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Robots and RFID Help KH Lloreda Distribute Its Products

The Spanish company has launched an automated system for loading and shipping its cleaning products to track where the cartons are being moved, and also capture any errors.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 31, 2011KH Lloreda, Spain's largest household cleaning products company, has developed its own automated shipping system—transporting product from its manufacturing site, through its distribution warehouse and on to customers. This, the company reports, has virtually eliminated the need for manual labor.

The system has been in operation since December 2010. According to the company, the RFID technology tracks cartons of products as they are automatically assembled onto pallets, placed onto trucks, unloaded and stored at a distribution center, reassembled onto pallets in response to a retailer's order, and again loaded onto trucks for delivery to that retailer. With RFID, says Daniel Lancho Navarro, KH Lloreda's operations director, the firm knows at which stage its products are in the shipping process, as well as when their status changes, and can also prevent errors in the system, with human hands rarely ever touching the cartons. If, for example, the robotically picked cartons are incorrectly loaded (if they don't match an order), the RFID technology detects that error, issues an alert to management, and stops the automated task in question (such as loading a truck, or stretch-wrapping a pallet) so the discrepancy can be addressed.

At KH Lloreda's factory and DC, robots are used to stack boxes on pallets.

The installation of the RFID hardware and software, as well as the integration of that software into KH Lloreda's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, was provided by Spanish RFID systems integrator Saident RFID Soluciones. The software interprets data from the RFID reads and determines where the cartons are in the shipping process, then forwards that information to the company's back-end system, where other software programs on HK Lloreda's server select cartons to match customer orders and instruct the robotic stacking of those cartons onto pallets. The loading system was provided by Moveco, and Italian provider of dock-automation systems.

The family-owned KH Lloreda, based in Barcelona, sells 25 million bottles of its kitchen and bathroom cleaners and stain-removers in Spain, France, and Portugal annually, representing 60 percent of the market share in those three countries. It also sells a smaller quantity to consumers in Greece, Croatia and Poland. Most of the products that the company ships to retailers come in the form of 750-milliliter (25.4-ounce) plastic bottles, with 12 bottles packed in a box.

The company began looking into an RFID-based system approximately two years ago, Lancho says. With the construction of such an automated system, KH Lloreda envisioned being able to ship those boxes of product from its manufacturing site to its distribution center, and then loading the orders onto trucks bound for retailers. The work would be accomplished with almost no human intervention, he explains. Instead, the company designed robots to stack boxes onto pallets at the manufacturing site, bring those pallets to a staging area and then load them onto trucks, for delivery to its DC. There, the system would automatically remove the pallets from the vehicles and store them. Later, when product was needed to fulfill a retailer's order, a robot would remove the necessary cartons from the pallets and stack them on separate pallets, which would then be stretch-wrapped and loaded onto trucks destined for stores.

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