E-commerce continues to be a huge driver of investment in industrial properties throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley. Along with that growth comes the need for faster and more efficient order fulfillment.
To meet that rising demand, one company recently completed a large installation of robotic technology for its fulfillment center in Schuylkill County.
Hudson’s Bay Co., a global retailer headquartered in Brampton, Ontario, celebrated an expansion of its facility in the Highridge Business Park in Foster Township near Pottsville on June 25.
The centerpiece of its technology investment is the Perfect Pick case shuttle system. It marks the second installation of the technology for the company, which also has it at its Scarborough, Ontario, distribution center.
With 910,000 square feet in its Schuylkill County fulfillment center, HBC has room to expand, according to Justin Beaven, divisional vice president of fulfillment for HBC.
The first part of the project opened in 2016, when the company occupied 450,000 square feet in the facility.
“That was before automation came into play,” Beaven said. “When we opened this building, we knew automation was going to come.”
In April 2017, Hudson’s Bay Co. began construction on the expansion for its automated technology that features 20 aisles that use the entire vertical height of the building to move customer orders autonomously.
The system can hold more than 2 million units of inventory and process about 5,500 customer orders per hour.
Two custom-built document-handling robots automate the insertion of packing lists while conveyor systems and a fleet of 380 autonomous robotic delivery vehicles, or iBOTS, move inventory for storing and shipping.
300 ITEMS PER HOUR
On opposite sides of each of the 20 aisles, human workers occupy pick stations where they take the items grabbed by the machines.
The machines will autonomously grab a tote of items as the orders arrive and present the tote to the person at the pick station.
“It pulls whatever tote is needed and brings it to the station,” Beaven said.
The company is not controlling the customer orders. The orders come in, and the machines automatically process them. The machines have the capability to pick 300 units or items, per hour, Beaven said.
MANUAL PACKING, AS WELL
HBC has about 600 hourly employees at its fulfillment center.
Despite the growth in automation, the company still needs human workers for packing and other functions and still uses manual packing stations, Beaven said.
Bastian Solutions Inc., based in Indianapolis, Ind., completed the integration of all the conveyor systems that go into the OPEX Perfect Pick system, Beaven said. OPEX Corp. is a manufacturer in Moorestown, N.J., that specializes in automation.
The vertical picking system allows HBC to use all of its overhead space, he said.
HBC is the parent company that owns many luxury and department stores, including Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and online retailer Gilt.
The majority of products picked using the new automated vertical system at its fulfillment center are small items, such as cosmetics and jewelry, Beaven said.
Clothing makes up a large portion of the products shipped from its fulfillment center, items too large for the vertical systems.
At the Highridge Business Center, HBC is a rarity, according to Frank Zukas, executive director of the Schuylkill County Economic Development Corp.
“It’s the first fulfillment center in the park,” he said. “It represents another high-profile company working within the county.”
Zukas said the other companies in the park include manufacturers and distribution centers, such as Tyson Foods and Wegmans. Hollander Home Fashions, a pillow manufacturer, occupies the back end of HBC’s building, Zukas said.
The business park has 500 acres remaining for use, he said.
The investment in technology means HBC will be a long-term tenant, according to Zukas.
“The technology has them firmly in place for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“It bodes well, I think, for our county to attract new companies and also to obviously set an example for the expansion of businesses that are already here.”
It took about two years to get the project together for HBC to occupy the space and included a major effort from the Schuylkill County Economic Development Corp. and other groups, Zukas said.