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CASE STUDY Asda doubles picking rates after £15.2mn investment in warehouse robotics

Image © AutoStore

Asda has installed an automated materials-handling solution within one of its most complex distribution centres, as it adapts to a multi-format, multi-channel retailing environment.

The UK supermarket – part of the Walmart Group – worked with robotics solutions provider Swisslog on a customised AutoStore system which could grow in order to accommodate expansion and changing requirements.

“The system could be installed in a phased way without disrupting Asda’s ongoing operation,” explained Ant Everett, head of capacity and engineering at Asda Logistics Services.

Before installing the AutoStore system, load cranes had to be removed from the area, and builders had to install a “robust” mezzanine level on which to construct the system.

The Asda warehouse features 164 Robots and 70,000 Bins spread over an area of 1,415 sq m (15,230 sq ft).

Pallet loads of in-bound goods are conveyed to one of six decant stations, where a worker transfers products from a pallet into the AutoStore bins. Robots place the filled bins on top of one another in the grid. This holds the bins and serves as a track for the robots along which to travel. A wireless system controls the battery-operated robots and moves the bins to where they need to be.

The robots present a constant stream of bins to the picking port. As the bins are stored on top of one another, the robots have to do a bit of digging. With their help, specific goods are brought to the surface as and when they’re needed. 

Bins that contain faster-moving merchandise are generally stored near the top of the grid, while the slower-moving merchandise naturally sinks to the bottom. When digging for a specific item, the robots will temporarily store the bins that were on top of the required one on nearby stacks.

According to the collaboration, the robots are always working ahead of the employees operating the picking ports, so there are no interruptions in the workflow when the warehouse team members collate orders for store delivery. 

Swisslog worked with Asda during each phase of this £15.2mn project, from the design to the installation of the new automated system. Asda stressed the investment – which is the largest of its kind in the UK – has been “worth every penny” as the picking rate of the existing system was doubled, and the new solution had an accuracy rate of 99.8%.

“The result is warehousing at peak efficiency,” added Everett. “The AutoStore system reduces unused space and maximises storage capacity, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency.”

These stations also make it possible for the workers to scan and register the loads and dispose of waste and cardboard with maximum efficiency.

A brand new report looks at how retailers across the UK are investing in warehouse robotics – the DeliveryX Warehousing 2024 report will be officially launched during RetailX’s festival of research: Ecommerce World Review.

On 27 March 2024, a webinar session will pull out the key findings of the sector report, including a look at how Boots cobots improve staff wellbeing; how Dunelm is turning to solar power; and B&Q has transformed stores into fulfilment centres. Register now!

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