WesTrac warehouse system a boost for customer productivity

A new automated warehousing system is being installed at WesTrac. The Autostore™ system will help maximise use of space and speed up picking and put away processes, in turn leading to faster turnaround times for parts distribution.

While much of the technological innovation taken to market by WesTrac is in the Cat® equipment the company provides, there are also some internal initiatives that have direct benefits for customers.

One such innovation is the new automated warehousing system being installed at WesTrac’s Parts Distribution Centre in Tomago, NSW.

According to Warehouse Operations Manager Natalia Trewin, the Autostore system will help maximise use of space and speed up picking and put away processes, in turn leading to faster turnaround times for parts distribution.

“We've got an 8,000 square metre indoor footprint and we do about 40,000 lines out the door each week, which is quite a high volume,” Natalia said. “The new system allows us to optimise our existing footprint to increase our stock inventory and increase efficiencies in our workflow.”

Natalia explained that the current warehouse configuration was designed and built 10 years ago and while being fit for purpose then, the total inventory has increased by some 30 per cent, the customer base has grown, with a corresponding increase in orders to be fulfilled.

Given the tight labour market, and with the parts distribution centre operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a solution was required that enabled WesTrac to fulfil more orders in a timely manner.

WesTrac evaluated several automated solutions and settled on Autostore.

“The Autostore system is a bit like a large Rubik's cube with very densely packed totes - essentially plastic tubs - that can be divided into large or small sections depending on what parts are being picked,” Natalia said.

“The totes sit on top of each other in a big cube and robots use memory technology to understand where we want to store our parts, then run up and along the very top of the system on aluminum railings, and they dip down into the cube to pull out whatever part the system is telling them to pull out.

“Over time, the locations will be optimised to ensure our fastest moving parts are at the very top so the retrieval time is reduced.”

Initially, location of parts will be determined according to historic consumption data, but over time the AI-powered robotic system will adjust locations based on live usage data.

The multi-level storage will enable WesTrac to gain an additional 1,000 square metres of space within the current storage footprint and Natalia says once optimised, will allow parts orders to be retrieved within 5-10 minutes.


“One of the biggest gains for customers will be that we can increase the number of product lines we carry, meaning faster access to more parts,” Natalia said.

“We’ll also be able to push cut-off times for deliveries to later in the day because we can access parts faster, and in high priority situations, customers can collect orders themselves or organise a courier without some of the delays that may have been experienced in the past.”

The other benefit, according to Natalia, is that while WesTrac’s accuracy of stock control is good at present, it will be further improved given the system will keep precise count of parts being distributed and will be able to integrate with ordering systems.

The improved delivery times will also have a knock-on effect to other areas of the WesTrac business that are reliant on parts delivery to carry out their tasks, while from a staffing perspective, Natalia says the Autostore system will enable warehouse tasks to be reprioritised.

“At present, small fast-moving parts are the most labour-intensive, but a lot of that work can be automated so we can redeploy people to some of the more complex work such as kitting and inventory control” she said.

“It also allows us to offer greater diversity in the tasks people are carrying out and, for those that are interested, more technology-focused roles, which is good for attraction and retention of staff. “But at the end of the day, the most obvious benefits will be in the time it takes to fulfil parts orders.”

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