Discover how leading Czech e-grocer Rohlik leveraged warehouse automation in their new Prague fulfillment center to achieve:
About the company: Rohlik is an e-grocery retailer based in the Czech Republic but operating in multiple international markets. Local fulfillment centers serve the city and local areas where they’re situated. A full range of weekly groceries, including local produce, can be quickly and easily ordered for same day or express delivery via their web and mobile apps. And they know a thing or two about scaling to meet increasing demand — in the 12 months up to April 2022 they saw 53% YoY growth. They continue to add new markets and fulfilment centers through 2023
Rohlik already had two well established fulfillment centers in the Prague area. However, they were looking to expand their local operations for two reasons. One, to extend their potential market reach; two, to meet growing demand within their existing customer base. As a result, they planned to build a third facility in Prague. But they knew that simply replicating their existing setup at a new site would not be enough to keep up with customer needs or their growth ambitions.
As Rohlik’s Chief Automation Officer, Aleš Malucha explains, their customers aren’t just looking for an online store, “but a complete end-to-end solution.” The project would have to support a great overall customer experience. That meant not just the speed to deliver high volumes of orders in just a few hours, but also consistently offer high-quality and accurate deliveries — the correct items picked and delivered in the right conditions, with good stock replenishment. Customers should always be able to order the items they want and receive them when they want. “It was most important to have a high-speed picking process,” says Malucha.
Another element to building the right automation system was the diverse nature of storage and delivery conditions they had to cater for. A broad range of items and fresh produce means that not all stock can be stored in the same way, with many items requiring specialized chilled storage. “From the beginning, we were looking for two” setups explains Malucha — one ambient setup for items stored at regular temperatures and one for chilled items.
As a new site meant to help the company achieve healthy scaling, the project had to strike a balance. Rohlik needed to meet both immediate business needs for a fast time-to-market and implement a flexible system that could be easily scaled in the future.
Rohlik worked with their integration partner, Swisslog, to help them scope out the project. As an official partner of AutoStore™, Swisslog are very experienced in advising customers on their requirements and how to install an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) such as the AutoStore cube storage automation system alongside other warehouse automation technologies.
As Malucha describes, “the cooperation with the Swisslog integrators started in the planning phase, looking at our needs and calculating the capacity we would need.” As Swisslog’s Head of Major Accounts, Elike Pistono highlights, “What’s really good with AutoStore is that you’re actually able to simulate” different scenarios to see how processes will be executed in different configurations. By combining data from existing manual operations together with their target of 12,000 orders daily, they were able to run various scenarios in the AutoStore simulation software. This process helped the project to maximize storage capacity and efficiency to achieve the required cadence.
Ultimately, the AutoStore system was selected as the right solution for two key reasons. Firstly, the picking speed it could support in the available space; secondly, it could offer the same capabilities for chilled storage: “We decided to go for a special cooling cladding. Both auto stores are built on the mezzanine to optimize the available room we have. So, the Ports are attached underneath, and directly connected to the Ports is the conveyor belt technology.”
The project was completed in well under a year, taking just nine months from the initial planning phase to the final go-live date. The first six months were spent on planning and preparing the warehouse with the right equipment and building up the automation technologies.
The installation phase took just three months, and “in a short time, going very quickly to the ‘go-live’ phase” adds Malucha. This speed is made possible due to the lightweight aluminum construction and easy connectors that make up the AutoStore Grid. This ensured it could be easily adapted and slotted into the custom layout in Rohlik’s Prague location.
With Rohlik’s orders consisting of about 50/50 fresh and chilled, the two separate chilled and ambient sections make it easy for the whole order to be gathered for delivery together with specialty items picked manually that are too big for the Bins.
The site has doubled overall productivity in comparison to Rohlik’s manual fulfillment centers. And deploying AS/RS has helped to drive a 3X increase in picking speed. As Malucha observes, the overall process is “driven by the picking process.”
Rohlik thinks “the technology really supports” the overall throughput process, enhancing customer experience. Already, just a few months after launch, alongside their standard 3-hour delivery guarantee, 10% of all orders are delivered within 60 minutes or less of ordering.
“This is the competitive advantage we have now: delivering faster to our customers, as it’s [been] proven in this warehouse,” Malucha says.
With a smooth deployment, the team could switch their focus immediately after launch to specific areas, confident the overall process flow was up and running. After launch they looked closely at “optimization, especially configuration,” working on individual processes like peak period efficiency and the express delivery service.
But it’s not just the bottom-line numbers that have been improved. Employee experience has been boosted too, “they walk less, as the goods come to them.” And since many repetitive manual tasks have been automated, the team can now focus on quality.
With the AutoStore system integrated with their warehouse management system (WMS), the whole picking process is incredibly easy and intuitive. Items are delivered to the pickers at the designated Ports, and instructions are displayed on monitors: which items to pack, and where and how where to pack them. Finger scanners help the team to easily check and confirm details and keep the process flowing. Warehouse automation hasn’t just improved efficiency, but “quality improvement” of the entire operation. Customers are satisfied because their items are delivered faster than ever, on time, complete, and in good condition.
The team plans to keep optimizing existing automation processes at the Prague site, including adding automation to the outbound section. But further expansion into other sites is on the horizon. Rohlik saw that the technology was flexible and easy to implement.
“We can use certain components, like robots for the scaling up and ramping up phase of the individual cities,” Malucha says. This makes future implementation cost- effective, as it’s simple to “build only the size we need for the volume we do.” And as a growing international operation, they also learned “we can do several projects in parallel.”
“This is the competitive advantage we have now: delivering faster to our customers, as it’s [been] proven in this warehouse.”
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AutoStore can fit any warehouse or fulfillment center. Make yours the next.