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Logistics & Fulfilment

Inside Catch Of The Day’s multi-million dollar distribution centre

The latest National Online Retailers Association (NORA) e-commerce expedition took attendees to the incredibly high tech Catch of the Day warehouse in Truganina in Melbourne’s western suburbs, then followed by a visit to Selby Acoustics in Hallam last week.

The morning commenced at Time Out Cafe, Federation Square, where all attendees had a brief coffee and  were introduced by Paul Greenberg, chairman of NORA and Samantha Charlton (events and community manager – NORA) then a short trip over the West Gate Bridge to the new Catch Of The Day (COTD) facility, a 25,000sqm behemoth of a warehouse filled with conveyors, robots, gravity feed trays, overhead box conveyors and more. All visitors signed in at the stringent security check, were given fluro vests and introduced to Gabby Leibovich the founder and Vijay Bala, head of strategic projects (operations and automation). The tour commenced at a custom disembarking platform designed to enhance the unpacking time of a container. The stock is pushed onto automated rollers by two people and a container can be unpacked in an hour. No forklifts are required.

inside Catch of the day's warehouse

The container unpacking bay to the left of this image

The technology in the warehouse is impressive and everything is geared around efficiency. Every box that comes through the warehouse is scanned by a three-dimensional laser scanner to capture the cubic capacity of each Item/Product/SKU, this is done so the warehouse inventory software is able to allocate efficient space locations for all inventory.

Even the spacing between pallet racks has been reduced to an absolute minimum and wires are embedded in the concrete down each aisle. These wires produce an electric field which ensures that the forklifts going down these aisles do not stray out of controlled parameters thus preventing the forklifts hitting the pallet racking. This allows for more storage per square meter of the warehouse.

With tens of thousands of products in stock and an average order containing three items, efficient picking is crucial, and custom software manages this. The software runs a batch algorithm which assesses the frequency of orders then picks the stock based on this to obtain maximum efficiency and at the same time, it looks at the history of product sold over the prior two to four weeks to assess velocity of product sold. This is done to decide what stock to pull out of bulk storage and add to the Swisslog auto store pick pack system, an enclosed aluminium structure approximately 6 metres measured from the top to bottom with 65 red computer controlled radio frequency carts zipping around arranging stock and delivering it to pick bays. With the use of cubing data, stock replenishment is automated to top up and prepped for each day.

Swisslog picking system

One of the 4 Swisslog pick bays – 500 line items are picked an hour here in this one bay

The warehouse consists of approximately 80 staff. There are four key pick stations, each pick station can pick approximately 500 order lines per hour and packers can pack an average of 120 boxes per hour ensuring that fragile goods are packed with care. The packed boxes are then sent through an automated box cutter/sealer made by Box Sizer (UK) which assesses via laser how full the box is, the boxes are crimped, folded, a squirt of glue is shot onto the box lid and finished off by a swipe of adhesive tape. A postage label is added, and a plastic strap is wrapped around the box for extra measure. There are two of these machines and they can each process 12 boxes per minute. This amazing efficiency means that no cubed “air” space is wasted and Australia Post stillage’s ship out utilising every square inch of space extremely efficiently. To complement the four main pick stations, there are 24 pick pack zones that are used for fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and bulky goods which can be picked direct from the pallet. Goods that are not in the Swisslog auto store system are zone routed to these pack zones.

The warehouse on average pushes out four truckloads (400 stillages) of stock each day also referred to as unit load devices (ULDs). During Christmas, this can double.

Australia Post collections

Australia Post sends four trucks a day to collect around 400 stillages

The tour included a demonstration of the Swisslog carts. The carts each cost $50,000 and there are 65 carts in operation at any one time and there are five spare units. Carts automatically return to their charging bays when they sense their batteries are running low. As the systems are working extremely hard, their wheels tend to wear out a faster than the tech team would like. There is much improvement still to be done in this facility according to Vijay.

Swisslog carts in action

Swisslog Robot carts in action. There are 65 units in action. Each costs around $50,000

The tour ended with a Q&A session with the team. Guests were interested in Leibovich’s story how he started in retail, worked his way through eBay, then Daily Deals and onto Catch Of The Day, Scoopon, and Grocery Run. Leibovich quipped that he has no problem sharing his intellectual property with visitors. “It’ll take you three years and $20 million to achieve this”.

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