CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
November 16, 2018
Forward Thinking

XPO to build highly automated DC in U.K.

The warehouse will open in 2020 and handle consumer packaged goods for Nestle as well as testing new technologies.

Transportation and logistics provider XPO Logistics Inc. said Monday it will partner with Swisslog Logistics Automation to build a highly automated warehouse in the U.K. that will use sorting systems and robotics to handle inventory for the food and drink giant Nestle.

Scheduled for completion in 2020, the 638,000-square-foot distribution center will be located at the SEGRO East Midlands Gateway Logistics Park in Leicestershire, U.K., near highway, airport, and rail terminal facilities, XPO said.

XPO did not disclose the cost of the project.

Greenwich, Conn.-based XPO plans to use the facility predominantly for Nestle's consumer packaged goods business, but it will also serve as a "test bed" environment for new technologies and prototypes before XPO releases them to other warehouses around the world, the firm said. XPO plans to operate the facility as an innovation lab where it can try out new supply chain technologies by launching pilot tests in real-world situations, the company said in a statement.

Fulfillment technologies expected to be installed when the facility opens include collaborative robots, indoor drones, and advanced sortation systems, developed in collaboration with warehouse automation equipment vendor Swisslog, XPO said.

In addition, XPO will use proprietary algorithms to forecast Nestle's customer demand, then meet that demand with smart robots that will take products from storage and build mixed pallets with a range of case sizes and brands, according to the company. XPO also plans to deploy gantry robots to build what are known as "rainbow pallets," which feature multiple layers of different Nestle products.

The project is XPO's latest investment in warehouse robotics, following its use of an articulated robotic arm made by the French automated handling and storage systems maker Alstef Automation S.A. at a facility in France that XPO manages for snack-food giant Mars. Also in 2018, XPO launched a cloud-based warehouse management system (WMS) platform called "WMx" that the company says will support the quick launch of robotic DCs.

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