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Online sales are growing and customers want to receive their orders even faster. This places high demands on suppliers. We are talking not only about those who bring the goods to the place of the order, but also, and perhaps particularly, about those who prepare them for dispatch.

Retail companies modify their logistics systems on a regular basis, adapting them to the needs of the omnichannel. One way to speed up the flow of goods is to automate intralogistics processes. The Belgian CASA is an example of a company that has already undergone key changes.

Omnichannel is a strategy of combining multiple distribution channels into a single, interchangeable system. It generates a number of challenges for traditional sales and e-commerce channel.

It can have a clearly positive impact on the flow of goods, which results from, among others, monitoring of the progress of these processes, efficient inventory, the possibility of ongoing inventory analysis. Omnichannel trade is particularly important from the perspective of younger consumers, it shows how important it is for this group to provide full information about the availability of goods and the stage of delivery.

Omnichannel is becoming something perfectly obvious in trade. It means a lot of convenience for companies that use only one logistics interface combining inventory and order processing.

In practice, customers can, for example, place orders through one channel, receive products in another, and return them through yet another. There are many challenges for logistics specialists because it is necessary to design a distribution system based not only on efficient order processing but also on handling returns. The role of a strategic element allowing to conduct omnichannel trade is to be played by warehouses. Omnichannel solutions are closely related to e-commerce.

Automation ensures increased productivity

CASA is an interior design brand that has been present on the market for almost half a century, when the first retail outlet under this name was established in Ottignies, Belgium. Today, the chain comprises 500 interior design stores in 11 countries: from Aruba to Morocco and Switzerland.

Several months ago, it was decided that the company should become fully independent from the holding, to which it had belonged since 1988. One of the most important objectives of the plan was to create an international online store, enabling the collection of furniture and accessories ordered by customers online in CASA retail outlets.

In order to implement this plan, it was decided to create a central, automated distribution centre in Europe. The facility, erected in Olen, has an area of 50,000 sqm. with 65,000 pallet spaces.

According to CASA International’s warehouse manager, the construction of the facility was absolutely necessary.

Increasingly, the market in which we operate is based on the omnichannel model. In order to maintain a strong position on the market, it is necessary to invest in highly efficient logistics systems. The new European distribution centre allows us to supply our facilities more efficiently and sustainably than before,” says Bart Dauwen, warehouse manager at CASA.

How can we ensure the continuous fulfilment of orders when the labour market is not conducive to finding qualified staff? After consultations with potential suppliers, the focus was placed on automation.

This solution guarantees continuous flow of materials and increases productivity by enabling the company to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” reports Bart Dauwen.

Goods are delivered to the centre in containers. Packagings are palletised and secured in an automatic film winder. The system checks their size and selects the most suitable storage location. The rest is handled by two types of AGV class trucks. These are autonomous vehicles, they are unmanned.

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Autonomous vehicles do not make any mistakes

The key to the successful implementation of an automation system is to understand the customer’s performance indicators and design a solution that suits them. The next step is to agree on all the details between the partners delivering the equipment together and make sure that everything works perfectly,” says Rafał Pańczyk, advanced applications manager at STILL Polska.

In Olen, seven reach trucks of the FM-X series transport pallets to the buffer zones from which they are picked up by the MX-X system trolleys and transported to the appropriate place in the 32-aisle buffer warehouse. The VNA lift trucks, which lift to a level of almost 15 m, are also responsible for picking pallets from the racks. They are able to retrieve them from the top levels and place them on the floor, ready to be picked up by FM-X and delivered to the packing area.

All tasks, from picking from the buffer zone to delivery to the picking zone, are carried out fully automatically on the basis of the commands given to the AGV trucks by the warehouse management system (the warehouse has to be equipped with a set of sensors).

The most important advantages of the solution are flexibility and scalability. If necessary, the capacity of the warehouse can be easily increased by including more trucks in the system. The processes carried out by autonomous vehicles are virtually error-free, but also clean, quiet and fast.

Everything was implemented in the course of day-to-day operations of the centre. This was one of the key implementation conditions.

For the success of a project carried out jointly by several entities, it is crucial to clearly define the responsibilities of the parties, a short communication chain and the experience and knowledge of all involved,” comments Yves Gazin, strategic solutions manager at DEMATIC.

Photo: Still/YouTube

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