Home>Automation>Automated handling>Swisslog provides European retailer with framework for growth
Home>Automation>Automated storage>Swisslog provides European retailer with framework for growth
Home>Automation>Picking & sortation>Swisslog provides European retailer with framework for growth

Swisslog provides European retailer with framework for growth

30 November 2015

After a thorough study, retailer Xenos chose Swisslog to project manage a comprehensive revamp of warehouse processes.


Retailer Xenos has grown considerably over recent years. The retail chain currently has around 300 stores throughout the Netherlands and Germany, but already has ambitious plans to expand even further. The company is aiming for 400 stores by 2020, with the majority of growth coming from Germany. In order to facilitate its ambitious growth plans, Xenos decided to extend its distribution centre (DC) in Waalwijk, the Netherlands. “The extension was necessary for us to stay at the forefront of one of the most competitive segments within the retail sector, and also to enable us to continue offering our customers a wide and varied range of products,” states Arthur Böhmer, supply chain manager at Xenos. The product range is likewise expanding at a significant rate; by 2020 Xenos expects to be carrying 5,500 SKUs, a 37.5 percent increase on today’s range.

Böhmer explains the decision behind extending the existing DC in Waalwijk: “We conducted a thorough distribution study and considered possible alternative locations. Needless to say, we also evaluated the German market and we identified the greatest sales potential in central and southern Germany. We can replenish our stores in that area quickly and efficiently from Waalwijk so we didn’t consider it necessary to move to a different location.” The DC in Waalwijk is also situated relatively close to the international port of Rotterdam. Countless products in the Xenos range have been arriving via that port for many years, and the supply chain manager regards it as a better option for Xenos than other ports such as Hamburg.

In addition to extra warehousing space in Waalwijk, a larger dispatch area was needed in order to handle deliveries to the growing number of stores. Furthermore, extra capacity was necessary in the receiving department so a two-shift system was introduced to maximise the use of available floor space. “When shipping containers arrive, they are unloaded manually. That’s a labour-intensive process which can often require the container to remain docked for several hours,” explains Böhmer. “Without a two-shift system, that would take up too much floor space.” 

To optimise the use of the remaining space, Xenos went in search of a suitable automated solution. However, the decision to automate was not only prompted by the issue of space optimisation, as Böhmer explains: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good, motivated employees in this logistics hotspot. Furthermore, we needed sufficient space to pick the orders based on the family grouping principle. If we don’t do that, our store employees spend too much time stocking shelves after receiving deliveries – especially in view of our highly dynamic range which sees an average of between 100 and 200 new products introduced every week.”


The right goods-to-man system combined with the stacking advice generated by the warehouse management system (WMS) would enable Xenos to continue with the family grouping method. The business case revealed that the retailer would then be able to further optimise the entire supply chain, even in the case of a rising number of products and stores.

Böhmer found the right system at Swisslog, who in the role of main contractor subsequently took charge of the whole project. “We wanted a shuttle system because that was most closely aligned with our processes based on our capacity and assortment,” Böhmer explains. “The Swisslog solution not only offered the required capacity but also had the sorting system we wanted. Moreover, we’d previously worked with Swisslog and we were satisfied with the service received ; in 2006, the company realised a satellite warehouse for us with three cranes, space for 20,000 pallets and a complete sorting process for received goods. We knew Swisslog to be a good sparring partner who proactively suggests solutions and provides excellent support, and we weren’t disappointed this time either.”

Swisslog completed our new high-bay warehouse in record time. With a height of 36 metres, it can hold 22,500 pallets which are stacked and retrieved quickly and efficiently using six Vectura pallet stacker cranes. The cranes are specially designed to handle a double-deep pallet storage layout.

From the high-bay warehouse, the pallets are transported via a system of conveyors and lifts to four ProPick depalletising stations where eight employees repack the goods into order-specific trays. Once one layer of the pallet has been decanted, the pallet is automatically positioned at the correct ergonomic height to eliminate stretching or heavy lifting. During the repacking process, the items are also weighed and checked. Weighing them here enables another simple check further on in the process, namely during picking.

When they are full, the order-specific trays are transported by conveyor to the Swisslog SmartCarrier shuttle system. This comprises 11 lifts and 55 carriers, which distribute a total of 27,000 trays across 30,000 storage locations. This highly dynamic yet compact warehouse prepares three days’ worth of inventory based on the orders received and past sales data. “Those are the medium-slow movers, which account for approximately 2,500 SKUs,” says Böhmer.

With a capacity of 2,500 trays per hour, QuickMove conveyor supplied by Swisslog take the trays from the SmartCarrier system to one of the six picking stations. Along the way, the trays are sorted in a loop system so that the order lines arrive at the right station precisely in accordance with the pre-determined stacking pattern. There, two clear touchscreens enable the order picker to see exactly how many products must be placed where. The prepared goods are positioned on a metal base in line with the calculated stacking pattern. Because the metal base is automatically lowered as more and more order lines are completed, the picker works at its ergonomically optimal height at all times. Once the order is complete, a lift transports it to the ground floor where the goods slide from the metal base onto a roll cage. In order to ensure optimal stability, the roll cage is held in position by gas springs during this process.

The biggest challenge during the project was to connect the software between the Centric Locus WMS and Swisslog’s warehouse control systems (WCS). The WMS not only generates stacking patterns but also determines factors such as the replenishment strategy. “That means that the Locus software can decide at any moment that items from the SmartCarrier system must go to the existing, manual pick operation or vice versa. If that runs flawlessly, you gain the maximum efficiency from your processes,” states Böhmer, who is very impressed with the performance so far. The extension has been operational since the beginning of 2015. “We had a maximum of one problem per week in the start-up phase, if any. It runs like clockwork,” says the manager contentedly.

The new operation facilitates further growth without requiring investment in extra employees, who are increasingly hard to find. Furthermore, the goods-to-man system enables Xenos to continue to pick the orders in line with the family grouping principle. “That creates savings throughout the entire supply chain. At store level it saves three to four hours per delivery and per store, and the productivity has also increased in the DC. For example, our pick performance has improved by more than 50 percent,” asserts Böhmer. With the new system, each station can perform up to 500 picks per hour. Thanks to the two weight checks, the error percentage has decreased further. “In fact, so far we’ve stayed completely error-free,” confirms the manager. As an added bonus the system has dramatically reduced the Xenos order pickers’ average walking distance, which previously used to be more than 1,000 metres per order.


    •    Efficient, state-of-the-art technology

    •    Control over processes; minimum chance of error

    •    High picking performance

    •    Improved ergonomics

    •    Quality safeguards thanks to innovative automation

    •    Cost benefits throughout the entire supply chain

    •    System to facilitate growth ambitions

    •    Excellent support – before, during and after the project