E-commerce Giants Show Off Their Advanced Warehouses Days Before 11.11 Shopping Festival

摘要: On October 1st, Suning gave a tour to journalists inside its mysterious automated warehouse. Suning claims that it’s the largest smart logistics base in Asia, named Suning Yuncang(Cloud Warehouse). Whether the new technology or advanced equipment can be implemented in an actual situation and put into mass operation and bring profit, is the indicator to evaluate smart logistics.

(Chinese Version)

Mini load

Mini load

The Double Eleven Shopping Festival is just around the corner, and e-commerce giants are giving tours to the public inside their warehouse, showing off the technological competence in the competition.

Just a few days ago, JD showed off its intelligent warehouse to the media, a fully-automatic warehouse powered by robots, AI algorithm, and data sensing network. On October 1st, Suning gave a tour to journalists inside its mysterious automatic warehouse. Suning claims that it’s the largest smart logistics base in Asia, named Suning Yuncang(Cloud Warehouse).

Suning Yuncang located in Nanjing, capital Jiangsu province

Suning Yuncang located in Nanjing, capital Jiangsu province

“Building a smart logistics system is not merely just about making an automatic production line, or replacing human workforce with robots…….Automation technology and robot solutions are one of the directions of our exploration, but they are just ways to boost efficiency, not the core of smart logistics,” Suning described the automatic warehouse, noting the significance of the logistics center.

You might get the idea of what Suning is referring to.

Suning’s second Yuhua Yuncang in Nanjing covers an area of 200,000 square meters, holding give warehouses. It is mainly responsible for serving the retail clients in the East China region and providing delivery services for regional distribution centers and brick-and-mortar delivery centers. The Yuncang also allocates merchandises to other warehouses in the country.

Goods shelf

Goods shelf

Different from JD’s automatic warehouse, the No.2 Yuhua’s equipment and device still require manual control. JD’s smart logistics is mainly about using advanced equipment to improved production efficiency, lower manual error rate, enhance production security, automate operation process, and make the logistics operation smarter and more automatic.

We have witnessed the following high-tech systems centered around storage, sorting, and distributing functions:

  • ASRS and Miniload high-density storage

Mini load

SCHAEFER Miniload System

To boost storage capacity, the fundamental infrastructure of a logistics center, No.2 Yuhua adopts advanced automated storage equipment such as AS/RS(Automated storage and retrieval system), SCHAEFER Miniload System, and SCS(SCHAEFER Carousel System) etc., to handle the highly frequent storage of bins, boxes and trays.

ASRS, short for Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems, consists of a variety of computer-controlled systems for automatically placing and retrieving loads from defined storage locations. It can handle high volume and density of loads, with a focus on mid and small-sized loads storage. It has 22-meter double-deep storage slots can place and retrieve 30 trays per hour, double loop(50 picks per hour for single loop).

SCHAEFER Miniload System is mainly used for storing and retrieving small-sized boxes and cardboard boxes. It has has 22-meter double-deep storage slots and automatically place and retrieve 1,400 boxes per hour, double loop(1,800 picks per hour for single loop).

  • "Goods-to-person" principle

Carousal crane picking and retrieving system

Carousal crane picking and retrieving system

The carousal crane is an automated picking and retrieving system, which is used for selecting and picking open stock. Equipped with independent and separable automated picking and retrieving modules, it can automatically sort out, hold, and pick up 500 to 600 orders for every workstation(1,200 picks per hour).

In No.2 Yuhua, the human staff won’t have to move even a bit. The carousal can automatically store, sort, supply and buff and sort items. The SCHAEFER Carousel System made this "goods-to-person" principle possible. It’s introduced that such principle can achieve 1,200 picks per hour, which is 10 times higher the efficiency.

  • A-Frame

The A-Frame is an automatic picking system that increases performance considerably while drastically lowering error rates. Automated picking systems are most often used in sectors that require order picking of small packaging units. It can realize 1,600 picks per hour. A-Frame has a dense storage space, making good use of the space, therefore even in peak time it can still insure the operation.

  • Automatic distribution system

Automatic distribution system

Automatic distribution system

The distribution system includes package distributor and delivery distributor. The merchandises customers ordered will first go through the package distribution center for small goods selection, then the delivery distributor will distribute the packed goods by scanning the bar code on the packages and identifying the designated city. This system can handle small-sized packages, mid-sized packages and even transport cases, fully functional.

The staff can manage the distribution system according to the red light signal

The staff can manage the distribution system according to the red light signal

After going through these “high tech systems”, let's see just how successful it actually is.

It’s said that Suning Yuncang deals with 1.81 million packages daily. Powered by the automated system, every worker here can process 1,200 packages every hour. It could be as fast as half an hour for an order to come and the shipment to be sent out. That said, the staff’s working efficiency has been drastically enhanced. It actually saves a labor force of at least one thousand people.

Vice president of Suning logistics, Yao Kai, further illustrated the success on efficiency boost with statistics: “For instance, if every worker at the SCS workstation works for 20 hours everyday, the process volume could reach 200,000 to 300,000. In the past, it would require two groups of staff, each with 200 workers, to achieve a volume of 300,000. So we can pretty mush say the efficiency has been increased by 10 times.”

Yao Kai told TMTpost that this fully automated Suning Yuncang had actually gone through a long time of evolution.

In the beginning, the warehouse operated in the old ways. The staff will deliver goods from designated sectors to the trucks. Then they started to have equipment like electric trailers and forklifts.

Later Suning implemented automation application in some part of the warehouse operation, making its first endeavors. For example, Suning improved the distribution and delivery process. And it in fact took more than one year to design and prepare the build this fully automated Suning Yuncang we see today.

“What is smart logistics 4.0? That means you have to have a solution for the whole operation process, and that you can carry out the solution in a mass use case. That’s how we determine if it’s a smart logistics 4.0,” Yao Kai said, explaining his definition for smart logistics.

From his perspective, whether the new technology or advanced equipment can be implemented in an actual situation and put into mass operation and bring profit, is the indicator to assess smart logistics.

Starting from 2013, Suning Logistics has been transforming from enterprise internal logistics to a third-party logistics company. In 2015, Suning started to provide third-party services for the public, including supply chain logistics, warehouse distribution logistics, and express etc. It now serves over 1,200 suppliers. More than 70% of the businesses on Suning’s platform subscribe Suning’s logistics service.

Besides that, Suning also partnered with Cainiao, providing warehouse distribution service on 3C products and small appliances from merchants on Tmall for Cainiao.

Suning’s Q3 fiscal report in 2016 shows that the company’s priority is to serve supliers and Cainiao and achieve logistics socialization. Logistics socialization has brought in a year-on-year 411.11% income growth.

According to Yao Kai, logistics centers in other regions are learning from Yuncang’s model. In October, the logistics centers in Shanghai Fengxian and Beijing Tongzhou, have also undergone automation upgrade.

In the upcoming future, logistics centers in the 11 major cities of China, Beijing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang, Wuhan, Xi’an, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Chongqing, and Tianjin will also undergo the upgrade. It’s expected that eight warehouses will be fully upgrade to automated warehouses, and warehouses in Wuhan, Xi’an and Chengdu will start operation.

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Xie Kangyu, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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