We were catching up on our recreational reading recently when we came across a photo of material handling equipment in a most unlikely place: the pages of The New Yorker. In the photo, packages speed along belt conveyors and slide down a sortation chute to a packing station, while roller-bed conveyors snake around the order packer. A gleaming, silver and black automated storage and retrieval system looms over it all.
What was material handling equipment doing in the pages of the renowned literary weekly? The accompanying article detailed the genesis and rise of the high-fashion e-tailer Yoox Group, based in Milan, Italy. Most of the article was about founder and CEO Federico Marchetti and Yoox Group's business model, but author John Seabrook also described the company's role as the fulfillment arm for such fashion houses as Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. Yoox Group handles order processing, fulfillment, logistics, customs clearance, returns, and customer service for its own as well as its 30-plus clients' online business.
The photo was taken inside the company's 400,000-square-foot main distribution center in Bologna, Italy. According to the article, Yoox ships some 2 million orders annually, and at any one time, the DC holds more than 3.5 million individual items—possibly "the world's biggest closet," as Seabrook put it. Pieces of clothing tagged with RFID tags linked to bar-coded product information are folded and placed randomly in plastic bins for putaway, with different types of clothing and accessories mixed together. The random assortment in each bin allows order pickers to instantly identify which item to remove, Seabrook writes. If there's just one sweater in the bin, for example, there's no need to search through a pile of sweaters for the right size, color, or style. The result: faster throughput in a high-velocity environment.