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EDNA, manufacturer of bakery products uses WITRON's OPM for its frozen goods warehouse

"Cool" picking at -24° C

The fact that automated storage and picking for frozen goods increases cost-effectiveness, flexibility, quality, and efficiency is demonstrated at EDNA's site in Sandersdorf-Brehna. The manufacturer of bakery products selected WITRON's Order Picking Machinery (OPM) for their new central warehouse, with the goal to further optimizing their high customer service level. 

EDNA's new 75,347 square foot distribution center in Sandersdorf-Brehna (Saxony-Anhalt) supplies its customers throughout Europe with frozen bakery products within 24 hours after order placement. It started productive use in October 2012 after a construction period of 1.5 years. "From the first day of ramp-up, we had access to our entire assortment, and the logistics center worked with high availability - 24 hours a day / 6 days a week", says Norbert Meitinger, owner and CEO of EDNA. "This was very important for us. We needed to be deliverable at any time. Anything different would not have been accepted by our customers." Customer satisfaction is the core focus of EDNA's business. "We are able to implement our customer's individual needs quickly and without any problems and with OPM we can react immediately and in a flexible manner - and this is our strength. Or to put it simply: The customer places the order, and the OPM system implements the customer's need in an effective and efficient manner, regardless of whether it's a large order or a small order".

Customer service and responsiveness is the most important thing for EDNA, as bakery products are items that are ordered on a daily basis and generally need to be supplied by the next day. With its "central warehouse for production goods and trade items with small parts picking", EDNA supplies major customers and wholesalers directly with frozen bakery products and all smaller customers via an interim station of distribution centers - both nationally and internationally. Goods ordered by 07:00 p.m. will normally be delivered the next day. 

Automation increases flexibility in the frozen goods logistics center

WITRON's generation 3 of OPM technology has been proven in both dry environments and cooled/frozen environments for numerous customers across Europe and North America. With a total of three COM machines EDNA automatically picks up to 13,000 cases a day at -24° C. The system can be expanded to 4 COMs to enable up to 32,000 cases a day over 16 hours of operation. An automated six-aisle tray warehouse with 35,280 locations (expandable to 47,040) and a mechanized four-aisle pallet high bay warehouse (HBW) with 9,600 locations (expandable to 14,500) are located in front of the picking area. 800 additional single-SKU pallets (up to 2,000 single-SKU pallets at full build-out) that come directly from production and are buffered in the HBW before being dispatched are shipped on a daily basis. The system is designed for further growth, and modular expansion possibilities in all storage areas are included in WITRON's logistics design. The so-called bakery product packaging that was processed manually in the past is also mechanized. WITRON implemented the project as a general contractor - from design, realization, IT and control engineering, through to start-up. The WITRON subsidiary FAS developed and produced the mechanical components. WIBOND, another subsidiary of the WITRON Group provided the freezer-proof information terminals for the different system areas. 

"With the OPM system we are operating a picking solution that will deal with the continuously changing customer and employee requirements for the next 20 years", says EDNA CEO Meitinger. "When searching for the right state-of-the-art system, WITRON immediately convinced me with its design and its competence within the frozen goods area. Already after the first visit in Parkstein, we felt understood in both the technical part and in terms of the company's philosophy." WITRON and EDNA are owner-run family companies. 

The fully automated OPM system avoids increasing the workload for the employee in the logistics center despite constantly growing product variety. The employees reap tremendous ergonomic benefits from OPM.  

"The temperatures within the frozen goods area a challenge for humans and technology. And still, a COM machine automatically picks up to 500 cases per hour - this speed and quality cannot be achieved by a human picker", explains Meitinger.  

The fact that EDNA's picking process is divided into different day and night hours was another reason for the use of OPM. "When working in frozen goods areas, it is not possible to permanently provide personnel and use them cost-efficiently based on the required picking cycle", according to Norbert Meitinger. "With WITRON's Case Order Machines (COMs), we have the required flexibility and can react purposefully".  

However, the "human factor" plays an important role for the entire process to run smoothly, as "our own employees are responsible for the control and maintenance of the system", says Meitinger.  

Order Picking Machinery (OPM) supports all order types

WITRON developed the OPM system for the generation of customer-specific order pallets. It is fully automated from receiving through to dispatch. The heart of the system is the automatic loading of an order pallet with cases of different sizes and weights, which is achieved through the highly dynamic loading device, the so-called Case Order Machine (COM).  

