Dematic has given Sigma Pharmaceuticals’ Queensland distribution centre (DC) a shot in the arm, updating the site's ageing pick-to-light (PTL) system and introducing voice-directed picking as part of a comprehensive logistics systems upgrade.
The new technologies have had the desired effect of improving Sigma's distribution performance across the board, with productivity and accuracy showing gains within the first couple of months.
The PTL system, installed more than 14 years ago, "was well past its use-by-date," said Sigma's DC Manager, Chris Jenkins.
"With over 95% of all orders we process passing through the PTL system, it was a core component of our distribution strategy.
"Dematic had done a terrific job in keeping the PTL system going over the years, but the outdated technology and software could not be supported forever. The risk of a critical system failure was increasing day by day," said Mr Jenkins.
"Together with Dematic's logistics systems modernisation team, we reviewed a range of options to meet our current and future distribution requirements."
Sigma was using the PTL system to pick its fast-moving, high volume SKUs (stock keeping units), with slower moving items being picked from shelving using printed pick lists.
Dematic's Modernisation Manager, Peter Medway, said: "Initially we contemplated decommissioning the PTL system and eliminating paper by switching over to voice-directed picking for all of Sigma's picking activities. However, when we analysed Sigma's order and SKU movement profiles in detail, it became apparent that other solutions would have a more positive effect on productivity and throughput capacity.
"After reviewing a wider range of options, it was a case of back to the future," he said.
"Our detailed analysis revealed that the optimal solution for Sigma was to not only replace the PTL system, but to expand its application, and to utilise it in conjunction with voice-directed picking to eliminate paper and significantly increase order picking flexibility.
"All technologies have their pros and cons, and a limiting factor with the old PTL system was that only one person could pick one order in one zone at any one time," explained Mr Medway.
"However, new developments in our PickDIRECTOR software enables voice-directed picking to be used in conjunction with PTL in a pick module. This makes it possible for multiple orders to be processed at the same time in the same zone, which significantly improves order picking flexibility, productivity and throughput capacity for Sigma," he said.
Modernising an existing distribution system is much more challenging than working on a completely new installation, said Dematic's Project Manager, Dominic Figliano.
"To make sure Sigma was able to continue meeting its requirements under the Community Service Obligation covering the distribution of goods to pharmacies and make the transition seamless for Sigma's customers, we developed a staged implementation and training strategy," explained Mr Figliano.
"Before we could begin work on the PTL system, we needed to upgrade the pick module conveyor controls and software. A clever piece of programming by one of our software engineers enabled us to install, test and commission these changes over a couple of weekends, but then switch the system back to its previous configuration until the rest of the upgrades could be installed."