Implementing intelligent goods-to-person robotic systems



Global fashion brand, Superdry, is leveraging the flexibility of intelligent AMRs to transform order picking and put-away at its UK hub – just part of a phased roll-out of goods-to-person robotics that is set to boost productivity across its international network of multi-channel fulfilment centres.

As an omni-channel retailer competing in the fast-moving fashion sector, maintaining high product availability, efficient fulfilment and the rapid processing of returns is essential for ensuring the best possible customer experience across multiple channels – retail, wholesale and ecommerce. Critically, all of these competitive differentiators depend upon the fast, accurate and efficient picking of products from across Superdry’s extensive range of over 60,000 SKUs, held at the company’s three regional distribution centres in the UK, Europe and USA.


Superdry launched a major initiative to roll-out intelligent goods-to-person robotic systems across its international network of regional distribution centres. The robots work in unison with manual pickers, automatically selecting and lifting modular pick-walls and transporting them to pick-to-light stations where a predetermined pick-face is presented to the operative. Under the guidance of pick-to-light technology, items are manually selected scanned and placed for maximum speed and accuracy.

A successful pilot project for handling ecommerce returns was conducted in 2018, involving six Hikrobot AMRs at the company’s UK distribution centre in Burton-upon-Trent. The robots were trialled under the most testing conditions, beneath an 8,000 sq ft mezzanine to see how they performed. Following the success of the project, Superdry went on in January 2020 to deploy a further fleet of 20 Hikrobot AMRs to handle continental ecommerce returns at its European DC in Belgium.

In 2021, the Burton-upon-Trent site saw the installation of 40 more Hikrobot robots in an expansion of the existing goods-to-person system. The enlarged operation handles the entire picking and put-away of womenswear for retail, ecommerce and wholesale. Over 80,000 sq ft of the warehouse has been set out with 1000 transportable pick-wall modules and the area is equipped with a total of twelve pick-to-light stations.

Menswear will follow later with an estimated requirement for 60 more robots and expectations are for the further deployment of Hikrobot AMRs in Belgium and the USA.


At the Burton-upon-Trent facility put-away of returns have dramatically risen from under 100 units per hour to rates of 300 – 350 per hour. Some 99% of returns can now be processed and re-dispatched within 24 hours, with many being re-dispatched within an hour. Present volumes allow for 180 picks an hour from mixed sku locations, double that of the previous manual operation, however, with higher volumes, single sku bins will enable picks of around 300 items per hour, or more when taking multiples from the same bin.

Walk-time is eliminated, giving a design capability to offer up to 600 picks per hour, with 99.9% accuracy.

Other benefits include: increased accuracy, reduced cost per pick, no major infrastructure changes, low Capex, enhanced flexibility and scalability, as well as greater storage density, which has reduced warehouse space requirements.

The simplicity of the robot guidance system allows for fast and flexible layout changes and the inherent flexibility of this modular approach facilitates easy expansion of the system. Should more robots be needed to boost capacity, they can be simply added.


Superdry explains the reasons behind the investment: “The adoption of robotics has come about through a requirement to cut operating costs and to reduce our reliance on labour. The headcount we needed to attract during peak periods was resulting in us having to adjust our pay structure beyond what we ideally wanted to pay.”

Interestingly, the use of robots did not feature in Superdry’s initial thinking when it came to the use of automation. A few years ago, faced with an issue of mounting returns from stores, the business considered investing in an automated storage and retrieval system. The project would have required a commitment to heavy equipment being bolted to the floor and so was not seen as being flexible enough for any future changes that may occur in the business. As it happens, it was the right decision – the business model changed and store returns were dramatically reduced.

“This was a wake-up call on the level of flexibility we required,” says Superdry. “So when it came to looking at using automation to speed-up the processing of ecommerce returns – making them available for sale again quickly – we looked at the huge flexibility robots could offer us in an automated goods-to-person system.

“As the system involved putting stock away and picking at various velocities and volumes, it was a great test-bed for multiple applications of the system. We found that inventory accuracy was significantly improved and the tests far exceeded our expectations on throughput and productivity.”

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