Swisslog expands an organic food distribution centre for Alnatura

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Few high-bay facilities are as impressive as the new distribution centre operated by Alnatura Produktions- und Handels GmbH in Lorsch, Germany. It rises 17.5 meters into the sky and—this is the most extraordinary part—it is made entirely of wood. The high-capacity high-bay warehouse is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world, Alnatura stands out with some pride, and an external façade that is also made of wood will soon be added to the ecological concept. The goal of the construction project is to build a cutting-edge extension onto an existing organic food distribution centre. The company held the ground-breaking ceremony in July 2013 and expects the work to be completed in the spring of next year. The Dortmund based general contractor, Swisslog GmbH, is the logistics company in charge of planning and execution. "What's extraordinary is that the project is in keeping with Alnatura's principles, which are based on systematic sustainability and environmental protection," comments Dr. Volker Jungbluth, CEO of Swisslog GmbH. "The organic food retailer can still rely on modern technology," he adds, "since the warehouse will soon be automated."

Handling dry goods

First some background and a few details: Headquartered in Bickenbach, Germany, Alnatura has been distributing organic foods since the mid-1980s, including dry cereals and other grains, sandwich spreads, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, to name but a few. The company maintains 80 stores in Germany and also distributes its goods through trade partners in Germany and abroad. Lorsch has been one of Alnatura's key logistics centres for many years, but it is now outgrowing its capacity, due to the retailer's strong growth. Because of the great need to expand, Alnatura decided in 2012 to construct a new building. The company is now building a new distribution center for dry goods on a footprint of 9,000 m² (a FIFA soccer field is 7,140 m²). The new structure will be a fully automated high-bay warehouse connected to an adjacent building, which will provide the interface to the existing logistics space.

Sophisticated concept

"The order from Alnatura not only covers the storage systems and conveyors, control technology and warehouse management," says Heinz Ennen, Swisslog's head of Sales, describing the work specifications. "The milestones also include construction and a sophisticated energy concept." In keeping with Alnatura's motto, "Sensible products for people and the planet," the new logistics centre is expected to earn points through an outstanding eco balance sheet. Its mandate is to cut CO2 emissions wherever possible: through energy savings, using renewable energy sources and building with wood–a material that stores carbon dioxide and is therefore considered particularly safe for the environment. "We deliberately chose to use one of the most sustainable building materials," says Prof. Dr. Götz E. Rehn, Alnatura's founder and CEO. "Wood is a renewable resource."  Alnatura wants to set an example by combining ecology and economic feasibility with attractive design. The extension may not yet be finished, but it already shows signs of reliably achieving this goal.

Ecology and technology

The high-bay facility is made of PEFC[1] -certified spruce and therefore comes from sustainably managed forests. It is an eight-story, 18 meter tall load-bearing structure with 65,570 running meters of shelf supports. The façade will be built of PRFC-certified larch wood. Thanks to good insulation and natural cooling, the logistics centre will not require any heating or artificial refrigeration when it goes into operation. To do this, the building was sunk 2.5 meters into the ground, which allows it to use the natural cooling effect of the surrounding earth. A photovoltaic system will be installed on the roof, so that the building will be operated with additional green electricity once it is completed. A total of 3,800 m2 of open storm water infiltration basins collect rainwater from both the roof of the high-bay warehouse and all yard areas, preventing rainwater from contaminating the public drainage ditch. Extensive landscaping of the property rounds out the ecological concept. The new 120 m x 67 m x 20 m warehouse and distribution centre will have a functionality and dynamics shaped largely by automation technology: nine Swisslog Vectura stacker cranes will serve up to 32,000 pallet locations. Pallet conveyors, picking robots, extensive peripheral and safety components as well as modern software control systems make the Alnatura warehouse an extremely safe and high-performance environment.

"We are delighted to give our customer a solution that is beyond comparison," says Swisslog CEO Jungbluth, and adds that any complex logistics system can rightly claim to be unique if it actually attempts to meet the user's personal need. "We have accomplished this especially well with the Alnatura project." Swisslog is known for its trend-setting solutions in the area of intralogistics. Its credo is that every customer is unique and therefore their storage and picking technology must also be unique. The goal of Swisslog's business approach is to give its customers a competitive advantage.

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