Warehouse automation was an obvious choice for Elektroimportøren, sellers of electrical equipment, helping them double and redouble their turnover in six years.
When a company’s growth is as remarkable as that of Elektroimportøren, the rapid expansion requires its directors to make radical logistical decisions without increasing unit costs. When Elektroimportøren was faced with this challenge, they chose to partner with AutoStore, powered by Element Logic.
Elektroimportøren is a growing Norwegian company that sells equipment for electrical installations in the home. They cater to both the corporate market and personal customers. Since 2014, the company has grown from a turnover of $22 million to $112 million in the last year.
“That shows that we meet the needs of our market segments,” says Andre Swensen, Director of Logistics at Elektroimportøren. “But a growth of this magnitude creates logistical challenges.”
In 2017, the company needed more space and moved into a more extensive warehouse in March of that year. The new warehouse had to be up and running by October.
“We needed to be inventive to prevent our unit costs from rising together with the increase in our sales. That’s when we realized it was time to consider warehouse automation,” adds Swensen.
One of the warehouse employees suggested that the company research AutoStore automation. After some investigation, Elektroimportøren decided to install the system.
Currently, the warehouse’s automation system consists of 12 robots covering 500 square meters (5,382 square feet). A total of 10,750 bins cover 13,750 spots, and these supply four workstations. In this relatively small system, Elektroimportøren stores 85% of all lines for the warehouse.
“The benefits of choosing and installing the AutoStore system have been numerous,” says Swensen. “Not only has it increased efficiency, but the power consumption is low. It has also been cost-efficient. It has helped to increase revenue, and it’s beneficial to our staff.”
"We quickly realized AutoStore wasn’t an expense; it was an investment."
The system has meant that a wider variety of staff – not just the super-fit – can enjoy working in the warehouse. According to Swensen, it has reduced the physical strain on staff and improved workplace ergonomics.
Having one worker per workstation has also made it easy to stick to social-distancing recommendations. The system also creates far less noise than that made by a truck driving around on the warehouse floor, so the working conditions have improved.
The AutoStore system is also very safe. Staff members carry much less merchandise around and the bins at the workstations into which the robots deliver the products have an emergency stop. This mechanism disables the system with a simple touch and prevents the possibility of crushing injuries.
When the team explored the AutoStore system, they also found that the system’s power consumption was ten times less than that of the other system they considered installing.
“AutoStore only needs power for the robot-charging station and the picking stations,” Swensen says. “There are no other power-intensive parts.”
Many logistics professionals worry about automation and breakdowns due to numerous sensors and fragile parts that could malfunction.
“But the system works, even if one of the robots is down. In fact, the system works even if five of the 12 robots are down,” adds Swensen. “And the smart and compact storing system with the robots driving on top means minimal disruptions.”
The Electronic Warehouse Management System uses ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for communication between the work stations and AutoStore, and between ERP and the rest of the warehouse.
Swensen also mentions the reduction in variations when revenue grows – a result of efficient communication between the ERP and the rest of the warehouse.
And what about installation costs? “We expected a payback in three years at best, but we ended up with payback in less than two years.”
“In a nutshell, when an order is placed in the online store, the robots start searching for the products. Once the workstation is manned, the robots locate the right bin, collect it, and send it down the shaft to the correct picking station,” explains Swensen.
As the employee requests the order, a transport sticker is printed out at once, which clearly shows what has been ordered. The employee boxes the items, and puts them straight onto the mail carrier.
Even with 16 layers of bins in the grid, the robots retrieve the right items quickly.
“AutoStore makes sure that reserved products automatically get placed in the top 2–4 layers. The robots never stop working, unlike people. When an order is placed, even after-hours, the system makes sure that the correct bin is close to the top layer by the time the employees show up."
Servicing time also doesn’t impact the system’s output. The system includes a mezzanine service area where the robots can be overhauled without any disruptions to the warehouse.
“I wouldn’t change much at our facility. A business has to keep expansion in mind, even if it looks like a big initial cost,” says Swensen. “AutoStore was the right choice for us.”
AutoStore can fit any warehouse or fulfillment center. Make yours the next.