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Facilitating integration

12 December 2012

Fashion retailers have to deal with frequent new arrivals and quick replenishment in their shops says Rudolf Hansl, md of TGW Logistics Group Our customers in global fashion retail have been relying on centralised dist

Fashion retailers have to deal with frequent new arrivals and quick replenishment in their shops says Rudolf Hansl, md of TGW Logistics Group

Our customers in global fashion retail have been relying on centralised distribution centre strategies to be able to fulfil the high requirements associated with the industry. Today big apparel distribution centres service several hundred shops, handle up to 50,000 cartons per day and ship millions of garments per week to their outlets and consumers.

These central warehousing and picking facilities offer big advantages in terms of sharing resources, reducing stock volumes and increasing logistics service quality for the shops.

But consumers no longer buy only in the shops. More and more order their fashion online from home. These e-commerce activities are characterised by extremely small order volumes, short response and delivery times, and high returns rates. The logistics process differs from the shop replenishment operations in many aspects but still the integration into a centralised distribution centre might be the best option.

During a system's design phase we take all these aspects into account and intensively discuss the different solutions with our customer. One big advantage of a distribution centre for both business models is that both operations can be replenished from the same stock.

TGW's basic concept for apparel distribution centres is to directly handle the individual cartons throughout the installation, from goods receiving to dispatch, and to reduce the walking or driving distances for the workers drastically.We take the incoming cartons onto our conveyor system, identify and check them, and buffer them in a fully automated carton warehouse.

This concept avoids the now unneeded palletising process at goods receiving and manual handling of these pallets in a large block storage. In contrast the carton warehouse in TGW's solution replenishes the subsequent picking, sorting, or dispatch process fully automatically and always just in time.

The cartons in the warehouse are stored and retrieved by TGW mini-load stacker cranes with Twister load handling devices. These devices are capable of storing cartons up to fourdeep in shelving racks, while providing access to each individual carton. The range of carton dimensions that can be handled is impressive, with a dimension range of between 200 and 800 mm in length and 150 to 650 mm in width. Due to this multi-deep storage technology the investment is only 10-15% higher than a pallet warehouse but results in big operational cost advantages and a ROI in less than 3 years.

One of TGW's solutions is for a leading fashion retail chain in Europe that supplies 500 shops and uses the carton warehouse for the automated replenishment of the two different manual picking processes. New products for the stores are picked from carton flow racks. These flow racks are replenished by the automated warehouse.

The shipping cartons arrive at the picking station with their picking list and are packed with the appropriate quantity of garment from each flow rack channel by the picking personnel.

As soon as the carton is finished it is conveyed to the right area for shipping.

The second picking process handles the shop replenishment.

Here the cartons provided by the automated warehouse are sorted into a manual racking system.Workers walk through the rack aisles with picking lists for each shop and take the right articles in the right quantity from the cartons. Picked items are packed into shipping cartons and again conveyed to the appropriate shipping lane.

One of the most important restrictions for this solution was the footprint minimisation of the warehouse at a very high throughput performance.We had to guarantee a throughput of up to 3,000 cartons per hour and to handle a variety of cartons sized from 250 x 400mm to 600 x 800mm.

That is why we opted for an 18-aisle warehouse with two Mustang AS/RS machines with a Twister VCplus load handling device in each aisle. The Twister allows a company to store the cartons double deep by just using a single deep aisle width. And the use of two Mustang AS/RS machines per aisle boosts performance and guarantees access to each individual carton, even in case of the breakdown of one machine.

Another TGW solution combines a carton cross-docking system for getting new collections to the shop and a highly ergonomic goods-to-man picking for articles which the shops pull from the distribution centre. A third solution is based on picking the shop orders by a high speed sorter solution. In this solution the cartons coming from the automated warehouse are delivered to manual in-feed stations.

Each of our solutions is unique as they reflect the special requirements and situations of the individual customer. But all of them are based on lean and standardised modules that are highly reliable and stand for high performance and energy efficiency.

This results in automated solutions delivering the fashion retailer highest distribution centre performance, highest picking and inventory accuracy, a massive reduction in operational costs and a very fast return on investment.