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TGW Reinvents Apparel Logistics Solutions


The apparel distribution is a fast moving industry with ever increasing requirements in logistics operations. Fashion retailers have to deal with frequent new arrivals and quick replenishment in their shops as well as reduced logistics efforts at shop level. “Our customers in the global fashion retail have been relying on centralized distribution centre strategies to be able to fulfil these high requirements,” explains Rudolf Hansl, Managing Director of TGW Logistics Group. Today big apparel distribution centres service several hundred shops, handle up to 50,000 cartons per day and ship millions of garments per week to their outlets and consumers. Hansl says that these central warehousing and picking facilities offer big advantages in terms of sharing resources, reducing stock volumes and increasing logistics service quality for the shops.


But consumers no longer buy only in the shops. More and more order their fashion online from home. These e-commerce activities are characterised by extremely small order volumes, short response and delivery times, and high returns rates. The logistics process differs from the shop replenishment operations in many aspects but still the integration into a centralised distribution centre might be the best option. “During the systems design phase we take all these aspects into account and intensively discuss the different solutions with our customer. One big advantage of a distribution centre for both business models is that both operations can be replenished from the same stock,” says Rudolf Hansl.

Traditional manual distribution centres are no longer able to efficiently handle the volumes in the speed and quality a fashion chain like H&M needs. H&M is one of several leading fashion retailers who decided for an automated solution provided by TGW. “Since 2009 we have used our new distribution centre in Hamburg including an automated carton warehouse and material handling system,” says André Heyden from H&M Logistik. “We are very happy with this solution and have enjoyed the cooperation with TGW.”


TGW’s basic concept for apparel distribution centres is to directly handle the individual cartons throughout the installation, from goods receiving to dispatch, and to reduce the walking or driving distances for the workers drastically. “We take the incoming cartons onto our conveyor system, identify and check them, and buffer them in a fully automated carton warehouse,” explains Rudolf Hansl. Compared to most other solutions this concept avoids the now unneeded palletizing process at goods receiving and manual handling of these pallets in a large block storage. In contrast the very cost effective carton warehouse in TGW’s solution replenishes the subsequent picking, sorting, or dispatch process fully automatically and always just in time.

The cartons in the warehouse are stored and retrieved by highly dynamic TGW mini-load stacker cranes with Twister load handling devices. These handling devices are capable of storing cartons up to four-deep in shelving racks, while providing access to each individual carton and ensuring stock integrity. The vast range of carton dimensions that can be handled is impressive, with a dimension range of between 200 and 800 mm in length and 150 to 650 mm in width. Due to this innovative multi-deep storage technology the investment is only 10 – 15 % higher than a pallet warehouse but results in big operational cost advantages and a ROI in 2.5 – 3 years.


One of TGW’s solutions is for a leading fashion retail chain in Europe that supplies 500 shops and uses the carton warehouse for the automated replenishment of the two different manual picking processes. New products for the stores are picked from carton flow racks. These flow racks are replenished by the automated warehouse. The shipping cartons arrive at the picking station with their picking list and are packed with the appropriate quantity of garment from each flow rack channel by the picking personnel. As soon as the carton is finished it is conveyed to the right area for shipping.

The second picking process handles the shop replenishment. Here the cartons provided by the automated warehouse are sorted into a manual racking system. Workers walk through the rack aisles with picking lists for each shop and take the right articles in the right quantity from the cartons. Picked items are packed into shipping cartons and again conveyed to the appropriate shipping lane.


One of the most important restrictions for this solution was the footprint minimization of the warehouse at a very high throughput performance. “We had to guarantee a throughput of up to 3,000 cartons per hour and to handle a variety of carton sized from 250 x 400 mm to 600 x 800 mm,” says Rudolf Hansl. That is why TGW decided for an 18-aisle warehouse with two Mustang AS/RS machines with Twister VCplus load handling device in each aisle. The Twister allows for maximum footprint usage as it is able to store the cartons double deep by just using a single deep aisle width. And the use of two Mustang AS/RS machines per aisle boosts performance and guarantees access to each individual carton, even in case of the breakdown of one machine.


Another TGW solution combines a carton cross-docking system for getting new collections to the shop and a highly ergonomic goods-to-man picking for articles which the shops pull from the distribution centre. It is designed for a performance of up to 50,000 cartons delivered to the shops per day. 40 % of all cartons arriving at this distribution centre are cross-docked, as they already contain a pre-defined assortment for the shops. It takes less than five minutes to automatically transport the individual carton from goods receiving to the right palletizing station in the shipping area.

Picking for the pull process is done at highly ergonomic and flexible work stations. In the middle of the workstation the picker is provided with goods cartons coming from the automated warehouse in an optimized picking position and the picking information on a screen. The open order cartons are positioned to the picker’s left and right, where lights indicate where to put the picked items. Finished cartons are pushed back onto a conveyor line and conveyed to the shipping area. High flexibility is secured by having two of these picking stations facing each other, so one employee can handle both stations in times of low throughput or each station is staffed with one person in peak times.

The warehouse for this installation offers a capacity of 500,000 cartons in 22 aisles. Each aisle is serviced by a highly dynamic TGW Magito AS/RS machine with triple deep Twister load handling device. These triple deep handling devices enable very fast storage of single SKU channels while giving access to each individual carton for retrieval.


A third solution is based on picking the shop orders by a high speed sorter solution. In this solution the cartons coming from the automated warehouse are delivered to manual in-feed stations. There the workers open the provided cartons and position each item on an in-feed conveyor that pushes the single garments onto the sorter. This high speed sorter automatically fills the order cartons with the appropriate quality and quantity of articles. The finished cartons are pushed onto a conveyor line, sealed, labelled and conveyed to the right shipping lane.

TGW installed this solution for a facility that handles 35,000 items per hour. The carton warehouse has a capacity of approximately 300,000 cartons in triple deep storage. The 15 warehouse aisles are equipped with 15 TGW Stratus AS/RS machines with two triple deep Twister load handling devices each to be able to handle the needed high warehouse throughput.


Within these automated solutions it is easy to include workstations for value added services. Orders that have to be reworked are automatically redirected to these workstations where they receive their special labelling, additional promotional items, individual packaging or another special service. Afterwards these orders are reintegrated into the main material flow and conveyed to the dispatch area for shipping.


To facilitate the handling in the shops, the cartons are stacked on pallets or roller containers before shipping. Depending on the individual requirements this palletising process can be handled by a fully automated installation, e.g. the TGW Autostax palletizer, or by highly ergonomic manual palletizing stations like the TGW Slotstax. Both solutions are designed to deliver high performance.

“Each of our solutions is unique as they reflect the special requirements and situations of the individual customer,” says Rudolf Hansl. “But all of them are based on lean and standardized modules that are highly reliable and stand for high performance and energy efficiency.” This results in tailor made automated solutions delivering the fashion retailer highest distribution centre performance, highest picking and inventory accuracy, a massive reduction in operational costs and a very fast return on investment.


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