The distribution centre of the future: scale, flexibility and the need for automation

Own the future – from MHD magazine

The distribution centre of the future will need scale, flexibility and automation. As technology advances and society changes, consumers are demanding services faster and more readily available. Current warehousing and distribution practices won’t be sufficient to keep up with market expectations, so forward-thinking businesses are investing in flexible, scalable and automated solutions to future-proof their operations. Read more

Hi 5 to I4.0 – from MHD magazine

Tom Rentschler

Many have written about the impact that Industry 4.0 will have on warehousing and distribution and why companies should embrace this fourth industrial revolution. But if you own or operate a small warehouse or distribution centre, you may be thinking: “How will Industry 4.0 help me?” or: “Isn’t this only for big companies?”
Yet many of the benefits of I4.0 will extend to small operations.
I4.0 includes technologies like the Internet of Things (machines talking to machines), big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, as well as collaborative robotics. And there are five very strong reasons why they will make automation a worthwhile investment for even smaller warehouse operations.

  1. True plug & play

Traditionally, automated material handling systems required a significant amount of project-specific engineering, control coding and software. Conveyor systems, for example, often need specific PLC code to optimise behaviour, such as priorities at a merging point. These ‘traffic rules’ are different for each layout and also depend on the user’s exact processes.
The costs of customising, installing and commissioning a system do not have a linear relationship to size. While the overhead may be a small proportion for large systems, on smaller systems those costs could represent up to 40% of the total installation.
By combining IoT principles with artificial intelligence and machine learning, this problem can be overcome. Imagine that you will simply place conveyor elements (or any other automated equipment) on the floor. Each element will automatically identify itself to all others and ‘connect’ to its neighbours, allowing the system to map itself and understand how it looks.

“All of these observations show that the real growth in warehouse automation will not only be with traditional, large systems.”

Meanwhile, applying big data analytics to the current, still manual operation will provide an understanding of the warehouse user processes. This allows the establishment of a first, base-line logic for running the new automated system. Once the physical automated systems are placed and used, machine learning will quickly determine how to use the equipment better and set the right traffic rules to match the system’s layout and user processes.
All this means that no more project-specific coding of controls and software will be required, significantly reducing the overhead costs to a level where automation becomes compelling for small operations.

  1. Smart systems can adapt to warehouses built for humans

Most warehouses, and certainly small ones, have been designed to be operated by humans. They have rows of shelving and people with trolleys walking through them to collect orders.  Until recently, implementing automation would require these processes to be completely replaced.
Automated systems, such as robots, used to require a very clearly defined environment that was free of unexpected interruptions. And whilst a manual warehouse may look very organised, there are many small deviations that are easy for people to deal with; just imagine a larger product overhanging a few centimetres into the next storage location, or a worker leaving their trolley in the aisle for a few minutes to use the restroom.
Changing a warehouse like that is a big step that could easily cause disruptions and risk. Yet a new generation of collaborative robots is emerging. These robots are not only safe to work alongside humans, but also use advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to adapt to changing circumstances.
Now companies can simply deploy one or two collaborative robots within their current operation. Humans can work alongside the robots, eliminating the need for drastic changes to the warehouse or the processes.
Over time, more robots can be added to gradually increase the level of automation.

  1. Small companies don’t want to stay small

Many of the small companies in the field of logistics plan to grow, sometimes very quickly. Most early-stage e-commerce companies have big ambitions, but exactly how fast, or in what direction they will develop is uncertain. This means any automation will need to be flexible so the company can start small, but scale fast when growing.
New technology such as autonomous mobile robots are perfect for this scenario. You can start with only a few. Due to peer-to-peer communication and intelligent software these vehicles are easy to implement, providing payback even in small numbers. Still, when the time comes to expand, this is as easy as buying (or leasing) more vehicles, placing them in your warehouse and powering them up.
The new vehicles will identify themselves to the existing ones and the entire fleet will adapt and optimise itself to make best use of the new robot-colleagues.
Another example of easily designing for growth is the Hasbro distribution centre in Preston operated by Toll. The modular sorter and conveyor are easy to expand as the need for product picking and despatch grow. In the meantime, the operation benefits from reduced costs and can handle more retail fulfilment cartons than you would expect from a traditional style warehouse.

