Pick to Colour as an alternative for barcode scanning
The Katoen Natie Farébersviller opera-tion in France picks over 35.000 DVD’s a day with the use of a Pcdata Pick to Light system. Following the success of the original implementation, Katoen Natie have deployed further systems within their operations and now use 4 in total across their Farébersviller and Madrid operations. Unique to their operation is the use of pick-to-colour for slow moving SKUs. Hans Vansweevelt, Key Account Manager at Katoen Natie says: “With this innovation we managed to keep the investment in pick-to-light for our slow movers low, while still achieving higher productivity than barcode scanning.”
Demand within the DVD market is often inconsistent. On average, over half of the 40 million DVD’s that Katoen Natie distributes in France will be picked in the months of October and November. This fluctuation can also happen on a weekly or even daily basis: “When it rains during school holidays, there will be a significant increase of sales in DVD’s”, says Hans Vansweevelt.
One of the key factors in selecting Pick to Light was due to fluctuating demand within the Belgian market, making labour planning and accurate scheduling difficult. “Retailers such as Carrefour and Fnac can place an order as late as 13:00 for next day delivery. This happens regularly, so we need to utilise extra temporary labour when the order comes in bigger than expected. We can’t afford to train all these temporary employees to work with barcode scan-ning or voice recognition, but with pick-to-light they are operational in less than an hour”, explains Vansweevelt.
Katoen Natie has been using Pcdata’s Pick to Light systems since spring 2008 when the Farébersviller operation first began DVD distribution for a well-known film studio. In the summer of 2010, they secured the distribution contract for a second studio and installed another Pcdata system in a nearby warehouse to cope with the increased demand. This now means that one in three of all DVDs in France are distributed from Farébersviller, in the North East of the country nestled by the German border.
The two Pick to Light systems in the Farébersviller sites operate using the same basic principles. A long roller conveyor carries empty crates or boxes along the pick-face with hundreds of shelved pick locations divided into multiple zones. On entering a zone, the system identifies what products are required for that box and the corresponding displays are illuminated and show the required pick quantity on the LED display. The operative simply picks the correct quantity to the box and turns out the light by pressing the button on the face of the display. As an additional check, each picking zone is equipped with a zone display that counts down the number of picks as the lights go out and shows the picker the barcode number of the box they are picking to.
At the larger of the two systems in the Farébersviller operation, the conveyors that transport the empty boxes have driven rollers, meaning boxes can be moved effortlessly around the system. Through the use of automatic scanning at each zone entrance, the Pcdata system can direct each box to any one of 20 zones. This means that each box only ever need visit a zone where it has demand, increasing the capacity and speed of the system significantly.
The smaller system, however, utilizes a gravity roller method meaning ship-ping boxes are manually pushed around the system by operatives. This method does mean that each shipping box must pass every zone and pick location, but in a small operation with lower through put, this alternative offers a great cost effective solution to a fully automated driven system; “With the small system the demand is much lower and we pick on average 8.000 DVD’s per day. In main system the number is more than four times that”, says Vansweevelt.