Automated handling system from KNAPP UK achieves record sales for John Lewis

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It has been widely reported in the retail press that John Lewis has achieved record Christmas sales. Less widely known is that helping John Lewis to achieve some of these sales was its brand-new 45 million, state-of-the-art national distribution centre (NDC), designed and installed by KNAPP, which was opened in June last year. The 650,000 sq ft NDC - located at Magna Park, Milton Keynes, at junction 13 of the M1 - features a huge automated handling system that drives the distribution for some 87,000 products.

John Lewis Senior Project Manager, John Munnelly, said, "We are pleased that our new Distribution Centre has been able to help support the John Lewis businesses in achieving these excellent trading results. Handling just over two million units at peak was a real achievement, especially as it has only been operational for six months."

John Lewis committed to investing in the facility back in 2006 and commissioned KNAPP UK Ltd to design and install the site's highly automated internal logistics. Craig Rollason, Head of Sales & Marketing for KNAPP UK Ltd, explains: "A major challenge for KNAPP was the fact that we needed to provide store-friendly deliveries, despite the fact that every John Lewis department store is laid out differently." Store layout - even including which product lines belong in which department - has always been the preserve of the Managing Director within each John Lewis branch. This fact gave the project an added dimension of complexity, as did the need to accommodate the differing distribution needs of the retail stores and johnlewis.com under one roof. Each John Lewis store typically stocks more than 350,000 separate lines.

KNAPP's 25 million automated handling system at the flagship NDC features 8.4km of conveyors and over a quarter of a million bin storage locations. The solution - which is the largest ever single order supplied by KNAPP in the UK - includes 13 ASRS cranes, each running in aisles 78m long by 15m high and handling slower-moving products in totes that are stored double deep. KNAPP's Order Storage and Retrieval (OSR) system stores faster-moving lines in 21,000 totes. Both the ASRS and the OSR feed totes to 33 order picking stations where pick-to-light and put-to-light technology can achieve up to 1,000 picks per man-hour. KNAPP also installed a second OSR system that acts as a buffer store and collates picked totes for delivery to an individual department store. A further OSR store has been supplied for the direct-to-customer fulfilment. In addition, KNAPP supplied all the warehouse management software, which allows product sales to be reviewed more often, thus reducing surplus stock.

Goods arrive at the retail stores shelf-ready, with the majority of packaging removed and recycled, saving the shops time and money. The 'little and often' replenishment philosophy of John Lewis' distribution reduces the stockholding in its shops, reducing the storage space required.

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