  1. Smart distribution networks will help keep warehouses small

This may seem contradictory to the previous point, and indeed it applies to a different group of companies. E-commerce is pushing the boundaries of delivery times. Same-day delivery is increasingly an expectation and offered by many companies in larger population areas. By default, this requires products to be stored close to consumers in areas where there is often little space to build a warehouse.
To help keep warehouses small and still keep service levels high, Industry 4.0-related science is being used. Predictive shipping is one example, where goods will be shipped from a central warehouse to a smaller urban warehouse even before you order it. This concept relies on big data to understand and accurately predict customer behaviour.
The other method is distributed order fulfilment. A specific product may be available within the customer’s area at any number of locations. These locations could be the seller’s urban warehouses, a third party warehouse, a store, or even awaiting pick-up at the home of a customer who wants to return it. By connecting all these sources in a real-time network, the most efficient source location for the product can be found. Again, big data and artificial intelligence will manage the complexity of this process, while blockchain technology will allow secure transfer of data and money between potentially competing providers.

  1. Small companies are entrepreneurial – but may have limited cash

Investing in automation requires a long-term vision, combined with an entrepreneurial approach. This is even more true when investing in new, ground-breaking technologies. This mindset is often found at small-to-medium size companies or founder-owned companies. Decision processes can be shorter, which can make it easier to realise a vision. This is why small start-ups are often at the forefront of adopting new technology.
Cash may be a challenge, and investing in automation typically requires serious capital investment. But here new technology may also help.
Traditional automated systems have been highly customised and demanding to install, remove or change. Uncertainty about the company’s future, linked to an asset with very little value outside of that company, will lead to expensive financing.
‘Plug & play’, self-learning and high flexibility also implies that it will be just as easy to re-use equipment somewhere else. This re-use capability will reduce financing risk, making it less expensive. It will also support different models such as rental or leasing.
All of these observations show that the real growth in warehouse automation will not only be with traditional, large systems. While those systems will always be there and also become infinitely smarter, they will be fewer in quantity compared to the thousands of small warehouses that have historically been too small to automate.
With Industry 4.0, size will not matter anymore.
Tom Rentschler is head of marketing for Swisslog WDS Americas. For more information visit
[No captions. Don’t have to use the second pic.]

Welcome to the future – from MHD magazine

Michiel Veenman

What will the warehouse of 2030 look like? 12 years may not sound like a long time, but with the pace of change being faster than ever before, companies need to start planning now, in order to keep up with ever-increasing market demands.
As people begin to have more disposable income and higher expectations for fast delivery, existing distribution networks may be stretched beyond their capacity to adapt.
E-commerce is a key driver for logistics and warehousing technology as consumers expect rapid responses to order placement. Technology is being driven to pick smaller quantities at an increasing rate.
It’s crucial for the supply chain, logistics and warehousing industries to examine current trends and see how they can best adapt to the changing needs of the market.
Trends in society
The goods that make their way through supply chains ultimately end up with consumers, and consumers not only drive demand, but set expectations for delivery. That makes it valuable to quickly review the macro changes occurring in society as we consider the warehouse of the future. Major trends include:

  1. Aging population

In the coming years, global demographics will change due to increasing life expectancy, declining fertility rates and rising levels of education. The number of people older than 65 is expected to double in the next 25 years, reaching 13 per cent of the global population. This will impact global productivity, personal savings and the labour force. It will also change consumption and spending behaviour on a global scale, impacting production, logistics, warehousing and retailing.

  1. Expanding middle class

The global middle class is projected to more than double between 2009 and 2030, rising from less than 2 billion to nearly 5 billion people. The middle class will then account for 60 per cent of the world’s population (ESPAS, 2015, p.19). Formerly poor populations, while still lagging behind developed countries, will have more purchasing power and greater access to information and communication technologies, and enjoy greater mobility (ESPAS, 2015, p.20).

  1. Urbanisation

Urban population is expected to pass 6 billion by 2045. In 2015, 54 per cent of the world’s population was living in cities; by 2050, that will reach 66 per cent. It is predicted that by 2030, the world will have 41 mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more. These developments will impact where goods are produced and consumed.

