Founded in the 1960s as the first U.K. discount chain, Asda has since grown into one of Britain’s best-known retail brands. Today, it employs over 145,000 people at its mall-like “supercentres,” grocery stores, clothing and home supplies shops, and gas stations.
The engine behind those operations is the company’s Asda Logistics Services division, which spans 39 distribution centers across the country that are served by a fleet of 4,000 heavy-goods vehicles and 2,000 home-delivery vehicles.
In 2015, Asda Logistics Services launched “toyou,” an e-commerce parcel platform that lets consumers return or collect purchases from third-party online retailers at more than 600 Asda stores. Designed with customer convenience in mind, the service lets consumers combine several shopping activities into a single trip to an Asda location.
Not surprisingly, Asda toyou volumes exploded during the pandemic year, as demand for parcel collection and returns services skyrocketed. Adding to the challenge were the company’s aggressive expansion plans. In the past few years, Asda toyou has expanded the number of retailers it supports to more than 100 third-party sellers.
So Asda began looking for ways to boost its capacity to support parcel collection and returns. For help finding a solution, the company brought in the British systems integrator AMH Material Handling, which then brought in its own partner, the Chinese autonomous mobile robot (AMR) vendor Geek+. Together, the partners integrated 60 of Geek+’s S-series parcel-sorting robots into the operations of an Asda DC in the English town of South Elmsall, West Yorkshire.
For the Asda project, the partners chose Geek+’s S20C-model bots, which are rolling three-foot-tall robots that can carry loads of up to 44 pounds apiece and travel at speeds of over 5 miles per hour. Deployed in a 3,875-square-foot sorting area within the South Elmsall cross-docking facility, the units have allowed Asda to sort 2,000 parcels an hour with 99.99% accuracy, the robot supplier says.
As for how it all works, “the process for intelligent sorting is pretty straightforward,” Lit Fung, vice president and managing director of Geek+ for APAC, UK, and Americas, said in a release. Basically, the system uses a network of AMRs to transfer incoming parcels from workstations to cages of corresponding destinations, he explains, adding that the system boosts both accuracy and efficiency “while also making the process more ergonomic for warehouse employees.”
On top of that, the solution will give Asda the flexibility to respond quickly to fluctuations in demand, he added. “With no need for fixed platform development, it makes it easy for Asda to scale operations in line with business growth. All [it has] to do is adjust the number of robots and destination chutes.”