Singapore-based furniture retailer Star Living recently unveiled a state-of-the-art, fully automated warehouse in Sungei Kadut, that promises to revolutionise the way it does business. The sprawling seven-storey complex not only epitomises efficiency with its cutting-edge Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Warehouse Management System (WMS), but also embodies sustainability with its GreenMark Gold accreditation. The inauguration, graced by Minister Low Yen Ling, marks a monumental
ental step for Star Living in leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) technology to streamline operations, reduce manpower costs, and elevate Singapore’s standing in the emerging Industry 4.0. In an exclusive interview with Inside Retail, Star Living’s group corporate and retail director Xu Xue Ting delves deeper into the transformative journey of the urban household furniture giant, and how its new headquarters sets the gold standard for operational efficiency and environmental sustainability in the traditional furniture retail sector. The story so far According to Xu, Star Living’s new facility is the most advanced in the Singapore furniture industry. The newly automated system provides a competitive advantage in terms of reducing the reliance on manual labour. “We save 50 per cent in terms of headcount in driving ‘Reach Trucks’, as well as performing picking and ‘put-away’ jobs,” she told Inside Retail. In terms of productivity and efficiency, the WMS determines the most optimal location to store different furniture items and then directly picks and places it via AGVs and mobile shuttles. “The AGVs do not require humans to drive them, and they are able to operate 24 hours a day, so this allows for shuffling and picking of goods throughout the night,” she added. There are significant advantages in terms of increased storage capacity and density. Storage capacity has increased by 50 per cent, and the new racking system can be packed side by side, thereby enhancing safety and offering more space for workers to move around. The trolley or pallet can also be stacked back to back as they are retrieved by mobile shuttles. Moreover, all items are barcoded and scanned during receiving, put-away and picking processes. This allows items to be tracked, which helps with stocktaking and inventory management. “The AGVs are also integrated with barcode scanners to ensure they always pick up the correct pallet. This ensures a high visibility of the warehouse stock, and saves 80 per cent of time spent on finding the products in the warehouse,” Xu said. These AGVs are also equipped with advanced safety features such as collision avoidance sensors to minimise accidents and ensure a safer work environment. Moving with the times According to Xu, customers today are more educated, informed and therefore expect more – they expect faster turnaround time and deliveries, and at cheaper costs. Hence the company’s focus was to adopt digitalisation, to leverage IoT and automation to improve productivity and optimise the usage of space, save time, minimise errors in logistics operations and overcome labour shortage caused by foreign quota issues. “In short, we need to do more with less, yet do it faster and at a lower cost,” she pointed out. The new state-of-the-art HQ and smart warehouse is an example of how companies can embrace innovation and digitalisation to overcome manpower and space challenges, and boost their competitiveness in the fast-evolving retail landscape by streamlining operations and providing workers with more upskilling opportunities. Enterprise Singapore’s Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) was an important governmental initiative that helped the company pull off this mean feat. “We are an SME with limited resources, and this project was a huge undertaking for us. It also involved many different parties coming together and the process took more than three years. We are fortunate to be supported by Enterprise Singapore’s EDG,” Xu noted. She is grateful that the government saw the potential of its automated warehouse project and provided them with the support. “The grant helped us defray part of the project cost and risks and gave us the assurance to commit to this huge project,” she elaborated. The competitive landscape Star Living has two production facilities: one in Hunan, China, and the other in Johor, Malaysia. It has a retail presence in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, with a total of 17 retail showrooms; and exports to over 30 countries worldwide. This automated warehouse is designed for the Singapore environment due to the business constraints it experiences there, which include a shortage of space and labour. In its facilities in China and Malaysia, Star Living has the luxury of space and sufficient manpower, hence there is no need for the company to replicate the same framework for the other markets. Nonetheless, Xu reiterated that sustainability is a big topic among retailers in the APAC region now. “Companies want to do their part for the environment, especially when furniture players like us rely on resources from the environment, including wood, marble, leather and more. Consumers are looking for furniture that uses raw materials from sustainable sources,” she explained. More than that, she believes sustainability efforts need to be holistic, towards business sourcing and processes, beyond product materials.