Overcoming Automation Obstacles During COVID-19: A Case Study about the implementation of Swisslog AutoStore at Radwell International in Arlington, TX
Radwell International supports its customers with a broad range of new and used industrial products including industrial automation, MRO, pneumatic, motion, electronic, hydraulic, HVAC and electrical control equipment for plant floors and facilities. The company also provides component-level repair for all industrial electronic and electrical equipment, and buys new and used surplus for resale.
Radwell has major distribution hubs in New Jersey and the U.K., which support the bulk of product shipments and also include production facilities for repair. The hubs are supported by a network of satellite facilities that focus on repairs and localized sales. In early 2020, Radwell began construction on its newest automated distribution center. Radwell would locate this AutoStore in its 86,000-square-foot Arlington, Texas, branch.
In 2016, Radwell worked with Swisslog to implement automation in its New Jersey distribution center, which consolidated repair, testing and distribution in the new facility. After evaluating several automation solutions, the company selected the AutoStore system. With Swisslog handling the integration, Radwell was confident the solution would improve inventory management, make more effective use of warehouse space and cut picking times dramatically.
Radwell was so pleased with the successful AutoStore implementation in its New Jersey distribution center that the company decided to again work with Swisslog to design their newest regional distribution in Texas around the AutoStore system. Equipped with the experience and learnings from the New Jersey implementation, the team quickly got to work, with the construction of the AutoStore system beginning smoothly. However, when a global pandemic struck in the midst of the implementation, the company faced a difficult decision – should they move forward or put the entire project on hold?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Radwell was deemed an essential business since production lines in a range of essential businesses, from food and beverage to sanitization to defense, rely on Radwell parts and equipment to keep lines running. The company even saw a spike in orders as customers in select industries ramped up production to meet demand for essential goods.
Radwell responded by implementing new processes and protocols to protect employees while continuing to serve customers. In terms of the AutoStore project, Radwell faced a crossroads. The company was concerned that travel and other restrictions limited access to the expertise and resources Radwell had originally planned to bring in throughout the implementation. However, they also knew that Swisslog’s AutoStore system would simplify the process of maintaining social distancing while continuing to support customers.
AutoStore is a unique and simple solution that uses robots and bins to quickly process small parts orders. It provides better use of available space than any other automated system thanks to its unique design that enables direct stacking of bins on top of each other and storage of multiple SKUs in a single bin. Over time, the system automatically learns which products have a higher rotation, storing them on the top layer to ensure faster picking times. The AutoStore system operates based on instructions from Swisslog’s SynQ software. The SynQ platform provides warehouse management, material flow and automation control system functionality in a single, modular platform that integrates easily with host systems and other warehouse software.
After discussing the matter at length and weighing the impact on internal resources, Radwell decided to move forward with the implementation, under the supervision of two Swisslog automation experts who remained on-site.
The deployment was completed very close to the original deadline and allowed Radwell to implement the automation needed to save space, increase productivity and encourage social distancing in the new facility.
The pandemic brought out the creativity, resiliency and resourcefulness of both the Radwell and Swisslog teams and showed the importance of having a clearly defined automation strategy and adhering to it. Together, the companies overcame difficult circumstances and implemented the automation needed to meet customer needs and grow Radwell’s business through the pandemic and beyond.
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