“After automation, we soon added 25% to our throughput with 40% less staff.” So says Morley Snook, Head of Operations at leading veterinary products wholesaler Centaur Services, which is operating an automated order picking solution supplied by KNAPP.
Based in Castle Cary in Somerset, Centaur Services has enjoyed continual growth and now enjoys annual sales of some £140 million. The firm’s success brought its own problems, however, as Centaur struggled to fit expansion onto its Castle Cary premises. “We had no option but to automate,” explains Morley Snook. “Prior to automation, we could not grow the business any further on this site.”
Traceability is paramount
Today’s veterinary practices demand rapid supply of a diverse range of products including vaccines, medicines, pet foods and consumable goods. With vets needing to replenish their stocks daily, the veterinary wholesale business is very similar to pharmaceutical supply. Explains Morley Snook, “As many of our products enter the human food chain, product traceability is a non-negotiable element of our business and automation has helped us to achieve the required goals.”
Varied handling needs
As the SKUs handled by Centaur vary in size from a bone screw to a pallet load of pet food, automating the firm’s order picking needed several different, but compatible, solutions. Centaur Services chose KNAPP as its automated equipment supplier, as the firm was able to offer the wide range of hardware and software solutions necessary, including the Warehouse Management System (WMS).
Centaur carries some 8,500 stock lines, with as many lines again available on special order. The daily average is some 20,000 order lines, equating to approximately 50,000 individual items. Orders from vets are received during the day by telephone, bespoke electronic ordering systems or via web-based ordering. Picking of the orders does not start until 6pm so that all orders can be consolidated and picked in one run. KNAPP’s KiSoft WMS splits all orders into small items that can be picked automatically or semi-automatically and those items that are normally shipped on a pallet.
Fast-moving, smaller product lines – mainly items such as medicines in small boxes, bottles and cartons – are picked either fully automatically by an A-frame autopicker or semi-automatically using KNAPP’s MPS in conjunction with a stepped belt system.
Other orders are picked at order picking stations, with totes directed to the required locations via an intelligent conveyor system. The picking is controlled by arm-worn terminals with finger-mounted barcode scanners. This equipment essentially leaves the picker with two free hands for picking. Larger items are stored on pallets in racking, with staff using forklifts and trolleys to pick them onto shipping pallets using KNAPP’s voice-directed picking system. This ensures total accuracy and also leaves both hands of the picker free to handle heavier items.