After registration in the receiving area, the pallets are stored in an automated high bay warehouse and supplied to an automated layer depalletizer. Most of EDNA's stored products (650 different products) like various types of rolls, pretzels, baguettes, or pastries are produced at the site in Brehna. In addition, EDNA provides different trade items. After all, some 100 suppliers across the globe bring their products to Brehna. 

After depalletizing the layers, the cases are separated, automatically loaded onto trays, and stored into a tray AS/RS. Based on product groups, pallet stability, and filling degree, every pallet receives a separate stacking matrix calculated by software.  

The particularity at EDNA: When placing an on-line order, the customer can decide by means of a so-called "palettometer" how EDNA should "build" the pallet - individually tailored to his/her needs.  

This service requires maximum system flexibility for the WITRON solution, as OPM has to create up to four different pallet types (standard, rainbow, sandwich, or individual multiple customer pallet) depending on the customer specification - and all that without any performance loss at the COM, of course. Even the pallet height complies with the specifications of the individual customer.  

"Specifically for mixed multi-customer pallets, every single case is particularly labeled and placed onto the pallet by the COM in such way that the label is externally visible at any time. This is supported by a printer that works reliably in the frozen goods environment, by innovative WITRON software tools, and "turnstiles" on the supply lane specially developed by FAS", says WITRON project manager Slavisa Jovanovic.  "The customer or dispatcher should be able to inspect the goods without having to remove individual cartons from the pallet." Through the use of orange labels on the cartons, the driver is able to easily identify the required customer information, even at night.   

Another special customer service offering from EDNA is the supply of so-called sandwich pallets to major clients. This means, that the customer orders different goods by layer, and the individual product layers are separated by Euro pallets. By doing so, EDNA's customers benefit from storing their goods into the logistics center in an already sorted manner. 

Picking of this order form is also realized by the COM. The consolidation of these orders is mechanized following the fully-automated picking.  

Mechanized packaging of bakery products

In addition to the OPM implementation, WITRON also mechanized the packaging process for the manufacturer of bakery products. "This process was exclusively manual in the past", according to Jovanovic. Up to six single-item grid boxes are transported in parallel from the frozen goods high bay warehouse via automatic conveyor lines to ergonomic workstations. A cardboard erecting machine provides the picker with appropriately sized shipping cartons based on product dimensions.  Finally, the cartons are labeled, glued, mechanically checked for any foreign objects, returned to the tray AS/RS via conveyor lines, and picked shortly before they are shipped via the OPM system. "As we principally create a new product based on the consolidation, our WMS software needs to fulfill all legal properties with regards to all food criteria, traceability, and batch tracking", says Jovanovic.  

Based on the more cost-efficient process flows, EDNA is now able to supply its customers with a considerably lower amount of products per delivery. This adaption to changed purchasing behaviors - to order more frequently in smaller amounts, also reinforced due to EDNA's webshop - will become an increasingly important competitive factor.  

Warehouse stock reduced by 50 percent - error rate almost zero

All in all, EDNA invested some 20 million Euros in automation, building, and refrigeration technology in the course of this project. And already now, only a few months after ramp-up, the results are impressive: Based on the centralization of the logistics for production and trading goods in Brehna, EDNA was able to close some external storage locations and reduce the number of pallet locations or warehouse stock by some 50%. With a very high pick quality, the error rate in the per thousand range is almost at zero percent. To increase transparency, every pallet in the dispatch area is photographed. Additional customers could be gained through new service offers. Also, EDNA's employees have accepted the OPM system very quickly. In this process, it was of great advantage that EDNA's employees could spend two weeks gaining practical experience at WITRON's Spanish customer, Mercadona. For the upcoming logistical challenges in his business, the owner of EDNA, Norbert Meitinger, looks very positively into the future with the OPM system.  "The functionalities of the automated solution are already designed to come up with fast, flexible adaptions as well as further growth", according to Meitinger. "We are sure we can cover our innovative ideas and upcoming market requirements with OPM without any problems." Also service and follow-up care works smoothly. "As a family business, WITRON is extremely customer-focused. When we place any service request, WITRON supports us around the clock without any problems", says Meitinger. "This encourages again our belief of having found the right partner for the realization of our new distribution center."

Author: Thomas Woehrle, specialized journalist, Karlsruhe