Gavin Harrison, UK Sales Director at Element Logic, discusses the journey companies who are considering warehouse automation go on. Looking closely at Direct Soccer, who contacted Element Logic after seeing their YouTube videos, we see how warehouse automation can truly transform a business!
Deciding on when to automate a warehouse depends on several factors. Operators need to evaluate their processes and procedures, examine their supply chain, and identify gaps in current technology and future business goals.
For Scotland-based football teamwear supplier Direct Soccer, the overriding factors were robust growth and increasing consumer demand for quicker delivery times, especially during seasonal peaks. The family-owned business – which offers in-house personalised printing and embroidery – had a growing customer base that prompted it to triple the floor size of its warehouse in 2019. Up to that time, the warehouse’s racking system had served the company well, which had switched to online trading as early as 2002. However, the owners realised they had to find a warehouse solution to optimise the floor space fully and improve overall operational efficiency.
The online business caters for both clubs and individuals, but when the taps ran dry on the club side during the early Covid-19 lockdown, Direct Soccer turned its marketing focus to the individual. Applying the mantra “stay safe, stay home, keep training”, it started supplying more leisurewear to this market through Express Football Kits, the sister site of Direct Soccer. The site offers next-day delivery with limited personalisation and became an instant hit.
Initially, Direct Soccer considered a mezzanine system for the additional warehouse space, but the number of floors made it impractical at the time. They knew moving to a far larger warehouse would mean facing far higher running and staffing costs.
The solution – advanced automation
Direct Soccer’s owners started researching automated warehouse solutions. They were looking for a system to optimise the existing space instead, and able to integrate with the existing warehouse management system. The owners subsequently came across AutoStore, the automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) offered by Element Logic.
Following an assessment of Direct Soccer’s needs and setup, we formulated an AutoStore solution that could utilise both height and floor space, while meeting Direct Soccer’s objectives of reducing lead times and increasing throughput. They signed the contract in July 2020 and 16 weeks later the system went live in with seven robots and 8,000 bins, just in time for the peak Christmas period.
Comprised of stacked bins in a dense cube, many warehouse automation specialists view this type of AS/RS as the most modern and advanced available. Smart robots run across the overlaid grid independently to shuffle, sort and retrieve bins, bringing them to a workstation (port) for order picking. The robots are connected wirelessly to the system and charge themselves when not in use. A controller and built-in software keep track of everything.
The system provides a superior level of storage density, making it the ideal solution where warehouse space is limited, such as a micro-fulfilment centre. Modular design makes the system easy to configure as throughput demands change. It is modular, scaelable and flexible, and the only solution where every part can be added independently with minimal effort.
Additionally, AutoStore is the only system that allows customers to do a complete pick-and-pack process because no other system can get all products to any bin to any operator station, all via robot, without requiring complex conveying systems to either be built into, or built externally, to achieve the same outcome.
With an entirely manual operation, Direct Soccer needed to use an area of approximately 1,133m2, while the AutoStore solution requires just 210m2 – less than a quarter of the existing space. The company plans to expand the system to 16,000 bins in the future, which will be made easier due to the floor space savings. In total, the company has saved around £200,000 in manpower, floor space, and labour in the space of just 12 months.
For a company that’s operating in today’s dynamic ecommerce environment, order fulfilment is one area where agility truly counts.