The next stop for Heath on his US research trip was a few hours north of the conference in Florida. He attended a Target warehouse facility that was completed by Swisslog, who specialise in automated warehouse storage and retrieval systems.
This facility is used to store mostly chilled and frozen product with a little bit of ambient storage and a large banana ripening zone. In total there are 65,000 pallet storage locations to handle about 5,200 unique products.
The in-house automation consists of:
- robotic de-palletisation onto split trays for order picking
- an overhead rail system that transports pallets through a crane-fed pallet warehouse
- manual pick-to-light palletising of orders for the various Target stores
- automated stretch wrapping and labelling.
The split trays mentioned above are the size of pallets. Interestingly, they are designed to separate in half so that when an operator is picking boxes from the tray, he can pick from the front of the tray until it is depleted, then remove the front half of the tray and bring the second half closer to pick from. This allows picking product at a much higher level (near chest height) which, in turn, allows up to three layers of trays.
There were quite a few robots in this plant, mostly used for handling used pallets and split trays.
Heath’s favourite robot from this facility—the split tray stacking robot
The pick-to-light system is connected to every trolley and shines a crosshair on the ground in front of the product and a green spotlight on the tray level to show the operator where to pick from. Once the operator places the product, it is automatically weighed and then the trolley travels to the next picking location. Simple and effective.
The cranes are fully automated to take pallet sized trays of product from storage spaces in the warehouse and feed picking spaces as required.
Pallet Trolley on rail system