Fully automated high-rack warehouses, robots navigating through the warehouses on their own, and technically advanced conveyor systems – in storage logistics, permanent technical progress is tangible everywhere.
But what about production logistics, where a significant part of industrial value creation occurs? A number of manufacturers are convinced that there is still unused potential that can be tapped. One way to go about it is the intelligent automation of the material flow with which the goods are transported even faster from the storage locations to the workstations and production sites. This is precisely the issue the two companies Kardex Remstar and Servus Intralogistics have tackled. Under the keyword Smart Factory they have developed a new solution for optimizing their customers’ in-house production logistics. The primary objective is to interconnect the storage and retrieval of goods as well as assembly and production in order to achieve uninterrupted automated material flow between all storage, production, and assembly areas.
The basic elements of the solution are dynamic storage equipment from Kardex Remstar and a special transport system from Servus Intralogistics consisting of autonomous transport robots. The products by the two companies have already been available separately for a while. What is new is that the components are combined with each other into an efficient integrated solution by way of a newly developed software.
The parts required in assembly are stored in the space-saving vertical storage lifts, vertical carousels, or container storage systems from Kardex Remstar and retrieved when needed. When the goods have to be retrieved, the transport system from Servus automatically takes the parts out of storage and moves them to the assembly workstations using autonomous transport robots. Depending on the pertinent process, the preassembled parts are then forwarded to quality assurance, the intermediate buffer, finishing, or shipping. The transport system from Servus has proven to be extraordinarily flexible, as it allows for open routing in the factory hall and adjusts optimally to existing building structures. Consequently, the route can be set up anywhere – from the floor to the ceiling – in the warehouse and production halls.
The system is directed at a group of customers that can be characterized as follows:
- They produce finished or semi-finished products
- They are part of a flow production process
- They work with just-in-time delivery
- They produce small and medium-sized batch sizes
- They operate with a broad range of components and upstream products
In short, Smart Factory is a solution that is predestined for customers in the processing industry, such as automotive or mechanical engineering.
To streamline the internal production processes and achieve time savings, the principle of the efficient, automated transport of components and upstream products is a requirement customers voice ever more emphatically. The objective is optimized material flow with shorter setup and downtimes which moreover permits continuous traceability by the in-house data processing systems. An important element in this is the software of the package, which records all movement data of the stocked items. The system recognizes the availability of components for the current orders, reserves the expected needs, and notes stock shortages. In total, this results in the following requirements regarding the concept:
- reduction of floor space for storage and production, reduction of order picking routes
- faster access to stocked items
- determination of real-time inventory, warehouse management, restocking
- increase in picking accuracy
- greater safety and better ergonomics for the production and warehouse staff
The process in detail
The parts required in assembly later on are kept in compact storage on a tiny space in the vertical storage lifts, vertical carousels, or container storage systems from Kardex Remstar and kept available for production.
The process starts with the production order, according to which the material needed is retrieved from the different storage systems. In most instances this step of the process is triggered and handled automatically by the customer’s ERP system. Generally the materials for the assembly station can be resupplied from many different kinds of storage systems (e.g., small-part, high-rack, or shuttle systems). The only requirement is the availability of the inventory ordered so a sufficient quantity of components can be provided for the assembly.
This is where the transport robots from Servus come in. They automatically receive the information about the necessary work steps and take care of all subsequent steps on their own. The Servus system needs no central control to accomplish this, as the transport robots communicate directly with the other transport robots and workstations via infrared light waves and therefore react to their immediate environment. The central piece of this sophisticated transport system is an autonomously acting transport robot which can move loads of up to 35 kg. Individually configurable in terms of equipment, size, and loading tackle, anything can be moved, from simple cases or boxes all the way to bulk goods and customer-specific workpieces. Thanks to its integrated loading tackles, it can autonomously load and unload goods from the storage shelves.
The units maneuver on a rail system consisting of carrier sections which need no cables or lines whatsoever. The result is an absolutely open routing system which allows for perfect adjustment to the company’s existing infrastructure. Depending on the specific situation, the transport routes can be installed on the floor, at working height, or on the ceiling to save space. Quick building alterations when production sequences change or future expansions are also possible without any difficulty.
The third main protagonist in this scenario is the group of the so-called assistants. These are the units with which the robots communicate and via which they head toward the storage places, assembly stations, and picking zones.
When the autonomous trolley approaches an assistant, the assistant identifies itself and tells the transport robot its position within the system as well as the available options. The robot then decides autonomously how to continue. In this manner the robot communicates with the pertinent workstations it visits one after another.
In addition to exchanging information via infrared light, simplified communication via electric impulses is also possible. This method can be employed, for example, when the procedure only requires simple commands, such as Stop and Go.
At the assembly station, the staff member retrieves the parts the different robots have supplied. After the container with the goods has been removed and an electronic signal been received, the trolley either returns and puts the goods not needed back, or it proceeds to the next workstation where the item is needed. In this manner the trolleys are constantly on the move, making deliveries, loading, and unloading, thus allowing the assemblers to fully focus on production without having to cover any additional routes. The time savings as well as improvements in workplace ergonomics for the staff are enormous. Consequently, this helps the companies to boost their efficiency and at the same time their employees’ health.
It goes without saying that this concept is not only suitable for strict production. For instance, after assembly has been completed, the robot can, of course, also pick up the finished pieces and take them to a warehouse or the next station – quality control – or directly to the picking zone.
Advantages and customer benefits with the Servus system
In a system of this kind, receipt of goods, storage, picking, and shipping become part of a compact flow process which companies can design extremely flexibly. For instance, they can do without any superfluous interim storage, thus speeding up the flow rate considerably. This in turn diminishes the throughput times while at the same time boosting production. As a result, the rotating stock and hence fixed capital are reduced, leading to lower overall costs.
Moreover, the concept can be applied in production logistics in a great many different ways:
- In-house transport: the shuttle system handles all in-house transports from receipt of goods to the interim storages, to production, the picking and assembly stations, all the way to shipping. A single system for all areas translates into no unnecessary interfaces and utmost flexibility.
- Assembly: the shuttle system supplies manual workstations as well as automated processing stations, along with all the pertinent data and processing information needed.
- Order picking: whether using the goods-to-person or the person-to-goods method, whether processing individual orders one after the other, or several orders simultaneously, the shuttle system supplies the material from the storage site directly to the worker or the workstation and returns it to any desired place.
All in all, Smart Factory makes for a solution which, due to the system’s automated procedures, uncomplicated setup including simple, need-based installation, and, ultimately, high degree of scalability, can help companies in the manufacturing sector to further optimize their processes and significantly boost their internal efficiency.