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Home>Industry Sector>Food & drink>Swisslog provides centralised automated warehouse for grocery wholesaler

Swisslog provides centralised automated warehouse for grocery wholesaler

06 November 2015

Norgesgruppen is Norway’s leading grocery wholesaler with 1,750 stores and 850 service trade customers.

UNIL AS is key supplier of ‘Private Label’ products for Norgesgruppen, its parent company. With over 2,500 products in its portfolio, both food and non-food items, UNIL identified a need for a more cost-efficient automated solution.

In 2008, UNIL started to consider alternatives to structure their distribution and came to the conclusion that a new, central distribution centre would be the best solution in response to its rapid growth. They consequently decided to centralise their multiple warehouses into one and restructure their distribution. In doing so, they also switched from a manual to an automated material handling solution. In 2009, Swisslog was contracted to build a thirty-meter tall automated high bay warehouse, which now stands as the highest in Norway.

UNIL wanted to primarily expand its core business by increasing its market share with existing customers. As part of that strategy they decided to insource the distribution of its frozen food. The main purpose was to achieve more control and predictability, as well as establishing a long-term strategy for further growth. The automated solution generated a successful return on investment, so in 2013, UNIL decided to expand its facility with a deep freeze warehouse and additional storage for ambient dry goods. 

Higher volume with a reduced environmental footprint

The new and modernised distribution centre incorporates a fully automated and integrated material handling system for palletised products. The facility serves as UNIL’s main import centre, handling import shipments from every corner of the world. Inbound goods are received in two different ways, either by loose-loaded containers, or by containers with goods already on pallets. Pallets are transported manually by a forklift from receiving and placed onto a conveyor system. The estimated daily volume is between 400 and 1,000 pallets per day depending on the season. The warehouse has capacity for 1,200 pallets per day.

Optimised storage for dry goods

Four conveyors have been installed to handle the in-feed of dry goods from external production sites. Two of these are for picked pallets that need to be wrapped before being transported into the high bay warehouse. The other two conveyors are for transporting the already wrapped fully-loaded pallets. Before pallets are transported into the high bay warehouse, they are scanned and profile-checked at an ID-station. The warehouse consists of seven Vectura stacker cranes for storing and retrieving pallets, plus one integrated free-standing racking system. This has the capacity to store approximately 34,000 pallets. 



Conventional racking for approximately 4,700 pallets is stationed on the ground floor for the manual picking operation of goods that are oversized and cannot be stored in the high bay warehouse. 

When orders are released, pallets are retrieved from the racking and transported from the high bay warehouse. Operators collect these from a conveyor using a forklift before transporting them to the dispatch area. Here, the outgoing pallets are automatically labelled and buffered and ready for on-going transportation.

Ergonomic picking

Frozen food is received through three separate gates and placed on one of the two conveyors, depending on whether the pallet is already wrapped or not. Pallets that are approved at the profile check are transported to the high bay warehouse for frozen food where five Vectura stacker cranes store and retrieve the pallets.

The solution is designed for optimal picking conditions in an ergonomic environment. Due to more restricted labour conditions for frozen food, such as a temperature of -28 degrees Celsius, items are picked in a chilled area that maintains a temperature of between two and four degrees. The pallets are transported to special picking locations where it is possible to adjust the height of the pallet according to the height of the operator. When the operator receives an order there are different opportunities for completion of a pallet, based on the amount of items picked. If an order contains 50% or more of one pallet it is possible to do a reversed pick, by removing the amount of items that are not required to another pallet. Completed orders are transported to a consolidation area for frozen food, ready for distribution. 

Building a deep-freeze warehouse at the right height saves energy and increases storage capacity. With this solution, UNIL ensures efficient, high-density storage for frozen food. 

Lifetime partnership 

The main objective for UNIL was to increase its SKU range and shorten lead times to its customers. With this in mind, UNIL decided to invest in an automated high bay warehouse for the handling of their total assortment. The result is a smart and highly-efficient order fulfilment solution.

"We are very satisfied with the return that Swisslog`s solution has brought us. We currently have zero shutdowns and are able to manage our storage even more economically than we had estimated in the business case. The partnership between us has worked very well and Swisslog ensured competent personnel throughout the whole project and after,” says Jarle Kjelingtveit, Supply Chain Manager at UNIL. "We can now accept the role as a supplier to Norgesgruppen without bottlenecks in the flow of goods. We have standardized all incoming goods and can now deliver pallets without defects and with correct labelling. We have transformed our service from being one of the worst to one of the best!”