  1. Growth of the sharing economy

Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit are examples of the rapid emergence of the sharing economy. According to PwC, the five key sharing sectors — travel, car-sharing, finance, staffing and music/video streaming — have a potential to generate global revenues of $335 billion by 2025 (PwC, 2015). The concept is already being extended to the construction industry and sharing will eventually come to logistics with its heavy assets and infrastructure.

  1. Globalisation and de-globalisation

Globalisation is the increased movement of goods, capital and workers across national boundaries. Today it is common for companies to develop a product in the United States, manufacture it in China and sell it in Europe or Africa. Some experts also note the value created by the global flow of data and communication, which is often referred to as globalisation 2.0. According to McKinsey, “data flows enable the movement of goods, services, finance, and people. Virtually every type of cross-border transaction now has a digital component.”
While globalisation continues to advance, a counter-movement is also emerging as nationalism and the desire to source products locally, particularly food, grows. This de-globalisation is already impacting the decisions consumers in some markets are making about the products they purchase.

  1. Increased connectivity

The increasing connectedness of people and information is creating greater transparency, better information provision, more critical thinking and more creative and dynamic individuals. It is assumed that pressure for greater accountability and transparency at the different levels of governance — and within industry — will increase.

  1. Changing labour market

With global population growth in developing countries and population aging in developed countries, the demographic landscape is changing at the international level. The projected change in working-age population predicts an explosive workforce growth of nearly 1 billion in the developing countries, mainly driven by high fertility rates. The opposite trend is predicted for the most advanced economies, with a future decline in the working age population (Rand, 2015, p.15). In the short term, this is increasing the value placed on ergonomics and other factors that increase worker satisfaction in developed countries where the labour force is shrinking. In the longer term, China and India may gain importance, whereas Europe may lose traction in global governance and economy (Rand, 2015, p.16).

“It’s crucial for the supply chain, logistics and warehousing industries to examine current trends and see how they can best adapt to the changing needs of the market.”

Trends in logistics
The supply chain is being impacted by a number of trends resulting both from the broader changes in society and advances in technology. These include:

  1. E-commerce

One of the biggest current trends already creating significant disruption in the supply chain is the continued growth in e-commerce. In Europe, the average share of e-commerce in retail was 7 per cent in 2015, 8 per cent in 2016 and projected to reach 8.8 per cent in 2017. Globally, retail e-commerce is expected to increase to 14.6 per cent of total retail, with a market volume of more than $4 trillion (eMarketer, 2016).

E-commerce has continued to experience high growth rates, in part by shrinking the time between order and delivery. Early in its development, consumers often waited a week or more to receive their orders. While this may still be the case in some specialty categories, major e-commerce players now routinely offer two-day delivery on many orders, while next-day and even same-day delivery is increasingly common. This is creating higher expectations among consumers and, as e-commerce expands to new categories such as food, delivery times are continuing to be compressed and e-tailers are exploring multiple options to consistently achieve next day or same day delivery.

  1. Anticipatory logistics

Anticipatory logistics is a process that foresees which logistic services will be needed in the future and in which region. The area where anticipatory logistics has already developed is anticipatory shipping. This allows online retailers to predict orders before they have occurred, based on previous customer behaviour data. This information is then used to ship or move goods closer to the potential customer to enable faster delivery. In the future, we will see anticipatory logistics extend across the value chain.

  1. Customer-centric production/batch size of one

In the future, the customer will increasingly become the centre of production. The result will likely be more localised production, as customers do not want to wait for their individualised product. The trend of 3D printing will drive both the individualisation and the localisation of production. The Adidas Speed Factory in Germany, which allows customers to customise their shoes, is an early example of this trend. (Adidas Group 2015).
The impact on warehousing and logistics are significant: these customised shoes never see a warehouse; they are shipped directly from the factory to the customer, reducing the need for warehouse space. However, the logistics required to support individualised production increase.
Even if we are not yet at a point where ‘batch-size-one’ production is feasible for most products, it seems likely that as this trend develops, companies will move production closer to their customers, and focus on next-shoring and near-shoring.

  1. Omni-channel logistics

Consumers are already using multiple channels for their shopping. They start and end their buying journey at different points and expect lots of information, a certain delivery speed and personalised experiences. This is creating opportunities for retailers to merge the different channels and optimise the whole journey for a customer, rather than optimising each channel separately (DHL Trend Research, 2015).
From the retailers’ perspective, omni-channel logistics can achieve an increase in customer base and loyalty, and also improve profitability. Shoppers using multiple channels for their shopping spend 15-30 per cent more than traditional shoppers.

