Automated collection centre for online grocery orders taking shape at K-Citymarket Ruoholahti in Helsinki

Construction work is progressing swiftly in Ruoholahti as Finland’s first automated in-store collection system for online grocery orders is starting to take shape. Currently, storage frames are being built, along which 45 robots helping in product collection will run in the future. Once finished, the system will enable efficient, short-distance online grocery deliveries, while still enabling the wide selections valued by customers.

During autumn and early winter, significant preparatory construction work has taken place in the facilities.

“This included building a new cold-controlled space of approximately 900 square metres within the facilities, as well as all the related technology. Building in an existing property has been interesting and at times challenging, as it has set certain limits that had to be carefully considered already in the planning phase,” says Esa Eerola, who is heading the project for Kesko.

Now, construction on the automation system itself has started. Its most visible part is the frame within which products are stored in stackable storage boxes. These storage boxes are transferred to collection stations by 45 robots rolling on top of the frame.

“The installation of the frame is coming along nicely, and it will keep us busy until the end of the month. In addition to the frame and the robots, the system includes product collection and shelfing stations and the storage boxes themselves. We’ll expect to have over 300 pallets full of them,” says the project manager Jussi Hytönen.

Ensuring access to the extensive store-specific selection

Once the system is completed, online grocery order collection in Ruoholahti will happen in three collection areas in accordance with the MFC (Micro Fulfilment Center) concept. Most of the products will be collected using robots or as manual mass collection in the backroom storage. Small volume items and special products as well as delicacies from the service counters will be collected inside the store.

“We are currently finalising our plan for product placement across various collection areas, while ensuring that online customers maintain access to the wide store-specific selection,” says Hytönen.

From a consumer point of view, a wide selection is one of the most important features in online grocery, and K Group’s online grocery stores offer the widest selection on the market, covering up to tens of thousands of products.

“The goal of selecting this solution based on the MFC concept is to combine efficiency and quality. The selection was made on the basis of various surveys, analyses and calculations, and we reviewed different options to improve customer experience and cost-efficiency of our operations,” explains the development director Pekka Tala.

“We have a good understanding of the current state of online grocery and its trends at a global level. Based on that, we were able to determine that an MFC-based model is the best fit for K Group. It enables us to include the store-specific business idea and benefits, while it is possible to extend the network in phases with moderate investments. It is also significantly faster to implement than a centralised solution,” he concludes.

The system is expected to be completed during the first half of 2022.

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