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Intralogistics solutions for industrial companies

Intelligent technology for increased customer satisfaction

03-02-2017

viastore boasts numerous reference projects all over the world – from small, manually operated warehouses to large distribution centers with several thousand order lines a day.

Logistics – and with it, intralogistics – is one of the largest and most important economic sectors in Germany. According to the German Logistics Association, it generated revenue of approximately €240 billion last year – a figure that was exceeded only by the automotive and trade industries. Moreover, the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index of 2016 gives high ratings to German logistics companies. Taking into account various competencies, such as quality of service, timely delivery, and infrastructure, Germany ranks first in the world, followed by Luxembourg and Sweden.

Future industry forecasts are also positive throughout, as companies are investing in intralogistics to improve their delivery capacity and quality to gain a competitive edge.

Challenges arising from global megatrends

At the same time, however, intralogistics is facing major challenges due to global developments, which are impacting the economy – and therefore intralogistics as well. These megatrends include globalization making competition and markets increasingly international, the “Internet of Things” creating a more interconnected world, an aging society, and the growing scarcity of raw materials.

These developments mean companies are no longer competing merely against themselves, but against complete value chains. To remain competitive, logistical processes can no longer viewed in an individual and isolated manner. Rather, companies have to consider, plan, and control all information and product flows holistically – across company borders and internally. A trend that has been coined by the German Government as “Industry 4.0” includes individual elements of these value chains becoming increasingly equipped with intelligence, many of which are self-controlled. This enables highly efficient interlinking and networking of all processes.

Safe and reliable technology is indispensable for such interlinking. This involves an increasing number of processors, operating devices, software, controllers, and much more – all of which need to be integrated into a harmonious, efficient, and manageable system that is capable of effectively controlling such a massive amount of data. Achieving and handling such complex systems poses a crucial challenge for the intralogistics sector as well as for the industry as a whole.

Fit for the future with innovative intralogistics

In order to meet the increasing demands of these megatrends, the intralogistics sector needs innovative, future-oriented, sustainable solutions. As a leading international provider of material handling systems, intralogistics software, and support services, viastore, headquarted in Stuttgart, is an expert in finding, developing, and implementing such solutions. With almost 50 years’ experience, the company boasts numerous reference projects all over the world – from small, manually operated warehouses to large distribution centers with several thousand order lines a day. As a general contractor, viastore focuses on planning, implementation, and continuous optimization of intralogistic systems such as automated unit load systems, automated storage/retrieval systems (ASRS), order picking systems, storage carousels, and shuttle and conveyor technology. viastore also offers its warehouse management system (WMS), viadat, for managing and controlling all intralogistics processes. This means customers receive complete storage technology from a single, reliable source.

viadat, a highly flexible and adaptable solution, maps all relevant functions from goods receipt to shipment. The basic package includes the ability to display or hide functions based on the specifications, type of system, and required performance. This makes viadat suitable for complex logistics centers with different areas and high performance, as well as automated systems with low to medium turnover rates or conventional, forklift-operated logistics centers. viadat also includes all components necessary for controlling storage/retrieval systems, conveyor systems, sorters, picking systems, and other mechanical elements – providing integration and transparency of complex material flow processes.

The latest software version, viadat 9.0, features an intuitive user interface, making the system even easier to configure and implement. This saves the warehouse operator time in training new employees and allows for flexible deployment to staff. viadat is also equipped with an extensive range of data evaluation and analysis tools to provide the insights needed to increase the efficiency of intralogistics planning and processes.

From order receipt to shipment in less time

With its reliable performance, consistency, and flexibility, viadat fulfills and exceeds all expectations placed on intralogistics by developments such as Industry 4.0. The example of Gebrüder Müller Apparatebau GmbH & Co. KG (GEMÜ) demonstrates that the intelligent networking of processes and the flow of goods in the warehouse and production provides a considerable competitive advantage. GEMÜ, the leading manufacturer of valve, measuring and control technology decided to build a new production and logistics center in Kupferzell, Southern Germany, in order to make the logistics processes in production more streamlined and efficient.

