From picking to shipping in 28 minutes at Musikhaus Thomann

Thomann’s new distribution center meets the growing need for multi-channel retailing.
By Bob Trebilcock, Executive Editor
May 01, 2012 - MMH Editorial

Musikhaus Thomann
Treppendorf, Germany
Size: Size: 215,300 square feet
Products handled: Musical instruments and accessories
Stock keeping units: 65,000 SKUs
Throughput: 12,000 shipments per day scaling up to 20,000 per day at peak

Thomann’s distribution center uses flexible automation and four different picking processes to fill online orders and replenish a brick and mortar superstore.

Receiving: Thomann receives both truckload and container shipments at its receiving dock (1). The palletized contents are unloaded with lift trucks and delivered to an induction station (2) for the pallet conveyor system.

Putaway: While some inventory may be delivered directly to one of the picking areas, most inbound products will be put away into reserve storage in the unit-load AS/RS (3). When the pallet is inducted onto the conveyor system, a license plate bar code on the pallet is automatically read by a stationary bar code reader. Based on that scan, the system will direct the cranes to a putaway location in the AS/RS.

Replenishment: Before delivery to one of the picking areas, items must be repacked into storage totes that will be handled by the mini-load AS/RS (4). Associates take packages or product from a pallet and scan them into the storage totes. Once a tote is packed, it is placed onto a conveyor system that will deliver it to the mini-load AS/RS. There the system will scan a license plate bar code on the tote and determine a putaway location within the storage unit.

Larger items, such as guitars and drums, will be delivered by lift truck to a putaway location in the manual picking warehouse (5) for manual picking. Those items are stored in the original packaging.

Picking: Thomann relies on four picking strategies to fill orders. Since there is no buffer storage in the facility, it’s important that all of the items for one order arrive at a packing station as close together as possible, regardless of what method is employed to pick the items. To accomplish that, the facility’s warehouse control system synchronizes the start times for picking.

Fast-moving items: Fast-moving items (6) are picked from carton flow rack locations along an aisle at the mini-load AS/RS to a plastic tote. A pick-to-light system directs the associates to a picking location and displays the number of items to pick. Once all of the items for that tote have been picked, it is placed on a takeaway conveyor.

Slow-moving items: Slow-moving items (7) are picked from one of four goods-to-man pick stations. Each associate can work on up to four open customer orders at a time.

Supply totes are delivered from the mini-load AS/RS directly to a workstation. When the supply tote arrives, a light system directs the associate to place items in the right shipping tote. Once all of the items for that tote have been picked, it is placed on a takeaway conveyor.

Unit-load AS/RS: Cartons are picked from pallets at a goods-to-person workstation at the unit-load AS/RS (3) and placed onto a carton takeaway conveyor.

Manual picking: Large items, such as guitars and drums, are stored in their original shipping containers on conventional pallet rack (5). Associates on lift trucks or on foot receive instructions on their mobile computers and pick from the racks to a pallet. Once all of the items have been picked, they are delivered to a manual pick induction station (8), where they receive an identification label that links that item with an order. The most expensive items, such as guitars, will first go to an inspection station for a quality control check.

Packing and shipping: Regardless of where the items for an order are picked, Thomann relies on two packing and shipping strategies. One is for small orders that can be shipped in one container. The other is for larger orders that consist of a number of different items or orders with more than one shipping container.

Small orders: When the entire order fits in one shipping container, it is conveyed to the packing area for small orders (9). In the small order area, the totes are delivered to a workstation where the items are placed in shipping cartons, sealed and labeled (10) with a dispatch identification label. Then, they are conveyed to the shipping area (11) where a shipping label is applied before the container is sorted to a shipping lane and loaded directly into a truck for delivery.

Large orders: These are diverted through the shoe sorter (12) to the packing area for large orders (13). Each workstation in this area has two chutes. This allows an associate to work on two open orders at a time. As soon as all packages for one of the orders reaches the packing station, the worker gets the information on his screen, telling him which size carton to take and which items at the station to pack into the carton. Once packed, the carton is sealed and labeled with an ID bar code and then put back onto the conveyor system where it is sorted to the dispatch labeling areas (10). There, a shipping label is applied before the container is sorted (11) to a shipping lane and loaded directly into a truck for delivery.

Large items from the conventional area are inducted into the conveyor system and transported to the large order packing area (13), where they are removed from their original packaging and repacked with transport packaging for a parcel shipment. Then, like other items in the large order packing area, they are sorted to the dispatch labeling area (10), labeled and then sorted (11) to a shipping lane and loaded directly into a truck for delivery.

System suppliers
Systems integrator, mini-load AS/RS, conveyor/sortation, WMS, WCS: TGW Systems,
Unit-load AS/RS: Dambach Lagersysteme,
Racking: Schaefer Systems International,
Lift trucks: Still,

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Executive Editor

Bob Trebilcock, executive editor, has covered materials handling, technology and supply chain topics for Modern Materials Handling since 1984. More recently, Trebilcock became editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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