Case Study

Medline

Medline embraces AutoStore – and wins

Country
USA
Industry
Healthcare
Partner
Swisslog

AutoStore is allowing us to challenge the norm and continue to drive a world-class supply chain.

56
K sqm
Covered by the grid
47
Robots
28
K
Bins

Medline Industries – a healthcare company based in Illinois, United States – is a world-leading manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies. In 2020, Medline was ranked number 21 on the Forbes list of the largest privately held companies in America.

The company’s product offering includes 550,000 medical products and clinical solutions, and clients range from hospitals and extended care facilities to surgery centers, doctors’ offices, home care agencies, and general retailers.

Among the company’s many products are nutritional shakes, supplements, medications, tube feeding, garments, sterile trays, syringes, gloves and masks for healthcare workers, equipment to help hydrate patients, wound care products, mobility equipment, and incontinence products. In fact, Medline produces just about anything that’s used for patient care and treatment in a hospital or care setting.

Founded in 1910, Medline has had many guises over the decades. It started off producing aprons, then progressed to medical garments in 1912, and, shortly after, started manufacturing general medical supplies.

The manufacturer has grown enormously in the last century and now has 24,000 employees in over 90 countries. Just the warehouse in Libertyville, Illinois, covers 600,000 square feet (55,741 square meters). There are 43 distribution centers in the United States, and these regional hubs all provide next-day service to Medline’s customers.

Medline was the first company in the U.S. to embrace AutoStore technology nationwide in 2013. Over the years, the warehouse automation solution has worked so well that the team is now preparing to install their 14th system.

“AutoStore has helped us to increase our cut-off times, expand our product offering, and cover our expanding customer base.”

Bill Abington
President of Global Operations at Medline

Three challenges to overcome

When AutoStore was first installed, Medline aimed to overcome three challenges: they needed to increase item picking, decrease the windows to fulfill orders, and run a successful enterprise in a tight labor market. Their orders varied in scale, and they needed to do thousands of deliveries every day.

What made the Medline operation particularly challenging is that, besides the large customers who order in bulk, there are 1000s of customers who put in small orders. These also needed to be prioritized for the company to keep all their customers – big and small – satisfied.

The company worked on distributing goods in two ways: 

  1. Bulk cases, which make up 30–40% of the Illinois center’s sales lines, had to be taken by forklift to the staging areas, where employees would pick the correct number of items for shipping and distribution.
  2. The second part of the picking and distribution process involved the AutoStore system. 

Currently, in the main warehouse, the AutoStore system runs with 47 Robots that pick the rest of the products (i.e. not the bulk cases) from the Bins. The Robots glide over a grid that houses 27,570 storage Bins to retrieve the products on order. They subsequently deliver them to packers at 12 Picking Stations on the edge of the grid, who then make up the orders. Next, a conveyor belt takes the products to the correct loading docks. And, finally, the products are scanned and delivered either to Fed-Ex pickups or Medline’s private fleet of trucks.

A business that runs smoothly, thanks to AutoStore

AutoStore has made all the difference and has helped Medline to expand its operations over the years significantly. 

“AutoStore has allowed us to continue to increase our cut-off times, expand our product offering in a temperature-controlled environment, and cover our expanding customer base,” says Bill Abington, President of Global Operations at Medline. 

What’s more, it’s allowing the Medline team to challenge the norm and continue to drive a world-class supply chain that benefits their customers and differentiates their business.

Lynn Metzger
Client Development Manager

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