By 2030, the omni-channel journey of a customer will move further, and the channels might be even more diverse than today. Home delivery is currently the most preferred mode of delivery — nearly 70 per cent of all online shoppers make use of it. Yet around 50 per cent of them have already experimented with buying online and picking up in a store. In a survey by PwC in 2017, 33 per cent of shoppers were open to kerbside pickup, and 28 per cent to pick up at a third-party location. These modes are commonly referred to as ‘click and collect’ and experts assume that these models will grow even more (PwC, 2017). As noted in DHL’s 2015 Trends Report:
“Looking ahead, we expect to see the physical assets of logistics networks being virtualised and managed much more dynamically in line with customer demands. It is also anticipated that there will be more focus.”

  1. Same-day (or faster) delivery

As noted earlier, e-commerce has continued to grow by shaping and meeting consumer expectations for faster delivery. The next frontier is same-day delivery. According to DHL’s 2017 Trend Research: Sharing Economy Logistics report, “41 per cent of US consumers have used programs offering same-day, expedited, or on-demand delivery services.”
Other studies show that 20 to 25 per cent of consumers would pay significantly more to receive items on the same day. These premiums would be up to 3 Euro, 20 RMB and 3 US dollars for the respective regions. Assuming that the customers would have to pay the full costs for this fast delivery, only around 2 per cent of all customers would be willing to pay more than that. McKinsey experts predict that “same-day and instant delivery will likely reach a combined share of 15 per cent of the market by 2020” (McKinsey, 2016, p. 9).

“Industrial IoT networks will soon become an essential component of efficient warehouse management as they provide the connectivity and data on which the smart warehouse will depend.”

Emerging technologies
Emerging technologies will play a significant role in shaping the warehouse of the future and supporting faster delivery. The major technology developments on the horizon include:

  1. Drones

Leading companies like Amazon and DHL are actively exploring the potential of drones and filing patents for the use of drones in logistics. Amazon has patented an idea for an airship that can launch drones over larger cities. At the same time, many people see issues with thousands of drones flying over a city. These include traffic congestion, noise and an obstructed view of the sky. Energy-wise, flying is the most inefficient means of transportation.

In 2030, drones should play a role in the supply chain, although legislation could delay their application. The greatest potential may be in non-urban areas where drones would allow consumers to get the same high-speed, i.e., 2-hour delivery, as is possible in cities.
In addition, larger drones may play a role in connecting cities and even doing long-haul cargo flights. Inside cities, drones could play a role in ultra-high speed or short-distance deliveries. What percentage of parcel deliveries drones will carry in 2030 is still uncertain, but any future distribution plan should be designed to interact with drones.

  1. 3D Printing

3D printing will significantly change the way many products get to market. The most common 3D printing application today is small plastic parts. This is still a slow and, therefore, expensive process, but should become radically cheaper and faster as the technology matures. Plus, more advanced machines that can print complex parts of multiple materials, including metal, will emerge. There are even companies creating machines that will enable 3D printed food. By 2030, it is possible that we will see a three-tier approach to the use of 3D printing:

  1. Some consumers will have cheap, easy-to-use 3D printers that allow them to print small plastic parts based on licensed 3D models they buy online. This would apply to things like replacement parts for home appliances, a plastic case for a mobile phone or toys for children.
  2. For less tech-savvy consumers, or larger, more complicated parts, there will be ‘print shops’ in cities. Consumers could either send their digital designs to be printed or order a product online and never know it was printed on-demand for them. Ideally these print shops would be integrated into urban distribution centres.
  3. Complex industrial applications, which use multiple materials including metal, would be supported by sophisticated 3D printers within manufacturing or service centres.

