John Lewis is implementing two warehouse management systems to handle both automated order picking and existing manual processes.
The department store chain is investing £18m in a warehouse management system to run a purpose-built automated distribution centre in Milton Keynes. The £45m centre will use a sophisticated managed service from logistics and software company Knapp to provide automated picking of goods for delivery to John Lewis's 26 stores.
At the same time, the company is rolling out separate warehouse management technology to its five existing distribution centres, which rely on manual product picking. It has gone live with Red Prairie's DLX distribution system at its Northampton centre.
Two other centres will move to DLX this year, with the remaining two moving in 2008.
John Lewis said two systems were needed because it would be too expensive to automate processes in the existing warehouses, and Knapp's software did not have the labour management functionality for manual order picking.
The company will spend 18 months installing the systems at the Milton Keynes centre, followed by six months testing. The centre will start shipping goods in 2009.
John Lewis is deploying systems at its new automated distribution centre in Milton Keynes that are capable of accurately picking individual items, rather than pallets of items.
The systems are accurate enough for the retailer to be confident how many products have been picked for each new order without the need for radio frequency identification tags.
The challenge for the new centre is keeping track of 500 million bins that are used to move orders through the supply chain, said Colin Turner, head of physical distribution and planning.
Turner said, "The question is whether we want to tag those bins as they move around the warehouse. There is not a significant enough problem to make us use RFID."
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