Food Engineering

Nutritional supplements company streamlines DC with automated pick system

November 8, 2010
The system incorporates pick-to-light, voice and RF picking systems integrated with pick software to handle full-case and split-case SKUs.


Blackmores’ DC runs on a Dematic material handling system and uses PickDirector software to interface with wireless voice picking systems. Source: Dematic.
Blackmores, one of Australia’s leading natural health companies, recently consolidated its packing, distribution and main offices into its new Blackmores Campus at Warriewood, on Sydney’s northern beaches. The company supports a customer base of more than 5,000 health food stores, pharmacies, supermarkets and health practitioners throughout the country and SE Asia markets. The new facility brings the company’s operations under one roof for the first time in more than 15 years.

For the distribution center (DC), Dematic was brought in to build out the material handling system including conveyors and sortation equipment, with particular attention to automating the company’s order picking, including voice picking, pick-to-light systems and RF.

“Bringing our operations under the one roof not only provided direct supply chain savings in excess of one million dollars per year, it also enabled us to significantly streamline our supply chain and enhance productivity across the board,” says Blackmores Director of Operations Liz Burrows. “We have taken the opportunity to install an additional production line in the new manufacturing facility, giving the business a 20 percent increase in production capacity to support future growth.

 “We have also optimized our distribution IT systems with Dematic’s PickDirector software,” says Burrows.

PickDirector supports a wide range of picking hardware and integrates with routing and sortation systems to increase efficiency and track containers and their contents, potentially eliminating the need for a WMS. Inventory data from the ERP system is pushed directly into the software application. The system operates with voice picking technology, pick-to-light systems, put-to-light systems and RF-based picking solutions.

The new DC, which processes up to 500 orders per day, provides storage for 5,000 pallets housed in a combination of narrow-aisle, double-deep and selective racking up to 28 feet high. The various storage systems are serviced by a mobile materials-handling fleet including wire-guided trucks, double-deep reach trucks and forklifts. Separate, non-DC storage areas are provided for raw materials, packaging and quality control.

All of Blackmores’ split-case products are picked from a pick module comprising two aisles of carton live-storage and a small area of static shelving. A central, powered take-away conveyor with gravity conveyors on either side transports orders through the pick module, while an automated carton erector delivers empty cartons direct to the pick face via an overhead conveyor.

Voice picking is used for picking full case SKUs which are labeled and placed directly onto a central take-away conveyor. The system takes order information directly from the company ERP and delivers it to the picker. Pickers wear a portable, belt-mounted speech recognition device and a headset. The terminal communicates to the host computer via standard RF. This highly effective, paperless picking method eliminates pick lists. Operators simply listen, speak and scan.

“The hands-free, eyes-free feature of voice picking is providing productivity benefits,” says Blackmores’ Supply Chain Manager Stephen Vile. “The performance in the full-case pick module has been exceptional. We are now able to pick full cases twice as quickly as before, and with only half the workers. For the first few weeks, we ran our existing RF system in conjunction with voice picking, until all of our people were familiar with the new technology. The voice picking performance was far superior.”

For more information, contact Lizbeth Tommy at Dematic Corporation; 616-913-6662; www.dematic.us.