British American Tobacco Warehouse Management System


British American Tobacco was formed in 1902 by the joint venture between the UK's Imperial Tobacco Company and The American Tobacco Company. In 1911, The American Tobacco Company divested its shares to make it a solely British operation. The company was formally listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1998, British American Tobacco plc became separately listed from parent BAT Industries and now produces more than 800 billion cigarettes worldwide.

The company's UK manufacturing operations produce some 50 billion cigarettes annually, covering 10 brands, at two facilities in Southampton and Darlington for the UK, EU, Asian, African and Middle East markets. The principal site for UK & Ireland Operations is at Southampton: the volume of product it handles is huge and requires very precise management through a facility employing 1,000 people. Automation is extensive and sitting at the heart of this complex storage, manufacturing, packing and distribution system is Autostore, the UK's leading enterprise warehouse management and control system from Central Systems & Automation.

Extensive automation...

The Southampton plant comprises two factories, A and B, each operating ASRS - Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems. They are served by two tobacco stores, the Automatic Cut Tobacco Store (ACTS) and the Silo Store. Autostore manages all ASRS movements to and from the ACTS. The ACTS is of primary importance to the facility and is heavily automated to create a high-flexibility warehouse that provides more than 50 per cent of production material, operating 24-7, 361 days a year. The facility receives two types of raw tobacco for each brand manufactured: leaf and stem and Dry Ice Expanded Tobacco (DIET). Following processing, storage and production, palletised finished product is containerised on-site and collected by truck for the UK market and transferred to Southampton docks for export by ship.

Autostore works on three levels for BAT: the most basic is level one, covering the single elements of the control system loops such as drives, actuators, photocells and position measuring devices. Level two manages the Mechanical Handling Equipment (MHE) control systems - largely PLC based - and controls the flow of boxes on the conveyors/shuttles and the operation of the Narrow Aisle Stacker Cranes (NASC). Level three covers the warehouse management system (WMS) and warehouse control system (WCS) and these govern all movements of goods into and out of Southampton's ACTS and into production.

ASRS & MHE management...

The central component of the ASRS in the ACTS comprises a bulk store high bay with single depth racking, serviced by three automated NASCs with in-feed to and out-feed from the three storage aisles performed via multi-level conveyor schemes. Each aisle has two pick faces, with room for 860 tobacco pallets, each 1.2m3 in size and weighing around 200kg. Autostore also controls the conveyor/shuttle network and NASCs, moving boxes between the storage aisles and the all other operational areas.

Raw materials are booked in to the ACTS by filling standard boxes: each box of goods has an associated unique identity provided by a re-writeable Premid electronic tag that contains its own distinct ID reference. All product is stored and handled as a weight of a single tobacco blend in each box and boxes are stored in the high bay when empty. Product is then output from the ACTS to fulfill production requests that have been automatically generated by the Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC). Autostore then selects and manages the output of appropriate boxes to the desired destination, optimized to take into account availability of equipment, routes and resources.

The Southampton site's Autostore application is operated by two people, running a PC-based Microsoft Windows front-end and a SQL Server platform, operating over a super fast Ethernet LAN. Data protection is provided by redundant arrays of independent disk drives (RAID) with full UPS protection and dual servers to reduce further still any downtime.

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Phased testing...

With Autostore already a well-proven warehouse management system, it was the solution testing, integration and operator training that were the biggest challenges to overcome. Continues BAT's spokesman: "The only way forward was to phase the entire process, bringing sections of the solution online one at a time and piggy-backing them over the legacy controls at weekends and then switching them off on the Monday".

Despite these limiting factors, the control systems for all three cranes and the new ASRS systems were in place, on time and on-budget. On change-over day, the Southampton operation simply switched off the legacy system and switched on Autostore with neither downtime nor impact on production.

...for a 21st century solution

The bottom line for BAT's UK & Ireland operations? Lower costs, superior reliability and improved warehouse control that delivers increased light-footedness and efficiency in production. Combined, these benefits are making it easier for the business to adapt to changing commercial priorities as they occur.