Kuehne + Nagel automates DC for phone firm
06 May 2020
Materials handling specialist, Axiom GB, has installed two automated solutions into Kuehne + Nagel’s facility for the company’s BT contract with the mobile network operator, EE.
The two automated lines, a B2B weigh on the way tote system and a B2C packing line, have enabled Kuehne + Nagel to significantly increase the productivity of both of these operations.
Kuehne + Nagel’s 130,000 sq ft facility is the sole distribution centre for the EE brand in the UK. With 140 full time employees and up to 60 agency staff at peak periods, this busy operation delivers mobile phones and accessories in totes to retail stores across the country and individually bagged products direct to customers.
Codenamed ‘Vera’, Axiom’s tote system automatically check weighs picked and packed totes for the EE retail operation. The solution processes a tote every six seconds, sending out up to 15,000 units a day, six days a week, to 452 EE stores and 150 franchise stores.
Nigel Henman, operations manager for the Kuehne + Nagel’s facility explains why the B2B automation was necessary: “When we were manually weighing and packing for the retail operation each individual could complete 15 to 20 totes per hour. As a comparison ‘Vera’ can achieve 600 totes in an hour. It would take one person 30 hours to manually weigh and process 600 totes – so that has given us a saving of 29 hours.
“We needed the automated system because sometimes we would be manually packing all through the night in order to get product into stores the next day. The key benefit of the Axiom tote solution is that now we can run the automation later in the day and achieve the same volume using fewer people. This has substantially improved our productivity.”
Vera’s the hero
Each tote, which has been pre-labelled with a unique barcode, is loaded onto the conveyor at the start of the process. As it travels along the system the tote is scanned and the weight verified, any variances are diverted for manual inspection, corrected and returned to the conveyor.
Dispatch documents are printed and automatically inserted inside the tote then the interlocking top lid is closed. The tote is then turned 90 degrees and sealed with a uniquely numbered strap which is photographed and recorded. The tote is then turned back to normal orientation and a shipping label is printed, applied to the side face of the tote and confirmed. Totes are then palletised ready for delivery to stores. The Axiom software confirms shipped totes, their weight and any other system related information to Kuehne + Nagel.
“We very quickly became dependent on Vera,” comments Henman. “Operationally you always wonder if a system will be as good as you expected it to be, but it’s been really reliable from the start. The fact that it can process 600 totes an hour is why we’ve now become reliant on it.”
Jumping’ Jack flash
To replace their manual packing line, Kuehne + Nagel selected an automated Axiom solution for inline packing of EE mobile phones and associated equipment, the system is codenamed ‘Jack’. Nigel Henman notes: “I was on the project team and we visited the Axiom site and they explained how the system would work. The packing line was then built in their factory so we could actually see it working and test it before it was installed.
“It was then transferred here and the installation began. There was no impact on our day to day working, the Axiom team worked seamlessly with us around our operation and within two weeks we were using it.
“Manually packing we were achieving 65 units per person per hour, with the Axiom automated solution we can push through 1200 units hourly with just four people, it’s made a big difference to our productivity.
“The automation particularly helps when we have a product launch. Before we had ‘Jack’ a major plan had to be put into place and we’d start at 4am and be working up to 22 hours a day to roll out the new products. Now a launch just goes unnoticed. It’s day to day routine rather than working throughout the night because we have the capacity to pack 1200 orders per hour.”
Orders are pre-processed using Kuehne + Nagel’s WMS system, which validates the customer information and associates the hand set(s) to the customer order. Then a 2D order label is printed and applied to each order before it is placed onto the system and the label is scanned. One person can place 1200 orders per hour onto the belt conveyor at the start of the twin level automated system.
Each order passes under a scanner and its relevant documents are printed, there are two live and one offline document printers. The documents are then scanned before being fed into the system onto the lower conveyor. Two identical SIM feeders, equipped with cameras to capture barcode information, add a SIM card to mobile device orders. There is a reject chute for unreadable SIMs. The SIM information is automatically associated to the customer order.
Product on the top conveyor merges with its correct documentation on the lower conveyor at a beak section. The completed orders are check weighed and automatically spaced ready to be fed into an automatic bagging machine. Each order is individually packaged and then a shipping label is printed and applied to the outside of the bag. A final overhead scan verifies the order with any reject orders sent down a reject chute for manual inspection. All confirmed orders are unloaded for onward delivery to EE customers.
“We have a yearly maintenance contract with Axiom for both ‘Jack’ and ‘Vera’” says Henman, “so they are both serviced at the same time. If required, any issues can usually be fixed remotely. Our staff are also very familiar with the systems; however Axiom staff are always on hand if we have any queries. We can call them at any time and they are happy to assist; their support services are excellent.
“We have become reliant on both of our automated systems because they have made such an improvement to our productivity. We would recommend Axiom to anyone. In fact we’re looking at other projects for Kuehne + Nagel at the moment and I know we will always refer to Axiom because of the good work they have done here.”
Vera tote solution
- Tote processed every six seconds
- Dispatch documents are printed and automatically inserted
- Tote sealed with a uniquely numbered strap
Jack packing solution
- Up to 1200 units per hour
- SIM feeders add a SIM card to mobile device orders