3. Autonomous vehicles
Autonomous guided vehicles (AGV) have been used in warehouses for 30 years. In the next 10 years, the use of AGVs in warehouses will grow exponentially.
There are several drivers behind this trend. First, there is an increasing demand for flexibility in warehousing. Changes in processes, product ranges or distribution channels are all impacting warehouse requirements. Traditional, bolted-down automated conveyor systems are not able to adapt to these changes. AGV provide the required flexibility.
The other driver is the simultaneous decrease in cost and increase in performance of AGV as the core components increasingly support consumer products, such as robotic vacuum cleaners and automated lawnmowers. The economies of scale are much greater for consumer products than for warehouse technology and could drive down the costs of the underlying technologies, such as sensors and navigation systems, used by AGV. A similar impact could result from the technologies used to support self-driving automobiles.
Where early AGV still relied on fixed infrastructures, such as reflectors, floor markings or tags, the technology is available today to allow AGV to navigate with the help of on-board radar and camera systems. Intelligent software and self-learning capabilities interpret the images and instruct the vehicle where to go. This makes the systems plug-and-play and, therefore, easy to deploy and more flexible.
Replacing a large conveying system with flexible AGV could require hundreds or thousands of small AGV operating together. This would have been impossible in the past, but today, and certainly in 2030, the combination of peer-to-peer communication, faster wireless networks and cloud-based processing power enable coordinated operation. As the technology progresses, advances in sensors and electronics will allow AGV to move faster, even when interacting with people.

  1. Mobile robotics

In this context, a mobile robot is an AGV with a robot on top. This allows the robot to drive through the warehouse to where products are stored and retrieve them. For this to work effectively, these robots need robust navigation, vision systems and multi-functional grippers. A level of artificial intelligence is also required to deal with the near-infinite variety of products, shelf configurations and product placement. All of these supporting technologies are advancing rapidly.

  1. IoT connectivity

As more sensors are installed in machines and processes, the opportunity exists to connect groups of machines or entire facilities into IoT networks that provide visibility into product movement and enable capabilities such as predictive maintenance. Industrial IoT networks will soon become an essential component of efficient warehouse management as they provide the connectivity and data on which the smart warehouse will depend.

  1. Big data

Big data programs are already shaping everything from marketing to forecasting. They will also drive key advances in logistics, such as the predictive shipping model discussed earlier and will enable machine learning as the integration of real-time and historical data is what allows machines to continually improve their operation based on past actions.
This article is the first in a two-part series. The next article – to feature in the next edition of MHD magazine – will examine the impacts these trends and technologies have on distribution; what the distribution centre of 2030 will look like; scale, flexibility and the need for automation; and pose a key question of ownership: who will own and operate the distribution centres of the future?
Michiel Veenman is the head of the competence centre, warehouse and distribution solutions at Swisslog. Michiel is responsible for the development of some of Swisslog’s next-generation solutions. Michiel has over 20 years of experience in intralogistics with roles varying from consulting, design and project management to market strategy and innovation. For more information visit

