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WITRON realizes automated carton and tray logistics center for Pepperl+Fuchs

"Innovative logistics for 56,000 sensor components"

At the beginning of 2012, Pepperl + Fuchs GmbH, one of the world's leading companies for industrial sensors and technology for electrical shock protection, started productive use of an automated logistics and picking system at its European central warehouse headquartered in Mannheim. Their Asian distribution center in Singapore will implement the automation technology in 2015. Designer and general contractor for both projects will be WITRON Logistik + Informatik GmbH, the systems integrator from Parkstein. 

Due to a constant company growth, the development of new market segments, as well as the consistent implementation of individual customer demands, the existing logistics capacities of Pepperl + Fuchs at their headquarters in Mannheim, reached their limits. "Also with our old warehouse, we were able to provide optimal service to our customers. Our logistics goals, as well as the necessary high delivery performance, required greater efforts additionally enlarged through increasing turnover, smaller order quantities, and growing customer demands. But since our more than 20 year old automated warehouse, which was one of the pioneering automated warehouse technologies at that time, was no longer able to optimally cope with our requirements in terms of capacity and technology, as maintenance intensity constantly increased, and as the supply of spare parts became more and more difficult, we decided to build a new warehouse", explains Ulrich Weiss, head of materials management and logistics at Pepperl + Fuchs.  

With the erection of the new European Distribution Center (EDC) in Mannheim, the manufacturer of sensor technology opts for a state-of-the-art automated logistics solution for storage and picking that increases efficiency and cost-effectiveness in all processes considerably, and that generates space for additional growth in the future. "Speed, reliability, and quality, as well as optimal cost-efficiency are absolutely decisive aspects for us", says Weiss. "Because our business with sensor technology demands short delivery times, a major part of the orders received today have to be supplied to the customers across Europe within the next day". 

This high adherence to delivery dates towards the external customer and their own production, in combination with a low error rate, are important requirements for Pepperl + Fuchs. In addition, they must provide a multitude of customer-specific features for many deliveries. "With the new logistics center, we could not only implement our customer's requirements successfully, but also our employee's demands in terms of ergonomic, light, and clear workplaces", says Martin Preuninger, project leader IT and logistics of the EDC. It only took a little more than one year from the beginning of the design phase to productive use. In the course of a "smooth ramp-up phase", the relocation from the old warehouse to the new distribution center was carried out step-wise.  

High flexibility for variations in quantity

Since the beginning of 2012, Pepperl + Fuchs supplies all of its European end customers as well as both distribution centers in the US and Singapore directly with finished parts from the EDC. Moreover, all production sites across the globe receive purchased raw goods and manufactured assemblies from Mannheim.  

The order to realize the new distribution center was awarded to WITRON Logistik + Informatik GmbH, a systems integrator from Parkstein. In the course of a tender process, WITRON was able to convince Pepperl + Fuchs with its Order Picking System (OPS) which has proven itself all over the world in different industries and E-Commerce applications thanks to its cost-efficient handling of broad article ranges. OPS allows storage and order picking in one system. The modular solution is an integration of automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS) and upstream picking locations that are completely separated from the stacker cranes through the use of sequence buffers or - as is the case at Pepperl + Fuchs - through a transfer car solution. This enables maximum individuality for all work processes. The articles at the pick and pack workstations in the OPS are provided according to the goods-to-person-principle and on demand. Through the flexibility of the system it is possible to use totes, cartons, or small load carriers with different sizes, heights, and classifications on the trays. The workstations are staffed depending on the workload.  

Modular logistics solution aimed to future growth

The EDC with a size of 45,208 square feet comprises a five-aisle tray AS/RS with 32,000 storage locations as well as a conventional area with 1,000 pallet locations. All articles that can be stored on a tray are located in the AS/RS, except slow movers. The pallet warehouse also takes over the replenishment for the AS/RS. In order to store the large amount of more than 56,000 different items efficiently and with minimal space, the trays used for storage are divided up to eight times. The occupation of the trays is automatically scanned in the receiving area.  

The picking of up to 4,800 order lines per day is done according to the pick and pack principle at five pick locations and nine packing locations directly into the dispatch carton or into the order carton for production supply. This corresponds to a pick performance of 500 picks per hour, enabling a parallel processing of up to eight customer orders at each pick location. A multiple assurance consisting of pick-by-light system, place-to-light, and surface scanning, guarantees maximum picking accuracy. Customer orders with articles from the AS/RS and the pallet or long-goods warehouse are consolidated to one delivery unit at a separate workstation. The operators in the pallet warehouse / long-goods warehouse are supported by a radio-frequency system from WITRON. Highly ergonomic aspects were the main focus when designing all workstations. Transfer cars allow a high level of automation, efficiently connect all warehouse areas from receiving to dispatch, and enable a consistent tracking of all logistic units in the system. The project will be realized by WITRON as general contractor with overall responsibility. The delivery and performance scope included the detailed project design as well as the delivery, and start-up of all mechanical, material flow, IT, and control systems. Even the entire AS/RS steel construction was planned by WITRON's subsidiary FAS.  

Pepperl + Fuchs supplies entire sensor technology for the warehouse

Thanks to the extensive product range for sensor technology of Pepperl + Fuchs, all encoders, light barriers, scanners, surface scanners, and inductive proximity switches required within the material flow could be delivered by Pepperl + Fuchs. For example, the own EDC was equipped with more than 1,000 sensors. 

