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The Challenge

M&S selected Jade Solutions to build the infrastructure network in its new 900,000 sq. ft. automated super-hub distribution centre which will ultimately hold 16 million products and process a million items a day – most destined for next day delivery.  Choosing the right provider was vital to the project’s success as every aspect of the distribution workflow depends upon the high availability, high-capacity data communications backbone.

Today’s market demands efficient supply chain management and speedy shipment delivery. Any delays, incomplete or wrong orders can both erode profit and damage reputation, so to retain their competitive edge, large manufacturing and retail organisations are continually looking at ways to optimise stock levels, streamline the end-to-end movement of goods and enhance the customer experience. In response to these imperatives, M&S has implemented a major supply chain transformation programme and Castle Donington is the first development designed to position the company as a leading international, multi-channel retailer.

Creating a fast, agile, flexible Supply Chain

The new site will handle orders placed through www.marksandspencer.com and will be a national distribution centre for M&S stores.  One of the largest and most modern facilities in the UK, Castle Donington is the equivalent of 11 Wembley-sized football pitches (capable of holding 12 jumbo jets or 3507 double-decker buses) and will employ up to 1200 staff during peak periods. It is the first of three regional super hubs that will ultimately replace M&S’s current network of 110 smaller, mostly manually operated warehouses. The new centre handles every aspect of the distribution process from shipment receipts, unloading, cross-docking and storage to picking, packing and dispatch. In a bid to increase its e-commerce footprint, Castle Donington will handle all of the company’s internet sales made from any PC, mobile or tablet and enable customers to order late in the day for next day delivery, thus dramatically reducing order processing time.

Jade: Supporting end-to-end automation

This streamlined efficiency is enabled by advanced automation technology including a Warehouse Management System (WMS) that – among a myriad of other functions – controls super-sized cranes gliding up and down the aisles that pick and stack goods on shelves that reach a dizzying 25 metres high. Miles of conveyor belts then relay items to 275 packing benches where goods are bagged and tagged.  Hundreds of handheld devices reading barcodes, operating robots, labelling packages and checking inventory also access and feed in data to the WMS system.  Powering the entire end-to-end array of servers, PCs, telephony, robotics and HHTs is Jade’s advanced data communications technology.

Laying the superhighway

Jade’s wired/wireless voice and data network superhighway comprises over 20 kilometres of blown fibre optic cabling and 230 kilometres of copper wiring that reach into every corner of the site’s vast acreage. Sourced from cabling leaders TE Connectivity (formerly ADC Krone), M&S chose blown optic fibre for its extra bandwidth in order to future proof Castle Donington’s onward development. The fibre cabling runs from the server rooms to some 69 communications cabinets which house switches and other network equipment, and from which copper cabling then fans out to over 3350 local data outlets – each of which ends in a PC and/or piece of control equipment for the AWS and packing stations.

Powerful mobility support: always on-grid

As part of its wireless capability, the Jade infrastructure includes over 200 dual radio Cisco Access points and base stations for DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology) cordless phones.  A powerful mobility solution is one of the most forward-looking features of the Castle Donington network since at peak times there will be up to 1200 people using the services, most using handheld barcode readers, RFID devices, smartphones and so on – all of them dependent on a clear and steady WiFi signal.  Indeed, it is this mobility support – one of Jade’s special areas of expertise – that allows busy staff be continually on the move – in the aisles, at the packing area or by the loading bays…

Straight from a success with Airbus

Simply drawing up the initial specifications and plans for a project the size and scale of Castle Donington’s was in itself an achievement. Says Mike Sharrock, Jade’s onsite project manager:  “While the job was undeniably ambitious, we were fortunate in that we had just completed a major network implementation of a similar size for Airbus so we already knew what was going to be involved and what the challenges would be.  In fact, it was our track record on the Airbus project that assured M&S we had what it took to complete the job on time and fit for purpose.”


As projected, the end-to-end implementation process took two years and involved some 13,700 man hours in its development.  When the Jade data comms platform went live in March 2013 – giving M&S the lead time needed to get everything ready for its grand opening in May – Mike and his team were pleased to find that after putting the network through a rigorous series of tests, labelling and final commissioning, the original project specifications drawn up two years earlier proved to be exactly correct.

Choose an expert to remove the pain

M&S was equally pleased with the result. As John Coley, Project Manager, IT Retail Implementation Team states:  “The choice to use Jade was an easy one: M&S has already been working with Jade Solutions for over 20 years and have always had a good working relationship. Beyond that their costs were competitive and Jade had just finished a project like the one we were now embarking upon. In the event, everything went smoothly and we maintained very good communications throughout the project.  Jade’s implementation team were always responsive to any changes we required and they worked well with the other suppliers, particularly the building and electrical contractors.  We will certainly involve Jade in future projects as their ability to deliver has been proven time and again.”

Going the extra mile(s) & mile(s)

The installation was not without its hurdles, as Mike explains: “Overall, the project was straightforward, but the sheer enormity of the building did mean some extra logistics – with a footprint of some 88,250 square metres, laying in over a hundred miles of structured cabling at Castle Donington meant we got a pretty good daily workout!   More challenging was the height of the building at 25 metres, because we had to install WiFi coverage all the way up to the top of the floor to ceiling stock shelves in order to support the stock scanning and picking devices. Fortunately, at Jade, we’ve have lots of experience with this kind of scenario over the years.”

Infinite expandability to meet future e-commerce ambitions

To increase the efficiency of shipments in and out of Castle Donington, rail track has already been laid down for two freight lines, due to be activated in a future phase of M&S’ supply chain transformation programme.  Fortunately this and all the future innovations yet to come – many not yet conceived – are already catered for by a super-stretch network infrastructure that can expand  as far as M&S’ e-commerce ambitions can reach… and beyond.

Key People

Sales director
    Sales director
    Mark Berry
    Sales director
    Project Manager
      Project Manager
      Mike Sharrock
      Project Manager
      Project Co-ordinator
        Project Co-ordinator
        Hazel Howarth
        Project Co-ordinator