With this new center, GEMÜ not only wanted to ensure faster deliveries to customers and improve its in-house production supplies, but also wanted to concentrate the decentralized warehouses of its international subsidiaries and use the opportunity for optimum process automation. The company had correspondingly high expectations when planning the new facility: better delivery reliability and turnover rates, automated order consolidation, reduction of incorrect deliveries, and significant production increase in the assembly departments – all controlled by an integrated software. The aim was for customers throughout Europe to receive standard products within 48 hours.

For this purpose, viastore developed and implemented a comprehensive system consisting of an automated pallet warehouse (APW) and an automated mini-load system (MLS) in the form of a container warehouse. The single-aisle APW allows for the double-deep storage of Euro pallets with a maximum weight of 1,200 kilograms and is supplied by a viapal ASRS. The two-aisle MLS is designed as a built-in rack for the double-deep storage of plastic containers with a maximum weight of 50 kg each, and is operated by two viaspeed XL ASRS. It is connected to the order picking and shipment areas via a container loop.

Here, the shipment commissioner, a centrally arranged system with lifting beam ASRS, is used for the intermediate storage of picked orders ready for dispatch. This consolidation prevents the shipment of too many individual consignments. Another such buffer system – the production commissioner – where picked orders for assembly supply are temporarily stored, is found in the assembly hall. The production commissioner is also fully integrated in the container conveyor system.

The viadat WMS manages and controls the entire material flow process – from the receipt of goods to the storage, retrieval, and production supply, all the way to order picking and shipment. viadat also regulates the buffering of assembly supplies, the consolidation of orders, and the printing of delivery notes, and address labels. The software retrieves the necessary data from the ERP system, to which it is connected via a standard interface.

The retrieval of assembly orders from the production commissioner is carried out by means of ten parallel gravity roller conveyors. A milk run system takes over the containers from the conveyor system. The assembly workstations are supplied according to the Kanban principle. This system is also managed by viadat. viastore’s intralogistics solution helped GEMÜ significantly reduce throughput times. Standard products reach every location in Europe within 48 hours – an important competitive advantage. Delivery reliability has increased significantly, and the error rate shows a clear downward trend.

The production and logistics center of GEMÜ: The delivery reliability has increased significantly, and the error rate shows a clear downward trend.

 
Software enhances supply chain performance

viastore also has extensive expertise when it comes to the connection and management of technologies and processes in standard software solutions from SAP. As a consultant, service provider, and supplier of SAP-based intralogistics solutions, the company has been specializing in technologies and add-ons for warehouse logistics for over 20 years now. The example of Kaeser Compressors shows the enormous impact intelligent software can have on supply chain performance. This leading global compressor manufacturer and compressed air system supplier delivers products and spare parts from its distribution center in Coburg, not only to distributors and customers across Europe, but also to its own distribution center in the USA. In order to enable this logistics hub to meet the ever-growing demands of complex material flow, Kaeser entrusted viastore with converting the location to the modern SAP EWM with HANA.

The system integrates, among other things, a unit-load warehouse, 19 storage carousels, a mini-load system, automated guided vehicle system, conveyor technology, 6 picking stations for small parts, 11 pallet packing stations, and a buffer warehouse section for the rapid loading of up to 100 trucks daily. A major advantage of SAP EWM is the fact that the control of these underlying systems can be directly linked to the warehouse management and material flow systems. EWM is designed by the material flow system to seamlessly connect to the technology. Additionally, the architecture of the new system provides for much faster communication.

An integrated standard platform, which connects the hardware controllers to the EWM system, was created with aid of SAP PCo (Plant Connectivity) software. In the past, storage carousels were controlled by means of an SAP add-on from viastore; today this is completely integrated in SAP EWM. However, some individual adjustments were necessary on the programming of user interfaces, e.g. the development of efficient user dialogs for staff at the picking and packing stations. Process reliability was an essential criterion in this context, as was users only having the inputs and communication options they really need. This significantly reduces the potential for error.

viastore also migrated Kaeser’s entire corporate software to SAP HANA – starting with the CRM, then SAP BI, followed by sales, distribution, and production planning in SAP APO, and finally warehouse management. The most significant challenge in conjunction with updating the warehouse management system was that this undertaking had to be carried out during on-going operations. During peak times, the system runs 19 hours straight, from 5 am to 12 am. This severely limited the time slots available for testing the software. viastore’s core duty of the HANA migration included the upgrade of SAP EWM 7.1 to 9.1 and subsequent compatibility checks of the system. New features for system optimization had to be simultaneously implemented as part of the update as well.

