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Asda, one of the top supermarket retailers in the UK and owned by US giant WalMart, have seen strong growth in business generated from its on-line shopping operation. In fact, Asda.com achieved record sales in 2010 and expects this to grow further in 2011.
Up until 2010 all internet orders were satisfied from the retail supermarket stores. In some areas of the country store capacity was maximised so Asda piloted a dedicated centre in the Leeds area. This centre is equipped with shelving to hold the complete range of ambient, chilled and frozen product on offer. Internet orders are picked on two levels before being consolidated at ground level then being loaded onto delivery vans. The pilot, run as a manual process has proved so successful that Asda are embarking on a roll out strategy to establish dedicated semi automated fulfilment centres at several chosen locations. The first in Enfield, North London went live in August 2010.
Vanderlande Industries was selected to supply the materials handling system not only at a competitive price but, also having significant experience with similar e-commerce solutions for another major UK retailer. The design offered by Vanderlande also provides flexibility for expansion in the future.
"The new facility enables Asda to grow its on-line market share in a region where it's constrained with normal store capacity, says Graeme Douglas, Supply Chain Director Asda.com. Due to the potential size of on-line demand our new facility firmly establishes our infrastructure to deliver Asda price and every day low cost to more and more potential customers in the future. It also allows Asda to offer a broader range specifically to meet our customers needs. The centre has been designed to meet these needs, on a large scale, but in an efficient and customer focused environment."
E-commerce order fulfilment centre opened for business
The site is operational 24/7. Order picking will mostly occur during the day under the control of the ASDA host system. Goods are picked into order totes from shelving laid out in the style of a supermarket. Individual pickers work within defined zones within the shelving area, and only pick goods that are stored within that zone. Each picked tote contains either a complete or a partially complete customer order. As part of the picking process, an order label is printed and applied to each tote. Included on the order label is a three-digit load number, which equates to a particular dock door. The clients host system associates the order label with the tote identifier.
Totes are placed onto the system in a random sequence and a belt conveyor transports them from the picking area and via a sorter to the marshalling areas adjacent to the dock doors. Gaps are automatically introduced between totes before they are presented to a barcode scanner. Prior to sorting the scanner reads the three-digit load number on the totes order label and the control system determines the correct destination and orientation for each tote. The position of each tote is tracked automatically from the point at which its order label is scanned. After being scanned the totes are transported to one of nine destinations.
When the tote reaches its destination on the conveyor system it is sorted to an outfeed spur. Each spur services two van routes, each van route has its own dock door. The two dock doors are situated to the left and one to the right of the spur. If necessary, totes are turned 180after the barcode scanner, so that the order label is presented to face the correct dock door.
A van route is made up of several customer orders with each customer order usually containing multiple totes. For multi-tote customer orders, the opportunity exists for the operators in the marshalling areas to consolidate partly filled totes to minimise the number of totes loaded onto the vans. The totes are sorted into the correct van round, delivery sequence, then married with chilled and frozen product which is picked manually in temperature controlled areas. Van loading will take place between 07:00-19:00 hours.
In addition to supplying the system Vanderlande Industries have signed a contract with ASDA to provide help desk support and to service the system 3 times per year.
Looking towards the future, plans are already being discussed with Vanderlande to accommodate for future growth.