faster food

19 May 2022

Automated logistics solutions from KNAPP are helping grocers worldwide to fulfil online orders profitably.

THE KEY challenges for grocery retail today are labour shortages, an ever-changing product range and the rise in less profitable online orders. The solution to all of these issues is logistics automation. It offers the productivity, flexibility and scalability that supermarkets need to fulfil orders for their various channels in a way that creates competitive advantage.

KNAPP's E-Grocer solutions for online food retail cater for everything from central fulfilment centres (CFCs) for larger catchment areas to micro fulfilment centres (MFCs) for supplying urban neighbourhoods.

The E-Grocer CFC solution combines manual and automatic processes, with KNAPP's high-performance OSR Shuttle Evo used for storage and orders being fulfilled at its ergonomic Pick-it-Easy workstations. German supermarket chain REWE recently invested in an E-Grocer CFC facility in Cologne, which successfully processes 3,500 orders per day.

KNAPP delivers its E-Grocer MFC solutions in partnership with Takeoff Technologies. Together, they have supplied systems to leading grocers worldwide including Woolworths, Carrefour, Sedanos, Albertsons, Wakefern Foods, Loblaws and Ahold Delhaize. MFCs combine efficient and cost-effective fulfilment with proximity to customers, thereby tackling the last-mile issue. Shoppers can choose from click & collect or home delivery, which can be undertaken by the supermarket or by last-mile partners.

With each picker able to fulfil four orders at once at the Pick-it-Easy workstations, fulfilment time is slashed – typically, a 50-item order can be completed in about six minutes.

The MFC concept is to equip a small part of an existing supermarket with an ASRS that serves a goods-to-person picking area. Alternatively, the MFC can be built onto the store, minimising the impact on shop floor availability. Direct connection to the store means that consumers have access to the full range of products. With each picker able to fulfil four orders at once at the Pick-it-Easy workstations, fulfilment time is slashed – typically, a 50-item order can be completed in about six minutes, compared to an hour for manual picking. This means that orders can be ready for pick up or delivery within 30 minutes. As a turnkey product, MFCs need as little as 13 weeks' installation time – compared to 18-24 months for a CFC – and there is no increase in delivery routes for food suppliers. 

MFCs delivered by KNAPP and Takeoff include the Penrose eStore in New Zealand for Woolworths Group member, Countdown Supermarkets, where automation has enabled the number of orders processed per week to double from 7,500 to 15,000. A much larger facility for Woolworths is under construction in Auburn, near Sydney, to fulfil over 50,000 online deliveries a week.

The E-Grocer solutions in both MFCs and CFCs can also incorporate KNAPP's AI-enabled Pick-it-Easy Robot, developed in partnership with the Californian AI start-up, Covariant. Pick-it-Easy Robot is able to fulfil customer orders with a high degree of accuracy and at speeds equivalent to manual picking stations, while maintaining this speed over much longer periods. Its AI and intelligent sensors enable rapid self-teaching to recognise different packaging or features and determine the optimum grip point. The robot handles many different food products with consistent, gentle handling. The solution can be deployed with minimal downtime and be operational within days. Shufersal is investing in automation for its online operation, Shufersal Direct. Two new facilities equipped with KNAPP automation –including the OSR Shuttle Evo and Pick-it-Easy Robot – will serve online grocery consumers in the Tel Aviv region. The first distribution centre is already in operation and the second is under construction.

The scope for AI-powered automation is almost limitless and, with KNAPP's robotic solutions also available in a Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) model, there is more incentive than ever to invest.

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