Supply chain optimisation through automated warehousing

Jonny Williamson received an exclusive look at the creation of a new automated storage and retrieval system at Coca-Cola European Partners Sidcup factory.

Digital Transformation - The business is striving to become 100% paperless and allow its people to make use of portable electronic systems to perform their daily tasks – image courtesy of CCEP.
Sidcup is striving to become 100% paperless and allow its people to make use of portable electronic systems to perform their daily tasks – image courtesy of CCEP.

It’s easy to see why Sidcup came out on top when Coca-Cola European Partners needed to identify which one of its six manufacturing sites in Great Britain would serve the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.

Aside from the site’s convenient proximity to the games, Sidcup also principally manufactures single serve packages – exactly the type of products Olympic athletes, spectators and volunteers would go on to consume in their thousands.

The Olympics output came on top of Sidcup’s regular daily production, meaning the additional demand required the full support of every one of its 280 employees – not to mention tight planning and scheduling management.

As much as it was an opportunity to demonstrate CCEP’s world-class British manufacturing capability, the huge responsibility also pushed Sidcup to the limit of what was possible and reinforced its pro-active approach to investing in and embracing new technologies.

Five years later and that approach has culminated in a brand new £32m automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) warehouse. A key differentiator for a business which operates in what is an ultra-competitive, fast-moving sector.

The 25,000 pallet storage spaces more than trebles the 8,000 previously available onsite, but it’s not just potential future growth the ASRS building will deliver. It also offers the opportunity to greatly enhance Sidcup’s productivity, efficiency, sustainability and staff skill level.

Supply chain optimisation

Sidcup has seven manufacturing lines producing more than 42 million cases of drinks every year, with a fill-rate of 5,000 bottles and cans every minute – over 80 every second. Such volumes meant that the site had to undergo a considerable amount of internal pallet movements, transporting product off the lines, into and around the warehouse before loading it on to delivery vehicles.

A lack of overspill space also necessitated the use of offsite warehousing, adding to the amount of double-handling, articulated vehicle arriving on site and cost. Once completed, the ASRS warehouse will significantly reduce the need for external warehousing and will mean fewer pallet movements between product coming off the line and being loaded for delivery.

supply chain optimisation - Construction of the new £32m automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) warehouse began in November 2016 and is due to be completed sometime in Q12018 - image courtesy of CCEP.
Construction of the new £32m automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) warehouse began in November 2016 and is due to be completed sometime in Q12018 – image courtesy of CCEP.

When I arrived at Sidcup, the existing low-level warehouse had been demolished and the construction of the new ASRS structure was well on the road to completion. Construction of the building began in November 2016 and is due to be completed sometime in the first-quarter of next year.

It’s anticipated that a phased introduction will begin in middle of 2018, with the ASRS fully online by the end of the year.

In keeping with CCEP’s commitment to the local area and its residents, the exterior of the building will have a graduation of colour which means that it will be darker at its lower level, becoming lighter as it gets higher. Such a graduation should allow the building to blend in better with its surrounding.

Local roads are also expected to experience fewer articulated lorries, while the site continues to produce the same amount of finished product.

Digital factory

The significant investment in Sidcup’s automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) warehouse has a projected payback period of eight years, relatively swift for such a sizeable infrastructure project.

The advanced system is also expected to eliminate over 10,500 vehicle journeys a year, equating to more than 30,000 tonnes of CO2 being saved, according to Trevor Stacey, supply chain operations director at CCEP Sidcup.

He explained to me that the ASRS would enable some warehouse staff to transition from being predominantly forklift truck drivers to become technicians – more technology-focused roles which requires a higher skill level and even greater personal and team responsibility.

This isn’t a new direction for the business. It’s production line workers have already made a similar transition, with filling line staff conducting less manual-handling tasks and assuming more operator or technician-focused roles.

Trevor Stacey, supply chain operations director at Coca-Cola European Partners Sidcup.
Trevor Stacey, supply chain operations director at Coca-Cola European Partners Sidcup.

“We are probably migrating towards being a connected factory or digital data factory, whatever you wish to call it, almost without thinking about it. As we continue to evolve, automated technologies and the data being generated is becoming increasingly important to the decisions my team and I take – both in the short term and further ahead,” Stacey commented.

“We now have a line management system which doesn’t solely offer an instantaneous snap-shot of how Sidcup is performing, it also allows us to benchmark ourselves against our previous performance and that of others in the CCEP group.”

Alongside several other systems, Sidcup also utilises a remotely-accessible, advanced inventory management system which maintains and manages its stock levels. The ultimate evolution, concluded Stacey, was to have each of these systems, including that of the ASRS warehouse, interconnected and talking to each other, rather than siloed – albeit effectively managed.

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) is the world’s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler. Operating in 13 countries, the organisation’s 24,500-strong workforce mixes, makes, packages and distributes 2.5 billion cases to 300 million consumers annually.

Today, CCEP sells more than 4 billion bottles and cans in Great Britain every year. It employs 3,800 people across six manufacturing sites and five logistics, distribution, operations and customer centres.

CCEP adheres to a far-reaching joint sustainability vision, committing the organisation to ambitious targets and to becoming a low-carbon, zero-waste business.