There is something hypnotic about the ballet of 37 skypods that come and go to pick up and drop off packages, that go up and down to “pick” them in the rows… Welcome to “Building C”, one of the site’s logistics warehouses de Cestas (Gironde) of Cdiscount, in which the online sales giant, and its subsidiary Clogistic, have pushed the robotics cursor the furthest.
“Building C at Cestas is a concentration of technologies and innovations,” confirms the site director, Olivier Josse. Here, we find everything we have put in place for ten years now, in terms of optimizing our shipments and packaging, and improving working conditions for our employees. »
Robots that climb up to ten meters high
The most impressive is clearly the skypod. Developed by Exotec, a logistics robot giant, this 2,500 m2 perimeter in the warehouse, entirely protected, is controlled by a few remote operators, who control small robots on wheels capable of picking up packages up to 15 kg , in the 22,000 bins stacked up to ten meters high.
“We started working with Exotec on this dynamic storage project in 2017”, recalls Olivier Josse. At the time the company was just a small start-up. Cdiscount opened the doors of its warehouse to him to offer him a life-size playground. “We started with a prototype of 6,000 bins in building B, today we have two much larger ones, that of building C with 22,000 bins and 35,000 storage spaces, and another even larger one on our Réau site. in Ile-de-France with 75,000 locations. »
Storage area divided by five
The principle of the skypod is based on the optimization of storage surfaces, and corresponds perfectly to the type of products stored in this building, devoted mainly to high-tech, with a lot of telephony and PCs. “With the skypod, the storage surface is reduced by five compared to conventional storage, firstly because we go up to ten meters, and because this generates a very significant massification of storage, assures Olivier Josse. In addition, we are multiplying productivity by three: where a traditional picker on a trolley picks 100 products per hour, a skypod picks 350.”
This equipment is “completely scalable” continues the site director: “we can add bays, bins, robots…” Thus, when Cdiscount’s activity picks up speed, particularly between Black Friday and Christmas, “we rents a dozen additional robots to increase production capacity. »
85% of packaging done by machines
The packages are then packed. In this area too, building C has not finished surprising us. “We have also mechanized the packaging, with the aim of increasing the rate and above all of optimizing it, in particular with the use of 2D and 3D machines which build the package around the product, continues Olivier Josse. This allows us to save 30% of boxes per year, 30% of empty spaces in parcels, and 30% of trucks on the road…” Some 85% of the packaging is thus carried out by machines, in particular four 3D packaging machines, knowing that Cdiscount has two others in Réau.
However, innovation is not just about robots. “We now offer our customers, for certain products, not to add packaging,” explains Olivier Josse. 98% of our customers accept this solution, which allows us to save 500,000 parcels per year. We have also been deploying since the end of 2021, with the start-up Hipli, the reusable package: after receiving their product, the customer can leave the empty packaging in the mailbox and it will be sent back to Hipli, or they can use it to return the package. It is reusable a hundred times. »
“We will always need people”
And humans still fully have their place in the supply chain. “We are developing more and more bulk loading in trucks, which allows boxes to be stored up to the top of the trailer, and this can only be done by operators, assures the director. This allows us to gain another 30% of capacity in the truck. »
“We are constantly integrating new technologies into our warehouses, continues Olivier Josse, but without calling into question the social part of our business. There is an evolution of trades for sure, but we will always need humans, and we are not aiming for a 100% robotic model. “Cdiscount employs 500 people on permanent contracts in Cestas, “and we are increasing our workforce from October until Christmas, during which time we carry out 30% of our shipments for the year. The online sales giant sends 24 million packages each year, including 12 million from the Cestas platform, which occupies 105,000 m2.
Since its – successful – experience with Exotec, Cdiscount has also set up an in-house start-up incubator. “This experience has effectively generated on our side the creation of The Warehouse, a department solely dedicated to R&D in logistics. Where the innovations of tomorrow are currently in the making.
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