Digitization and the strong growth in online trade present companies today with a wide range of challenges in logistics. In order to reliably process more orders, they must adapt their logistics performance to the growing dynamics. This is often only possible with modern automation solutions that allow existing space and buildings to be used more optimally and order picking processes to be designed more ergonomically and efficiently.
Arvato Supply Chain Solutions is also focusing on automating its global locations as part of a comprehensive digitization strategy. In addition to shuttle solutions, the supply chain and e-commerce service provider primarily uses the AutoStore order fulfillment system for order picking. It combines the highest storage density of all automated small parts warehouses with a very high throughput capacity and can also be scaled at short notice depending on demand.
Efficient use of space and flexibility
"We have quite a few customers, especially in our Consumer Products and Healthcare businesses, with strong e-commerce growth and products that are very well suited for automated storage and retrieval using an AutoStore solution," explains Bernhard Lembeck, who heads the new Future Warehouse department at Arvato Supply Chain Solutions.
AutoStore is based on the basic idea of simply stacking containers on top of each other without aisles and storing and retrieving them by robot from above. This enables storage in the smallest possible space without shelves and aisles, while at the same time ensuring efficient and ergonomic processes in incoming goods, picking, packing and outgoing goods.
With the AutoStore system, existing storage capacity can be quadrupled without having to move to a new building. At the same time, throughput in order fulfillment can be increased tenfold without additional staff. The system has thus revolutionized the market for automated small parts storage. Today, more than 600 Autostore systems are in operation worldwide: systems with 1,000 bins and three robots as well as systems with more than 350,000 bins and 250 robots. For Peter Bimmermann, Business Development Manager D/A/CH & CEE and Managing Director of AutoStoreSystem GmbH, this success is part of an increasing dynamic in certain industries or for individual product groups, which requires a new flexibility from companies
"In order to be able to guarantee secure delivery in all situations, automation in the warehouse is without alternative. At the same time, processes should remain simple and manageable, and system performance should be adaptable to the required capacity."”
Another advantage is that the implementation period for an AutoStore system is significantly shorter than for other warehouse automation solutions, with an average project lead time of six months to one year from commissioning to operational use. In addition, the system can be flexibly adapted to new requirements in terms of performance, storage capacity and workstations. Because of the standard modules and the ease with which the system can be expanded, AutoStore can, for example, grow with increasing volumes due to a successful online business: either by adding more robots and workstations to increase throughput, or by adding more bin locations to stock more items.
"Scalability and flexibility are core requirements for our automation solutions - and thus an important prerequisite for the solutions to be used as a blueprint model for customers from other industries and to be implemented at additional locations," emphasizes Bernhard Lembeck. "Currently, we are implementing our fifth AutoStore system."
AutoStore in use for omnichannel retailer Rituals at Arvato's Gennep site
The first AutoStore system with a capacity of 30,000 totes, 36 robots and six ports was commissioned by Arvato Supply Chain Solutions in 2019 at its Gennep, Netherlands, site for the growing online business of customer Rituals Cosmetics.
"We invested in automation to be able to handle the increase in volumes of our customers, which is mainly driven by e-commerce and the changing order structure," says Maurijn Hellenthal, head of the AutoStore project in Gennep at Arvato. Due to the very compact storage in the AutoStore system, the required space has been halved compared to the manual warehouse, while twice as many items as before can be stored in the AutoStore system.
As a solution provider and with the expertise of its own central department, which bundles operational logistics experience, site know-how and an in-depth knowledge of automation technology, Arvato has further developed and adapted the system together with AutoStore.
This is because while in the standard system orders are picked one after the other in the small parts warehouse, Arvato has installed a multi-order picking station with 120 put-to-light racks at each port in Gennep. With this method, up to 120 order items can be picked at one port and from one storage bin, which was very efficient picking due to the order structure with many A-items and only three to four items per order. Based on this capacity, an expansion of the AutoStore system was then not planned until 2025. But while there were 3,000 to 5,000 orders to be picked for Rituals on normal days, the warehouse was already reaching its limits with the first lockdown in March/April 2021.
Covid really challenged us. The surge in e-commerce orders with each lockdown was enormous. All of a sudden, the order volume fluctuated between 10,000 and 40,000 orders.”
Therefore, at the beginning of April 2020, Arvato decided together with Rituals to expand the facility and install two additional goods receiving gates, 65 robots and 6 additional ports. Only two weeks passed from the planning stage to the signing of the contract. The first 15 robots could already be installed at the beginning of May and by the beginning of June the planned expansion with a total of 101 robots as well as 12 ports including multi-order places for put-to-light picking was completed. The commissioning went smoothly and has very quickly opened up new fulfillment potential for Rituals and enabled rapid e-commerce growth despite strong volume fluctuations.
Arvato Supply Chain Solutions is using the experience gained from the implementation and expansion of the Gennep facility for its other AutoStore projects. For example, a system with 50,000 bin locations and 52 robots is currently being installed for the Healthcare division at its new site in Memphis. The customer there is a leading global medical technology company for which Arvato is responsible for the entire logistics and distribution in the USA. In Germany, two more AutoStore systems are also being implemented together with AutoStore in Dortmund and in Hamburg. "With the right level of warehouse automation, efficient and error-free processes can be realized with a higher throughput per employee. This saves costs and increases performance and flexibility to handle peak times," concludes Bernhard Lembeck. "In addition, as the smooth expansion in Gennep has shown, it means we are also well equipped for the future."