A big leap in distribution efficiency for global games and toys giant

Toll recently unveiled the automated Sortation System at the Prestons site in New South Wales, Australia, which is set to deliver picking efficiencies for a global games and toys giant.

A new warehouse installation is proving a big leap in distribution efficiency for the Australian operation of Toll Group’s big-name toys and games customer. 

“Since last year, we have been working for a leading global toy manufacturer, performing all their Australian warehousing and distribution based out of a 36,000 square metre multi-customer site in Sydney,” says Dean Boulter, General Manager Business Development for Toll Group. Almost half the facility is now dedicated to the customer’s products, distributed to major retailers and independent toy stores throughout the country.

“To achieve the efficiency and requirements of our major client, we looked to put sortation in place to better manage the picking process with speed and accuracy,” adds Boulter. “As part of our design process we looked at the comparative manual operation and identified a 200% productivity increase by moving to automation.”

Solution with flexibility and future benefits

The new solution completely changed the baseline manual warehouse operation; enabling Toll to provide higher distribution volumes of retail ready cartons, picked for each store in less time, with more efficiency and using less space.

A traditional style operation relies on individual operators manually visiting multiple locations in the warehouse, picking cartons from the racks onto a pallet for an individual order. Moving to wave picking techniques, colleagues collect products for a whole wave of orders together, meaning typically only two or three products per pallet and significantly less travel and picking time. These cartons, in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, are then fed to an automated sortation system which handles up to 20 customer orders at a time and 95% of the product range.


Synergising for a smarter system

The software behind this technology takes customer orders from Toll’s system and coordinates all the equipment and controls of the automated operation, delivering efficiency, speed and accuracy.

It embeds intelligence into the operation and synchronizes the performance of Toll’s solution in the best possible way encompassing the Warehouse Management System (WMS),Material Flow Control (MFC/WCS), and Automation Control Systems (ACS) functionality, along with an array of business intelligence tools to boost warehouse performance.

As pallets of product are delivered by forklift to each of two infeed stations, staff manually depalletise cartons and place them on conveyor, where they are automatically scanned and labelled at high speed (around one every two seconds). Each infeed station has three pallet positions, with rotating lifts to maintain an ergonomic height as cartons are picked.During the pick wave, each pallet is picked to empty and is then manually replaced with a waiting pallet, so that a high number of product types (SKUs) for each delivery can be handled by the sorter.

Travelling along conveyor, cartons are then merged onto an Activated Roller Belt (ARB) sorter. The ARB sorter has a sweet spot of 4,000 cartons per hour where calculations have shown that it will take up far less space at a lower cost than large scale cross belt, sliding shoe or tilt tray sorters. The sorter also promises gentle handling of our customers’ goods even at high speed which is a priority criterion for the automation system. 

The ARB sorter is fitted with angled plastic rollers. As a carton approaches its destination at 1.25 m/s, the sorter’s control system activates the rollers underneath, smoothly delivering the carton to the desired location at right angles to the sorter direction. The entire sortation system is just 36m long, fitting easily into the existing warehouse.

The sorter feeds cartons onto one of 20 despatch lane conveyors, which are gravity braked to continue the gentle handling operation. The smart system automatically assesses the loads and distributes the goods as evenly as possible across despatch lanes, to ensure that lanes are not full while others are awaiting products. 

Sensors along each despatch lane also activate warning lights, signalling to warehouse staff which lanes need attention. At the end of each despatch lane, cartons are manually palletised ready for stretch wrap, pallet label, vehicle load and despatch to store.

In case of any issues with reading bar codes on the sorter, a rework chute directs the carton to a manual station where a label can be checked, reapplied if necessary, and the carton quickly reintroduced into the sorter.


Project delivered in operating warehouse

The project had to be delivered in an existing warehouse, which involved isolating the sorter area while it was installed and commissioned. Despite this restriction, the project delivery was well managed.

“Our initial start-up has shown that the system is achieving even better productivity than anticipated,” comments Dean Boulter. “Getting through the picking wave faster means we can start the afternoon shift later, giving customers a later cut off time for orders.”

The sortation system will also be used for other Toll customers, where relevant, delivering productivity across the warehouse. Toll Group will continually identify areas for improvement to bring greater efficiency to our operations and added benefits to our clients.