Automation collaboration

Intralogistics specialist Swisslog, reveals how its shuttle system delivers a data-driven distribution centre solution that cuts hardware costs 25 per cent in warehouses.

With growing e-commerce demands and tight labour market pressures, today’s smart warehouses and distribution centres require increasingly data-driven technologies. Intralogistics operations need much more flexible, scalable, adaptable and user-friendly solutions in order to succeed in today’s demanding market.

Francis Meier, Managing Director for Swisslog Australia and New Zealand says intralogistics solutions contain various elements and a lot of moving pieces. “In order to bring all of these together and make them work in an efficient manner, we rely on powerful controls technology like Beckhoff provides,” he says.

Swisslog began to transition its portfolio to PC- based control technology, standardizing on hardware and software solutions from Beckhoff Automation. “It offers the flexibility and scalability required, yet it is highly standardized making sure that engineers can easily move across projects. Once in operation, these systems allow us to be very responsive in support, remotely or on-site,” Francis says.

Intralogistics applications 

The Swiss company, which was founded in 1994 but has a history dating back to 1900, became fully integrated into the KUKA Group in 2015. While the headquarters for Swisslog Logistics are in Switzerland, the multi-division, global company maintains a presence across Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. The logistics division primarily serves major retailers, e-commerce and consumer goods companies, distributors and third-party logistics (3PL) providers.

For intralogistics specialist Swisslog, addressing this challenge requires machines with greater intelligence, such as the CycloneCarrier shuttle system. Compared to similar systems on the market, the CycloneCarrier and other Swisslog solutions offer key advantages due to a robust PC-based automation platform. “What differentiates Swisslog from others in the market is how we integrate our solutions and use information systems and software to improve efficiencies,” says Paul Douglas, Senior Vice President of Operations – Americas.

The world is talking about the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. Francis says Swisslog’s latest development efforts push its capabilities into that space. Francis credits its partnership with Beckhoff Automation as a ranging system solution for all areas of automation in different performance classes.

“The use of Beckhoff products in Swisslog’s offering has enabled Swisslog to customize real-time control functions and integrate them in cost-effective solutions. Beyond the open connectivity of Beckhoff hardware and software, these solutions provide a range of functions on a single and modular platform that allows Swisslog to create an adaptable, scalable and flexible WMS,” he says.

Smart shuttle system

The CycloneCarrier is a high-throughput storage and delivery solution. The system transports cartons and totes, stores them and then rapidly picks them in sequence or groupings to designated pick stations or to palletising robots.

The vehicles’ load-handling arms extend to either side and can adjust the space between arms to safely handle items of varying widths. The shuttles unload items onto transfer conveyors that serve as buffers to dynamic single- or double-deck vertical lifts. Depending on the shelving size and number of shuttles, the system can achieve a throughput of tens of thousands of items per hour.

Swisslog and Beckhoff formed a framework agreement in 2011 based on a shared vision of what could be achieved. Since then they’ve worked together to raise the expectation of the consumer goods, and logistics automation industries on what a control solution really is and have lifted the bar on what’s possible.

When Swisslog began CycloneCarrier development in 2013, the system benefited greatly from transitioning to Beckhoff’s PC-based control. Now, more than 1,000 machines worldwide that are equipped with Beckhoff controls and Swisslog’s intention is that it will transition every product offering to include PC-based control in the near future.

Francis says Swisslog Australia and New Zealand has been successful in deploying the CycloneCarrier in two major projects, one in New Zealand which has been operational for some time now and one in Australia which will go-live early next year. “The CycloneCarrier allows us to provide the high performance bin/carton storage machine feeding either robots or manual picking stations in a reliable and efficient manner,” he says.

Keeping pace with e-commerce demands

The adoption of goods-to-person technology with reliable automation technology is essential. Francis says Beckhoff offers wide-ranging system solutions for all areas of automation in different performance classes. “The use of Beckhoff products in Swisslog offering has enabled Swisslog to customise real-time control functions and integrate them in cost-effective solutions,” he says.

Francis highlights that beyond the open connectivity of Beckhoff hardware and software, the solution provides the industry what it really needed to meet today’s challenges. Swisslog required cost-effective and flexible technologies that could be used more than once, allowing the company to create libraries to use in various applications throughout the industry.

Flexibility must be built into the automation system from the beginning. A recent project for a major U.S. retailer, for example, involved 65 shuttles working round-the-clock to process 650,000 SKUs per day. Implementing the CycloneCarrier system boosted throughput for the company while saving workers significant physical exertion.

While traditional palletising equipment usually remains in the same location, unchanged for a decade or more, new e-commerce solutions need to offer greater scalability to meet changing consumer or corporate requirements. The modular controls platform Swisslog implemented enables customisation to shelf and shuttle setups, whether to modify slightly or completely disassemble and rebuild the system in a different configuration, in an entirely different warehouse.

“Through our standard platform based on Beckhoff PC-based control, we could use a CycloneCarrier shuttle in a small system targeted to a specific application and then use the same machine in a much bigger facility doing a completely different job,” Francis says.


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