It must be fast and beautiful
Weishaupt is setting the course for the future of parts logistics and has invested over 30 million Euros over the past two years towards the modernization of a highly innovative logistics center. The customer service and spare parts business of the energy technology producer demanded a changed material flow and new technologies, which were implemented during ongoing operations. However, the new logistics processes and the structural extensions also had to be ergonomic and architecturally convincing.
Closing time. The Weishaupt service car is locked on the parking lot next to the gas station, its driver is on his way home and enjoys his free time. Tomorrow he has to get back to the customer early. Before finishing today’s work, the service technician still ordered the spare parts that he needs for a customer visit tomorrow. All items were ordered from the new logistics center in Schwendi (Upper Swabia, Germany) where every order is automatically processed via the online shop for specialist partners. Weishaupt supplies spare parts all year round and the logistics service provider equips the service technician’s vehicle - even overnight.
More than 30,000 products – trend rising
With its products and services, Weishaupt is one of Europe’s leading suppliers of high-quality heat generators in the overall market and produces heating systems, burners, heat pumps, solar systems, and energy storage systems - products for growing markets.
The existing warehouse for spare parts and production logistics in Schwendi (AS/RS) was in operation for 24 years. With a filling degree of more than 90%, the AS/RS was operating at the limits of its capacity. The stacker cranes used were also operating at their limit. The quantities and ordering behavior of the customers had also changed considerably over the years. In order to meet these increased requirements in the future, a Weishaupt project team designed and implemented a new storage concept together with the WITRON project manager, Josef Gallersdörfer.
Around 30,000 different items for the entire Weishaupt range are stored in the logistics center in Schwendi. Weishaupt’s customers, most of whom are specialist tradesmen and industry customers from Germany and around the world, expect a high degree of flexibility and short delivery times. This comes together with the supply of the production area. A separation of the two processes was quickly discarded in the preliminary design phase and thus, the colleagues from the production area are supplied with goods via a central conveyor network system on the basement floor. This is where all material flows for production and distribution come together. However, the focus is on service. Every order received by 6 pm is shipped by 7 am the next morning at the latest, depending on the choice of the respective shipping provider. The main challenges: the very long spare parts availability and the different types and component groups that have to be delivered at short notice. Standard products are supplied less and less, which also challenges the entire logistics and production processes.
A modernization of the existing processes during ongoing operation, including the construction of a new AS/RS, demanded design skills, creativity, reliability, and speed from both project partners.
The solution was the automated picking system OPS (Order Picking System). It is an integration of an automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS), a distribution loop, and upstream picking workstations. The products processed at the OPS picking workstations are made available for picking according to the goods-to-person principle - order-related and in the right sequence. Integrated sequence buffers decouple the inbound and outbound processes from the picking process”, explains Gallersdörfer from WITRON. The system enables storage and order picking in one system. “OPS is particularly interesting for spare parts distribution, as the system supports a wide variety of picking variants. In addition to a serial 1:1 order picking, it also enables a parallel picking into several order totes”, adds the project manager.
The twelve-aisle AS/RS - six aisles on two levels - including 83,000 storage locations was rebuilt and moves 41,000 totes daily. It is connected to the existing logistics and production areas via a connecting catwalk. It was important for the project team to maintain the optic line of view on the site. The logistics center is nestled into a wooded hillside and integrates harmoniously into the entire company site, which is characterized by clear structures and symmetry. These requirements were also met in the design of the interior of the building.
The five picking workstations as well as the upstream and downstream repacking and packaging workstations are not only an eye-catcher in terms of design. The employees carry out fewer secondary activities. For example, the system automatically handles empty totes”, explains Gallersdörfer. Employees also benefit from the improved ergonomics of the picking areas. Height-adjustable workstations, plenty of daylight, tilted totes, and transparent user dialogs make work easier. “Visual aids and integrated scales guarantee high pick accuracy and quantity”, adds the WITRON project manager. The Weishaupt employees were also trained to master a large number of workstations in different logistics areas.
By separating the tote flows at the picking workstations from orders with only one item and orders comprising several items, as well as the parallel picking of two orders, flexibility could be significantly increased. In addition: Through the intermediate buffering of pre-picked orders, which have a different delivery date than the actual date, it is possible to pack the current orders shortly before they are shipped. Weishaupt can pick, pack, and ship up to 1,950 spare parts packages daily in its new logistics center, optimized through a volume calculation so that little “air” is shipped.
The old picking zones used to be located opposite today’s high-performance picking workstations. The logistics center had to be rebuilt during ongoing operation. A new warehouse management computer was implemented, interfaces to SAP, a production control system, transport systems of service providers, and to the entire Weishaupt network structure were created.
The technicians operated an old system under full operation and installed the new conveyor system lines at the same time. Above all, supplying the production area presented the project partners with ever new tasks - such as in the basement area, where it is narrow and difficult to access. Gallersdörfer and his team installed the new conveyor system next to the old systems, linked the old warehouse management computer with the new one, and ported the controls from S5 to S7 so as not to have to manually reposition the totes in the pre-stage of start-up. “The initial parallel operation of the old and new system, allowed the performance of the new system to be increased selectively during ramp-up”, adds Gallersdörfer. During the entire construction period, the installation area was shielded off so that dust and dirt did not interfere with the neighboring production area and the existing AS/RS. “The pickers and production staff worked a few days right next to a construction site”, Gallersdörfer looks back. “Due to the complex requirements, this was not an everyday modernization project”, emphasizes Gallersdörfer.
When will the next project follow? The future of logistics at Weishaupt took a pioneering step in the summer of 2018. “And should the current capacity limit be reached, we will be able to expand the system at any time and according to requirements thanks to its modular structure on the adjacent expansion areas”, explains Weishaupt.
The service technician from the beginning of our story is not even aware of all the technology and processes behind the logistics processes. In the early morning, he is on the road again, his vehicle is ready for use again - thanks to the logistics operation in Schwendi.