Intelligent dynamics for the promise of freshness

Three material flows, three shipping areas, three load carriers, and three different target customer groups – ASKO’s new fresh food warehouse in Norway was not much of a quantitative challenge for WITRON’s technical systems, but rather the logic and dynamics in the processes, the integration of the technology, and the design were decisive for a successful start-up.

„We looked for a company that understands our process and is able to map it“, says Arild Åsmul, Director at ASKO. Picture: WITRON. .



Robert Weber, specialized journalist., WITRON Group

The white, plain refrigerator with the ruby colored ASKO logo at the side of the buffet in the hotel is rarely noticed by the restaurant guests. For Holger Weiß from WITRON, it is a mantra. Every morning and every evening, it reminded him of this task during the project realization: the fresh food warehouse of the Norwegian food retailer ASKO has to run at the beginning of 2018. Otherwise, the refrigerator remains empty.

The ASKO fresh food warehouse with a size of 24,000 square meters / 258,000 square feet supplies customers throughout Norway – from Oslo in the south to Tromsø far north of the Arctic Circle, some 1.800 km / 1,118 miles away. Picture: WITRON. .

The warehouse project in Vestby, approx. 40 kilometers / 25 miles away from the Oslo metropolitan region was his premiere as project manager at WITRON and he could hardly have found a more complex project. The new fresh food warehouse of ASKO with a size of 24,000 square meters / 258,000 square feet not only fills refrigerators in restaurants or hotels (14,000 customers), who order only a few units; but do so more frequently and at the very last minute. Furthermore, it supplies more than 2,600 stores and 12 regional warehouses throughout Norway – from Oslo in the south of Tromsø at the Arctic Circle, about 1,800 km / 1,118 miles away. On such routes, the trailer can’t be half-empty. About 80% of the picked goods are supplied to regional warehouses, the remaining 20% are sent to stores and hotels to almost equal parts. “On top of that: We have to merge dry goods from the nearby dry goods central warehouse with picked goods from the fresh food warehouse in a new consolidation unit – a warehouse in the warehouse, so to speak”, explains Weiß.

Intelligent processes consistently interlinked
Arild Åsmul knows the challenges of his logistics processes. “We did not explicitly search for a technical expert to realize the project or look for technical systems. We looked for a company that understands our process and dynamics, that can map these processes, and develop or adapt technical solutions for them”, explains the director. Both ASKO and WITRON had to review originally designed processes in the current project in order to harmonize processes and technology. Flexibility was demanded from both partners. “Intelligence was also required to avoid bottlenecks on the conveyor system” adds Åsmul with a smile on his face. “We ramped up the logistics center in three stages and this also illustrates the complexity of this project to a certain extent. Thanks to our fully developed standard modules, we were able to implement an overall concept that handles the daily business in a reliable manner and, at the same time, is flexibly designed to meet future requirements”, explains Weiß and Åsmul nods in agreement. In January 2017, the OPM was the first system that went into operation, followed by the DPS / OCB, and MPS systems in March 2017. Subsequently, the processes of both systems were merged in May 2017. The consolidation unit was then completed in June 2017. Since then, a WITRON Onsite team of 47 staff members – spread over three shifts – ensures a high system availability 7 days a week. They are working as problem solvers and process optimizers.

Both the customer and the service provider have had entertaining days behind them. The challenge for the partners: Today’s technology has to control three different material flows – from receiving to dispatch. Every material flow depends on the order and the definition of the customer. This also means that the material flows are not separated from each other, but there are numerous interdependencies. In other words, intelligent linking is required: the goods arrive at the receiving area, are stored in the fully automated high bay warehouse, and then first take three different routes through the logistics center – perhaps the yogurt first.

Reindeer meat manual, yogurt automatic
It is transported on the conveyor system to the Order Picking Machinery (OPM), a fully automated system in the case picking area – at ASKO a system for sausage or dairy products. The majority of the total volume is picked here. The heart of the system is the loading device called COM (Case Order Machine), which is used by many food retailers across the globe. This system is able to pick more than 500 cases per hour onto load carriers in a product-gentle and store-friendly manner. ASKO operates 14 COM machines that pick more than 7,000 cases per hour. Four additional COMs are currently being implemented. An expansion that was already considered in the concept when starting the design phase. The implementation became necessary earlier than originally planned due to the positive business development of ASKO, which were also influenced by innovative logistics processes and the resulting competitive advantages. 

