Boosting throughput and delivering performance

In a buoyant food retail market, Netto was enjoying a period of sustained growth and a positive outlook, as its main distribution centre (DC) neared maximum capacity for the grocery assortment. To meet its needs for the future, the Danish discount food retailer decided to invest in new logistic automation and chose STOREPICK, Vanderlande’s end-to-end automated case picking (ACP) solution.


Netto is part of the Salling group, Denmark’s largest retail company, and has more than 530 stores in Denmark. The food retailer stocks over 2,000 grocery assortment products, including popular household names and an extensive range of own-brand low-priced items. All grocery assortment goods for the stores are supplied from the company’s DC, located in Køge on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

The company plans to add extra stores to its network, along with more stock keeping units (SKUs) to its assortment, which made it essential to boost throughput at the DC. Operator and welfare comfort were also high on the agenda as Netto looked to reduce heavy lifting duties. In addition, any new automation would have to handle slow movers in a much more efficient way, and work in harmony with existing systems.

All of these requirements led Netto to the conclusion that it needed a mixed-case palletising system, including ergonomically designed workstations for operators. The automation would also help the retailer cope with labour scarcity issues.

Going for full automation

“We were looking into new possibilities by making a step change – going from a high-end, semi-automated solution to a fully automated, case palletising system,” explains Jens Pedersen, Senior Project Manager Logistics at the Salling Group, which owns Netto.

While searching for a solution that could meet all of its needs, the Netto team paid a visit to an existing warehouse in France that was already using Vanderlande’s STOREPICK system. “We decided that this technology was for us and could support Netto on our continuous journey in automation,” says Brian Svaerke, Head of Logistics and Supply Chain and Group Vice-President Netto, Salling Group.

“During the sales phase, Vanderlande was a very professional organisation. They supported us throughout the process and gave us valuable input into what we could expect from the automation, and also how it worked in other places.”

Smooth implementation

The installation phase went smoothly with good collaboration between Netto, Vanderlande, the construction company building the warehouse extension – and a host of other parties. As it’s not a greenfield site, the integration of the new extension was challenging. Netto wished to keep and maintain their existing system, so that it would continue to improve. Not many companies would choose to do that – especially while existing operations continued to run – however, Vanderlande managed to complete the project successfully.

“It was one of the cleanest sites and one of the most structured – when we were in the process of building the system – that I have seen in many years,” says Brian. “Vanderlande was a professional and competent partner throughout the project, and they delivered what they promised throughout each phase. And when the installation had its ups and downs, they always delivered on time.”

STOREPICK was the perfect choice because it can be easily integrated into an existing warehouse structure. Also, it can be further expanded due to its modular design, which is a real plus point for Netto.

“The added value of this solution is that we’re not tied to a strategy, because it’s flexible,” explains Brian. “This means we will be able to adapt our system to the needs of the business for at least the next five to ten years, without reorganising the infrastructure.”

An intelligent system

A central feature of the new system is ADAPTO, the intelligent, shuttle-based automated storage and retrieval system. Vanderlande supplied ADAPTO shuttles, which can access the 43,000 tray storage locations and move to any workstation without the need for long conveyors – a big plus in DCs and warehouses with limited space.

The Køge DC is capable of handling 3,600 cases per hour and has storage locations for more than 1,200 SKUs. Advanced automation technologies play a central role in the Vanderlande system, which includes six robot cells capable of building store-friendly, mixed-case pallets. Each robot can deal with 600 cases an hour and operate 20 hours a day, five days per week. Together they can build over 40 pallets per hour to service more than 280 daily deliveries.

Jens is pleased with the robot solution, which is proving its worth from a business and operational perspective. “We see the proof of concept in the mixed-case palletising, giving us much more flexibility in our daily business,” he says. “The mixed-case palletising method handles and optimises everything on the single store pallet level, no matter if it is a few pallets per order or big orders for store openings that require many pallets.”

Stacking pallets logically

With robotic automation comes an added benefit in the form of a software innovation called load forming logic (LFL). Using this, the robots ensure that goods placed on pallets are stacked logically in the most optimal way, with the heaviest items at the bottom to minimise potential damage. The robots can be easily “taught” new products by operators who input measurements into the computerised system.

Furthermore, Vanderlande’s solution includes one automatic and two manual depalletising stations, along with three defoiling stations, a teaching station and a pallet conveyor system. The transfer of items to an existing third-party system is executed seamlessly and efficiently.

Vanderlande’s STOREPICK has resolved a major logistical issue in the DC, as Brian explains: “The biggest challenge that we were facing was the slow movers in our operation, making it become slower and slower, as the pickers had to travel further and further. The automation we chose has definitely removed all those bottlenecks and made us into an efficient organisation again.”

Improving operator experience

To meet Netto’s requirements for operator welfare, Vanderlande’s manual depalletising stations are built with ergonomics in mind. These stations are height adjustable to ensure operators can slide (rather than lift) goods onto the automated system.

“The move to automation has brought many benefits to our employees whose jobs have essentially changed from being a picker to becoming an operator,” says Brian. “Now, our people do not have to do the tiresome lifting associated with a manual warehouse – this is a real plus point and provides them with much more inspiration in their everyday working lives.”

Meeting business objectives

A year into full operation, the system is matching all expectations and delivering a high level of performance, as Brian explains: “Vanderlande has allowed us to meet our business objectives by providing a stable and good solution – and it meets the requirements we have every day.

“We’re serving many stores from this site and it’s really crucial that we are punctual. In addition, we must be able to count on the system every second, every minute and every hour from when we turn it on until we shut it down.”

Jens is in full agreement: “In the end it’s all about performance for us – both from a financial and operational perspective – and we have achieved that with added value. Not only has it exceeded our expectations, but it also fantastic to watch.”

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