Due to the connection of the underlying controllers, the system needs to process many telegrams – which is perfect for HANA. Kaeser and viastore were pioneers here, undertaking one of the first SAP projects of this kind worldwide. As a result, the system response times are now much shorter and the processes in the distribution center have become significantly faster compared to the old solution with SAP LES. Outcomes achieved are goods received are processed 20 percent faster, the number of picks has increased by 40 percent, the packaging process is 50 percent quicker, the warehouse activities and analysis are carried 20 times faster, and the output of distribution has increased exponentially and the company works in a more expeditious manner – in every area.

The distribution center of Kaeser Compressors: After migrating to SAP EWM and HANA, the number of picks per day rose by 40 percent.

 
Modernization of warehouse technology safeguards availability

viastore is not only an expert in the planning and construction of new intralogistics solutions, but also when it comes to modernizing existing warehouses. For example, ODU Steckverbindungssysteme GmbH & Co. KG, carried out an extensive retrofit of a third-party automated mini-load system (MLS). Experiencing downtimes of up to 27 hours, causing considerable adverse impact on production.

The PLC, a Siemens S5, was as outdated as the material flow computer, and the warehouse management system was similarly no longer up-to-date. The software was unable to meet the increased requirements in terms of speed, filling rate, and item diversity. In addition, there was no update available for the system. Along with the experts from ODU, viastore analyzed the situation during a workshop, where the necessary optimization points were identified and summarized in the form of an upgrade roadmap. This roadmap then formed the basis of the system specifications.

The first step of modernization, however, did not begin in the MLS, but in the conventional, manually operated pallet warehouse, which offers 1,700 storage locations for raw, semi-finished, and finished materials. ODU used the introduction of the viadat WMS as an opportunity to restructure all of its logistics processes. For managing manually operated warehouses, ODU implement viadat’s forklift control system – previously the pallet warehouse was managed via lists. This allowed for a two-step changeover to the new WMS. viastore converted the manual warehouse to viadat roughly two months before the transition in the MLS took place. In this way, the experts could test communications between the WMS and the ERP system used at ODU without compromising the performance of the MLS.

When implementing viadat in the MLS, the standard software was largely retained. The milk run system required the biggest adjustment effort, since it is not only used to transport products from the MLS assembly area and vice versa, but en route it also takes components from the turning shop to the electroplating area. Accordingly, the WMS was adjusted so the manufacturing documents can be recorded at the stations and managed by viadat.

To ensure the transition to the new WMS would proceed as smoothly as possible, viastore trained all ODU warehouse operators. The staff was able to successfully familiarize themselves with the system and take advantage of a couple new opportunities it offered. For example, the team leader can now request warehouse items from her workstation in order to check the article itself or the number in stock. Moreover, consignment goods – items that still belong to the supplier, but which ODU has access to – no longer need to be stored separately.

The hardware side experienced quite an undertaking as well with the drives on all storage/retrieval systems (ASRS) axles – carriage, hoist unit, load-handling device – as well as all on-board control cabinets being replaced. The entire facility was equipped with new control technology; the Simatic S5 was replaced by the latest S7. Likewise, the data transfer to the ASRS and the transverse shuttle car was updated and is now carried out via Profibus optical data couplers. Moreover, the incremental position measuring systems were replaced by absolute measuring systems. This does away with the previously necessary reference travel, and the measurement is now much more reliable and accurate.

Equipped with state-of-the-art technology, the system resumed operations. The start-up went very well, with a few unavoidable initial issues resolved immediately with support from viastore. Thanks to modern hardware and software technology, the ODU system now offers high availability at all times.

The MLS of ODU Steckverbindungssysteme GmbH & Co. KG: Thanks to an extensive retrofit, the system once again offers continuously high availability.
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