Founded in San Francisco in 1853, Levi Strauss & Co. today is one of the largest apparel companies and a global leader in jeans. The iconic denim company employs approximately 16,000 people worldwide and houses several big-name brands, including Levi’s, Dockers, Denizen, Signature and Beyond Yoga under one roof.
Levi Strauss has seen significant growth in recent years. The retailer reached capacity limits in its European distribution centers, which were organized in a decentralized manner. In addition to those increasingly severe fulfillment bottlenecks, Levi Strauss was dealing with growing demand in e-commerce orders.
The company set out to invest in a highly automated omnichannel distribution center that would be capable of serving all distribution channels from a single location. It consolidated the European fulfillment processes into a 1.6-million square-foot distribution facility. To design, engineer and implement the new model, Levi Strauss engaged TGW Logistics Group.
The goal, the company says, was to respond to market requirements with greater speed and efficiency, shorten delivery times, and accelerate growth for all sales channels.
The project is split into two phases. In the first phase, scheduled to go live by April, 2024, Levi Strauss aims to achieve a throughput of up to 33 million units per year. In the second phase of the project, additional storage capacity and picking work stations will grow that number to 55 million annually.
At point of receipt, Levi Strauss receives cartons from its international production sites, as well as returned items. After inspection and repackaging, returned goods are placed into an empty mixed container that is then stored in an eight-aisle shuttle system with more than 170,000 storage locations. Up to 70% of the incoming cartons will be reused later as order cartons, saving money and reducing waste. An innovative robotic system by TGW automatically repacks the cartons into totes.
New items move from receiving to storage in either an automatic mini-load warehouse or in a shuttle warehouse with a total of 1.3 million storage locations. The mini-load facility has two functions: it’s both the supply storage for the shuttle system and the buffer storage for ready-to-ship cartons, which are directly forwarded to the shipping area via a cross-docking process.
For order fulfillment, Levi Strauss relies on TGW’s smart piece-picking system, known as FlashPick. It enables the company to fulfill both small and large orders, regardless of order channel, from just one distribution center. As a result, the complicated batch processes that were previously required are now rendered obsolete, and the long walking time spent filling orders is eliminated.
FlashPick is based on a single-order management approach, intended to significantly boost Levi Strauss’s throughput. The fully automated shuttle system supplies sixteen PickCenter One picking work stations with SKU totes. At the high-performance locations, items are picked directly into target order cartons that have already been built in another fully automated process. As an added environmental bonus, because orders are picked directly into cartons or paper bags, Levi Strauss can avoid using plastic polybags. Both supply and disposal of destination and source cartons and totes are handled and sequenced automatically.
After the picking process, orders are directly passed on to packing and shipping. The average lead time from the moment an order comes in to its being ready for shipment is just 10 minutes. Here, order cartons are automatically closed, strapped, labeled with the destination shipping label, and routed to the docks for shipping.
“We are pleased to have had the opportunity to collaborate with warehouse automation specialist TGW Logistics Group in setting up our material-handling execution MHE systems,” says Torsten Mueller, who is responsible for Levi Strauss’s distribution and logistics processes, and is the owner of the project.
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