A special highlight is the 2D laser scanner R2000: an interactive high performance scanner with 360 degree panoramic view - nominated for the "Hermes Award" and awarded with the "Innovation Award 2012". Through the use of this sensor, Pepperl + Fuchs ensures that the picker places the right article into the right customer order carton. 

Since Pepperl + Fuchs supplies almost all WITRON competitors with sensor technology, maximum care had to be taken when selecting the executing logistics partner. "We wanted to treat all offering partners - to whom we usually maintain a long-term and trustful relationship - fair and transparent", emphasizes Ulrich Weiss. "Because the order for the equipment of the EDC could only be awarded to one supplier." Such a situation is of course not common.  

Order Picking System (OPS) and transfer car (TC) in use

"The decision in favor of WITRON was made because the OPS solution in connection with the transfer car concept convinced us more than all other solutions we received", explains Pepperl + Fuchs logistics manager Weiss. "It is an innovative technology that provides high system performance with efficient picking at low error rates. The concept is space-efficient, highly available, and suits perfectly our structural infrastructure. Moreover, all workstations from receiving to dispatch are supplied and cleared by means of transfer cars which saves a large amount of conveyor system distance, as a huge loop or sorting lanes are not required." The speed of the transfer cars and stacker cranes is impressive. They were designed and produced by GEBHARDT Foerdertechnik and WITRON's subsidiary FAS. Goods registered in the receiving area are immediately available in the system and can directly be assigned to a customer order ("taxi priority"). The intensive and trustful cooperation with WITRON worked very well from the beginning. "Another important decision criterion was the fact that we were always supported by the same WITRON team - starting with the first visit and through all project phases. They worked in a highly motivated and professional manner with us". 

Logistics solutions of such kind are called "compact projects" at WITRON (WCP). Compact projects refers to those with a focused and very closely linked set-up. The solution is mostly based on a proven standard module, complemented by a high customer-specific individual part. Josef Gallersdoerfer plays the leading role for the realization of WITRON compact projects. As authorized signatory and member of the management board, he and this team are responsible for the overall realization - starting with the design and through to the after-sales support of the system.  

Order acceptance times could be postponed considerably

After a step-wise relocation from the old logistics center to the new one, combined with a parallel running synchronization phase, the system works extremely well and operates at a high performance level. "During the ramp-up phase we had to learn how to correctly handle the new technology and control system", according to Preuninger. "Therefore, it was important to intensively train the employees and service technicians together with WITRON and to include them in important decisions. The employees already had experience in an automated warehouse, but the work processes could not be compared with the state-of-the-art technology that we are using today". 

Pepperl + Fuchs sees itself also well prepared for the future. "We are able to handle a further increase of customer orders with the same team and the same high service level without any problems", says Ulrich Weiss. "We do not only have sufficient resources for the future - with the new storage and picking technology we are able to respond more efficiently to rapidly fluctuating workloads." Moreover, the manufacturer of sensor technology could postpone its cut-off times for latest possible order acceptance closer to the departure time of the carriers.  The customers will then generally receive their goods by the next day. This would accommodate the changed and short-term customers' purchasing behavior and allows further optimization potential. The new technology provides numerous benefits in terms of service and maintenance, too. For example, all loading devices of the stacker cranes are equipped with cameras. In case of an error message in the AS/RS, the reason can first be monitored by means of a camera, before a technician has to climb into the AS/RS. 

Pepperl + Fuchs automates central warehouse in Singapore in 2015

In addition to the European Distribution Center in Mannheim, Pepperl + Fuchs operates a central warehouse in the United States and Asia. In 2015, Pepperl + Fuchs will open a Global Distribution Center (GDC) in Singapore equipped with an automated storage and picking solution. WITRON also received the order for this project.  Pepperl + Fuchs and WITRON are currently in the design phase which will become very intensive. "The warehouse in Singapore will be three times as large as the one in Mannheim", according to Martin Preuninger, logistics project leader for the new GDC (Global Distribution Center) in Singapore. "Moreover, we will have to face another challenge in Singapore - since the available space is quite limited, we need to build upward." 

The warehouse is planned to be located in close proximity to the Asian main production of Pepperl + Fuchs, it will be composed of several floors and is going to be 115 feet tall. The individual floors will be connected by means of a conveyor system.  

The overall package composed of technology, concept, and personal engagement was decisive for cooperation with WITRON also in this project. "Although, we are very satisfied with the results in Mannheim, WITRON had to face a strong competition again. Even local bidders from Asia were "in the race". But also for the Singapore project, WITRON convinced us with the concepts developed for this site", explains Preuninger. Of course, Pepperl + Fuchs expects synergy effects based on the same processes, the same IT, and the experiences gained through the logistics partnership so far. "For example, it is possible to interchange specialized employees in the warehouse areas without any problems", says Preuninger. "This facilitates the ramp-up phase, further increases the worldwide know how, and the quality in our logistical processes. 

For WITRON, this is not the first project in Asia. The realization of projects on this continent require a very accurate design. "For example, we need to know the culture very well as we may have to face completely new requirements with regards to company-related and logistical process flows", says WITRON business manager, Josef Gallersdoerfer. "Despite the significantly larger dimensions of the distribution center, it is our ambition to implement this project as quickly and successfully as we did in Mannheim."

Author: Thomas Woehrle, specialized journalist, Karlsruhe