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Mercadona: Fully automated WITRON solution for flow-through (no-stock) logistics

Spanish food retailer opts for WITRON's innovation BOS (Box Order System) in its fresh food warehouse

Image: WITRON

Parkstein/Barcelona. Last year a new system was presented to leading logistics experts as new development and soon it will proof its capability in a real operation at Mercadona, the Spanish market leading food retailer: WITRON's fully automated picking solution for fresh food, BOS (Box Order System).  

Mercadona proves to be a very innovative company in many business segments. Warehouse logistics is one of them. For more than ten years, the market leader with a revenue of over 20.8 billion Euros and 1.587 stores, has been willing to break into new grounds together with its design and realization partner, WITRON Logistik + Informatik GmbH. As one of the first European retail companies, Mercadona opted for a fully automated OPM system offered by the general contractor from Parkstein, Germany. Today, this technology is being operated at four Mercadona locations - in the dry goods assortment, fresh product, and frozen goods area. The successful cooperation of both owner-run family enterprises is characterized by reciprocal impulses when searching for the best technical and cost-efficient results - with concentrated efforts on store and customer benefit. This is the birth of solutions that are unique on the logistics market.  

Proof is the latest project that was awarded in mid February 2016. Namely, the design and realization of the flow-through (no-stock) fresh food warehouse in Abrera, near Barcelona. "Flow-Through" means that all SKUs stored will leave the warehouse on the same day to be supplied to the stores. Consequently, the warehouse will rotate completely every day - this is why it is often called a no-stock or cross-docking warehouse. The logistics center with a size of 14,000 square meters / 150,700 square feet will supply Mercadona supermarkets in Catalonia and parts of Aragon with different products - fruits, vegetables, meat, sausage, bread, and much more. These products will be stored at +3 degrees Celsius (38 degrees Fahrenheit).  

The special feature: WITRON's technology, BOS (Box Order System), will be used for the first time ever.  

The solution has a modular design. All processes from receiving through to dispatch are fully automated. Every module consists of one replenishment crane and four picking cranes - the so-called Box Picking Machines (BPM). After the receiving process, the single-item tote box stacks are separated from the receiving pallet and directly stored into the pick front by the replenishment cranes. The store-friendly tote picking is done in a highly dynamic manner, directly through the newly developed BPM crane. The BPM was designed in a way that its light-weight telescopic fork doesn't lift, but embraces the totes or stacks. The advantage: Not only single crates, but also a number of load carriers adapted to the customer order - that means full tote stacks, partial stacks, or single stacks - can be removed from the rack in a completely flexible manner. During the transportation to the next pick position, they are directly stacked using the stacker crane. Every cycle is able to pick two complete tote stacks with a tote size of 600 x 400 mm or four tote stacks with a tote size of 300 x 400 mm before they are transported to the dispatch lane by means of the BPM. The advantage: inefficient movements towards the dispatch lane are minimized. Finally, the built dispatch units are automatically palletized, stretch-wrapped, and provided for dispatch as double-decker pallet just before shipping. Another special feature is the separation of storage / replenishment (pallet crane) and order picking (BPM). After storing the receiving pallets, the replenishment crane can fully concentrate on the consolidation of the pick front and the buffering of pre-picked tote stacks - this is particularly significant when handling the daily outbound profile.  

The overall concept developed for the site in Abrera is designed to operate seven BOS modules.  The system is able to store some 560 receiving pallets per hour. In total, it provides space for 12,500 stacks with a height of approx. 2.30 meters / 8 feet - corresponding to 250.000 single totes. The system is designed to pick 20,000 totes per hour error-free and in a store-friendly manner. The supply to the stores is done in double-decker pallets optimizing the trailer space utilization, reducing transportation costs, and allowing an ergonomic tote handling within the stores. Another factor that is advantageous is the system flexibility: The Box Picking Machines used at Mercadona are able to stack different tote sizes and tote types - up to a max. stacking height of 1.70 meters / 6 feet per picking cycle.  

The BOS can be used in more than just the fresh food area. Based on its high flexibility, the solution can also handle beverage crates. Many processes within the store-friendly picking of crate stacks and single crates correspond to those of the full tote handling in the fresh food environment. In addition, there are very few fully automated solutions with high cost-efficiency available on the market for this particular industry.  

As a general contractor, WITRON is responsible for the design, realization, and implementation of all IT, control engineering, and mechanical components. The innovative conveyor system elements of the BOS technology will be developed and produced by WITRON' subsidiary, FAS.