Enabling Warehouse Automation by Integrating AGV System with WMS

Although a relatively young brand, Snack Brands Australia has already had an enormous stamp in the snack food market in Australia. Originally born out of The
Smith’s Snackfood Company, Snack Brands was created in 2008. Snack Brands now encompasses CC’s, Thins, Kettle Chips, the Natural Chip Company, Cheezels, Chickadees, French Fries, Jumpy’s and Samboy, producing four million packets of chips per week (200 million per year).

Paperless has been working with Snack Brands as its warehouse management system since day one back in 2008. In fact, Paperless has been involved with Snack Brands in previous iterations way back to 1994, which is over 21 years. Over the past year, Paperless and Snack Brands have been working on the implementation of a new Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) project at the 13,000-pallet capacity distribution centre at Smithfield.

AGV project implementation

Following several years of project and business case evaluation, Snack Brands Australia approved a complex Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) project. Snack Brands initiated the project in order to improve its supply chain efficiency as well as increasing the warehouse automation in its biggest warehouse, by implementing AGV to replace most existing forklift activity. Snack Brands was conscious of the size and scope of the project, and as such spent a considerable time up front working through the requirements and business case to ensure that the project would be a success. This project would take over a year to implement, but it has fully automated Snack Brands warehousing workflow, increasing operational efficiency at the Smithfield site.

Snack Brands identified a key condition of the project was ensuring that the WMS would be fully integrated with the AGV system. Paperless created an interface between AGV supplier NDC Automation and the Paperless WMS to ensure the continued smooth management of Snack Brands’ warehouse operations. The Snack Brands team also ruled out any changes to integration between the Paperless Warehousing Group and upstream ERP Dynamic AX, a guideline that was successfully integrated into the project.

If implementing AGV into the warehouse wasn’t enough, the cross-functional project team was also tasked with implementing two Roll-On/Roll-Off (RoRo) conveyors to efficiently transport pallets from the factory to warehouse. These were also required to be integrated into the final solution.

WalkerScott is a company whose main purpose is to apply technology to improve business processes in companies. WalkerScott was engaged to lead the systems integration workstream, and Paperless worked closely with the company as well as all other companies involved in the integration (Snack Brands operations and IT, Linfox (3PL) warehouse operations, NDC Automation, ICA Australia and Sage Automation) to ensure the interface works effectively.

The project was a long-term integration and the integration lifecycle over the year included:

  • Running business requirement workshops with Snack Brands internal stakeholders and external vendors.
  • Documentation of interfaces.
  • Upgrade the Paperless Warehouse Management system to support SOAP Web Services.
  • Designing test and training plans.
  • Onsite commissioning and operational support.
  • Delivery of hourly productivity reporting.

This was an extremely challenging project in all aspects as the technology was pushed to the extreme. Everyone learnt a lot and overcame many challenges to realise the vision of fully automating all warehouse movements. As the Paperless WMS already controls the day-to-day warehouse management of the Smithfield site, the AGV integration has added another level to the supply chain automation of the Snack Brands DC.

Following the integration, the first time a pallet is physically handled by any system other than the AGV is when a forklift driver loads the pallet onto the truck to be delivered to the customer. This level of automation has resulted in a reduction in warehousing costs, a significant shift from variable to known fixed costs, and significant improvement in afternoon and night shift productivity.