Pharmaceutical wholesaler, Novaltia, recently added further automation – including a robotic picking system – to the warehouse solution supplied by KNAPP.

Novaltia’s distribution centre in Zaragoza, Spain.

From its 18,500m2 distribution centre in Zaragoza, Spain, Novaltia ships up to 120,000 items a day. All four of the company’s DCs feature automated handling systems and together supply 1,000 pharmacies with up to five deliveries per day. Novaltia has worked with automation provider, KNAPP, since 1999 and the Zaragoza DC underwent a large-scale extension and modernization programme in 2008. Recently, Novaltia added three further KNAPP technologies to the site: Pick-it-Easy Robot, KNAPP-Store and Open Shuttles.

A variety of picking methods

An automated central belt picking system – comprising four A-frame autopickers that are connected in series and feature different ejector types to suit various products – takes care of the picking of fast- and medium-moving articles. Medium- and slowmovers are stored in the OSR Shuttle™ storage system and supplied to one of two ergonomically designed Pickit- Easy Health workstations that feature pick-to-light technology. Oversized and fragile items are either picked at manual workstations or directly from pallets with the aid of RF terminals, while homeopathic articles are picked from a vertical carousel. The various warehouse areas are connected by a highperformance conveyor system and KNAPP’s KiSoft software plans all the order picking and controls the various fulfilment systems.

An Open Shuttle transports returns
A-frame autopickers. to the KNAPP-Store.

Robotic picking

The new Pick-it-Easy Robot system is also fed by the OSR Shuttle™ store. It uses KNAPP’s KiSoft Vision image recognition technology to identify the optimum article to pick from a tote and calculate the ideal grip point. Combining flexibility, reliability and performance, the robot is able to maintain a consistently high throughput rate and accuracy level over long periods.

Handling returns

Also added to the site recently is KNAPP-Store, a robotic storage and picking solution based on an AS/RS concept. Modular in design, it features rail-mounted storage robots that are like mini cranes. Goods are not stored in bins but multideep directly on glass shelves. On entry to the system, products are scanned from six sides – capturing key data such as expiry date and lot number – and then automatically stored. Products of various shapes and sizes are picked using a system of two grippers that can move independently of each other.

Novaltia is using KNAPPStore for returns, slowmoving products and articles that are subject to stringent legal regulations, such as narcotics. Once loaded into the KNAPP-Store, the articles are immediately available for picking.

Open Shuttle transport The recent upgrade of Novaltia’s Zaragoza warehouse also included the addition of an Open Shuttle, one of KNAPP’s intelligent and free-roaming automated guided vehicles. Open Shuttles can manoeuvre without optical or physical aids, reacting dynamically to obstacles and planning alternative routes. The Open Shuttle at Novaltia is used to transport returns to the KNAPP-Store, thereby flexibly linking the storage areas.

Quality assurance

In a final checking process at the Zaragoza DC, the contents of picked totes are verified semi-automatically with the aid of a check station. If an error is detected or there are any missing articles, the operator triggers a re-picking order and these items are picked using RF terminals and transferred to the final check station. After fully automatic insertion of delivery notes, lidding and strapping, the totes are distributed among the 720 dispatch ramps, according to the allocated delivery routes.

KNAPP’s Pick-it-Easy Robot.

Automation means speed

With highly efficient automated storage and picking, the average order processing time at the Zaragoza DC is just 15 minutes and the delivery time for orders is between 30 and 180 minutes. The secret of this success is selection of the optimum picking technology for each of the 33,000 articles in Novaltia’s product range.