Meeting the challenges of festive e-commerce fulfilment, supply chain and logistics disruptions, and food security for Singapore

The season of gifting is approaching and, despite worries of inflation and recession, it looks like another record year for retailers.

With Christmas and the Lunar New Year closing in, consumers’ orders are ramping up and supply chains are scrambling to meet the increased demand. While the challenges continue to pile up, automated solutions and technologies including robots and data analytics software ensure supply chains run smoothly.  

Singapore is having a headstart in e-commerce fulfilment. A wholly owned subsidiary of FairPrice Group Supply Chain, Grocery Logistics of Singapore (GLS) implemented an automated storage and retrieval system to meet the demand for fast online service. GLS has dramatically increased its picking efficiency and has quadrupled order fulfilment.

Strategic plans to automate

GLS’ automation plans started in 2016, when Singapore launched its Retail Industry Transformation Map (ITM). This roadmap contains key strategies to support sector transformation, and focuses on innovation and the adoption of new technologies aimed at driving productivity.

In March 2018 when NTUC FairPrice overhauled its Fairprice On e-commerce platform, GLS implemented the AutoStore automated storage and retrieval system as a way to meet demand for fast online service.

The investment in automation paid off. GLS dramatically increased its picking efficiency using AutoStore, which was key to the initial success and continued growth of the FairPrice On website and mobile application.

The surge in demand for certain products at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic also meant that GLS had to increase their capacity. In turn, Singapore had a role to play in bettering the supply chain of goods in the region.

Driving popularity of e-grocery 

With the ability to store of over 13,000 products and handle up to 3,000 orders per day, the GLS AutoStore has enabled FairPrice On to grow in leaps and bounds, as there are now over 400,000 registered subscribers. Many place their orders via the mobile app.

Here’s what the AutoStore system looks like in GLS’ large Singapore warehouse:

    • The Grid occupies a space that’s one and a half times the size of an Olympic swimming pool. It covers an area of 1,875 sqm (20,182 sf).
    • 55 Robots retrieve Bins containing order items, sliding over an aluminum Grid, maximizing storage space as they go.
    • 20,000 Bins are spread over multiple layers. Each Bin can hold various types of products to provide greater flexibility to the system.
    • The ability to handle up to 3,000 orders per day has increased order fulfillment by four times compared to the previous system. GLS can now fulfill 220 order lines per hour.
    • The Robots use a wireless LAN to communicate with each other and the control system.

The advantages of AutoStore 

AutoStore has helped maximize economic benefits to people living in Singapore and the surrounding region. 

“GLS’ journey is reflective of Singapore’s in the next phase of its development, which is about embracing technological change to maximize its benefits for everyone, but also keeping a watchful eye on how it impacts jobs and helps every individual adapt to change and do well,” Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugarathnam said at the official launch of the new AutoStore system. 

President Halimah Yacob added: “Automation has allowed GLS to streamline its processes as it tracks products more easily. This has also enabled GLS to spot potential problems before they turn into major issues and end up causing disruptions.”

She noted these efficiencies are significant for Singapore, a country that imports most of its food. “We import more than 90% of our food products from 170 countries. Ensuring supply chain resilience for our food products and essential foodstuff is really important. It’s an issue of national security.”

Apart from general economic advantages, the automated warehousing system has improved GLS’ operational efficiency by a factor of four. It also makes full use of the available workforce, the entire system is incredibly flexible, and the team can easily expand it to accommodate future growth.