The second route for the separately packed steaks is via the Dynamic Picking System (DPS) and the Order Consolidation Buffer (OCB). Here too, the extensions are already in the pipeline and will be implemented during ongoing operation by the end of 2019. The highly dynamic and semi-automated picking of small parts in the DPS is supported by a pick-by-light system. ASKO also stores large toteable slow movers in the DPS. The DPS works according to the goods-to-person / person-to-goods principle. Depending on the order structure, the items are arranged in the pick front either permanently or on demand, such that it is optimized at all time. ASKO uses totes with three different height options. The DPS area is again dependent on the OPM and thus also on the following MPS unit.

Which products and processes are still missing? The reindeer meat from northern Scandinavia, which cannot be picked automatically. The meat is picked with the Module Picking System (MPS) from WITRON. The solution is a goods-to-person system supported by pick-by-light. The WITRON material flow computer controls all necessary pallet movements from the high bay warehouse and indicates to the operator the quantities to be picked by means of pick-by-light displays. The dynamic pick front is generated order-related by means of transfer cars. The ergonomic positioning of the order pallet or order grid box at the pick front is done centrally between the individual storage pallets. “In addition to the reindeer meat, this area also stores huge Camembert wheels”, says Åsmul. “If a hotelier orders fresh goods such as yogurt from the automated OPM area as well as reindeer meat, the reindeer meat is manually added to the yogurt packed on pallets or roll containers in the MPS area.

Dry and fresh food together
“We are making it a little more difficult for the WITRON colleagues. In addition to the three material flows, there are three load carriers that we have to handle – half pallets, Euro pallets, and roll containers”, adds Åsmul with a smile on his face. “In addition, the picked dry goods have to be consolidated as well”, adds Weiß with a grin.

If a hote customer orders fresh food and dry goods from the nearby logistics center, the cases are merged at ergonomic workstations located in a semi-automated consolidation zone in the new fresh food warehouse – this process can involve all three material flows. This process is also controlled by the WITRON warehouse management system. The picked fresh goods are transported via connected pallet lifters (the logistics center was built on a slope – the ground had to be blasted) to another receiving area, manually packed with dry goods from another order, placed on a load carrier, and then leave the “warehouse in the warehouse” with the ASKO trailer fleet. Example: In addition to yogurt and reindeer meat, the hotelier also orders two bundles of Coca-Cola in order to replenish the white refrigerator. 

If the orders for fresh food are transferred directly to one of the twelve regional warehouses of ASKO, the packed load carriers leave the fresh food warehouse via the shipping area. If, however, the regional warehouses also order dry goods, fresh and dry goods meet in a cross-docking unit to be shipped from there. The WITRON warehouse management system takes the lead also for this process.

Three processes, three material flows, three load carriers, three shipping areas, three different distribution channels, and it took three years to realize the new fresh food project – from the first mechanical installation to the complete takeover in spring of 2018 – a logistical masterpiece, according to the ASKO employees. “And we are constantly optimizing the processes together in order to fulfill every customer’s need”, adds Åsmul. “In addition to the installation and adjustments within the conveyor system, we especially had to map the interdependencies in the orders through the software and had to control the material flow in such way, for example, to avoid long waiting times for the dry goods or to ensure that hoteliers receive their goods in time. Unfortunately, it is not possible to just accelerate the system operation, intelligence and flexibility are decisive”, Weiß looks back. “We have a buffer for the regional warehouses, but not for orders that have to be shipped to restaurants or hotels”, adds Åsmul. The white refrigerator located at the buffet side is what drives both of them.

Figures and facts about the logistics center:

Surface:  24,000 square meters / 258,000 square feet
Temperature:  + 2 degrees Celsius / 36 Fahrenheit
Volume:  317,000 picks / peak day
Products:  More than 4,000 different fresh products
Customers:   12 regional warehouses,
2,670 store customers,
14,000 hotel/restaurant customers

WITRON systems:   OPM, DPS, OCB, MPS, consolidation system, HBW

Technology: 16,800 pallet storage locations in the high bay warehouse
83,200 tote storage locations in the DPS warehouse
23,800 tote storage locations in the OCB warehouse
110,430 tray storage locations in the OPM warehouse
7,140 storage locations in the consolidation area 14 COM machines
28 pick locations in the DPS
72 stacker cranes
9 kilometers / 6 miles of conveyor system

Environment:  1.3 GwH solar power

Figures and facts about ASKO:

Part of the NorgesGruppen
Revenue: 8.2 billion Euros
Employees: 28,800
Market share food retail:  42.3%
Market share convenience / catering: 36%

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