In control – from MHD magazine

Sean Ryan

System availability makes or breaks the productivity of an automated warehouse. Downtime caused by unscheduled system shutdowns not only lowers efficiency, it can result in delivery delays and an explosive rise in costs, which, in turn, effect customer satisfaction.
Automation and robotics, connectivity and increased use of data are all driving changes in intralogistics and are paving the way for Industry 4.0. Software is at the heart of that evolution. To stay ahead of the competition, it is critical to find a WMS that offers the full-spectrum of systems and controls, yet is modular and has the ability to integrate with your current IT infrastructure and logistics software landscape. Software with basic warehouse management functionality, warehouse execution, warehouse controls, manufacturing execution systems, material flow, and automation control systems provides a full-spectrum of software ability within the fours walls of the warehouse. Furthermore, a proven interface that has the ability to connect to any ERP and/or multi-site WMS system will allow for a seamless integration of automated warehouse processes.
A new approach to warehouse management software was needed that delivers all of the functionality, intelligence and services required to optimise warehouse operations in an integrated, modular platform. The software’s ability to adapt to future technology would see users benefit from a future-proof operation, where additional functionality can be securely added, helping businesses capitalise on the opportunities emerging as Industry 4.0 evolves.
Stay ahead of the competition with a smart WMS system
Many supply chain professionals feel the elements of Industry 4.0 including WMS systems seem theoretical, but in fact software that combines synchronisation and business intelligence across warehouse management, material flow and automation control system functionality, is available today in a single platform.
A modular software platform provides the flexibility to deploy components that are relevant to individual business requirements and KPI, whilst intelligently synchronising automation equipment, robotics, people and processes for peak performance. An Industry 4.0 future-ready software platform enables a business to commence the journey to operate at ideal performance with the agility and insight to make informed and proactive decisions.
Collaboration at the heart of your technology
A crucial supporting platform to any WMS platform is a collaboration component that provides continuity no matter the level of automation your business has installed. When considering software, professionals must seek one that has proven functionality and outstanding quality assurance.
A collaboration platform is the heart of SynQ software that makes seamless integration possible. This platform includes real-time 3-D visualisation to manage and control automation through the Single Point of Control (SPOC) interface. SPOC provides a unique, easy-to-use, user interface for visualising and controlling all warehouse operations and machines. SPOC gives employees in the control centre an intuitive and accurate overview of all warehouse operations, indicate where the failure of individual components would impact the entire flow of goods, and are able to trigger proactive measures when needed. For example, if a bin in the high-bay warehouse shifts or a palletising robot runs too hot, the system issues an alert before an incident arises. Such software must also offer flexible IT, whereby software can be installed on existing infrastructure or anywhere in the cloud.
Software that adopts the advantages of virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools are available and provide important staff support. VR is used to provide a realistic visualisation of your future warehouse, that enables you to train your staff and technicians in their future environment before the warehouse is built or before they commence employment. Augmented reality devices like the HoloLens will allow users to pick without additional hardware whilst at the same time call on remote assistance from higher-skilled technicians or management.
Analytics and business intelligence
A real-time holistic view of a warehouse is a valuable tool for managers. With future-ready software, operational reports can be managed and scheduled to maintain a thorough understanding of warehouse performance for continuous improvement of operations across automation, inventory and operators. Smart software compares the measurements and error events generated by data-collection sensors and stores the data in the cloud against predefined target values, allowing deviations to be diagnosed quickly and with pinpoint accuracy. As a result, you can determine 24/7 whether your system operates flawlessly or whether there is imminent damage due to wear or excessive usage of automation, inaccuracies in inventory and processes that people are completing.

“Business intelligent tools encompass the future of warehouses as they provide the visibility and data required for optimal warehouse operations.”

Software that combines analytics and embedded business intelligence, can improve operations and synchronise the performance of your automated or manual warehouse equipment. Business intelligent tools encompass the future of warehouses as they provide the visibility and data required for optimal warehouse operations.
Such tools include mobile notifications of system operations and the trigger of automated corrective actions to improve material flows. The SynQ cockpit provides a clear and concise overview of warehouse operations with plugins for inventory statistics, labour performance and condition monitoring to provide quick visibility into your operations through smart data aggregations and appropriate visualisation.
Do you have your warehouse under control?
Condition Monitoring is based on the idea of detecting and correcting system component changes caused by wear, excessive use and other potential causes as early as possible – ideally immediately after they arise. This gives users the ability to predict and prevent problems before they occur by viewing the current state of your intralogistics system at any time and ensuring that your equipment works at maximum efficiency for the longest lifespan. The warehouse remote monitoring services predict possible problems, reducing the risk of unscheduled downtime and maximising delivery reliability. This provides the advantage of real time analysis of error and throughput trends to provide faster fault identification and highest availability.
An integral functionality feature is the ability to continually record equipment condition by incorporating the measurement and analysis of physical values, such as distances covered, temperatures, energy consumption of individual elements and disciplines from state-of-the-art sensors into system reports. The collected information can then be used to identify vital elements that are prone to malfunctions and draw conclusions regarding the potential error rates of individual disciplines and entire logistics systems. Condition Monitoring allows control centre employees to view the current system condition at any time, document the development of trends and evaluate failure risks. The goal is to turn the data and data analyses into decisions designed to improve the planning of operations and maintenance processes to prevent system failures caused by malfunctions and maintenance factors, especially those that occur during peak periods and are therefore particularly disruptive.
Businesses can set a pre-defined data series (KPI) and pre-configured pages and charts to simplify the management of KPI. This uses the data collected by the hardware components using state-of-the-art sensors. Whether it is the energy consumption of a conveyor system, the deceleration path of a stacker crane, the number of movements of a shuttle or the temperature generated by the movements of a roller conveyor, continuous and seamless evaluations of the condition of all components and disciplines in a warehouse are achievable.

“Future-proof operations with software that provides convergence of connectivity, big data and advanced robotics to create cyber-physical production systems.”

Through continuous monitoring and real-time data, warehouses can continuously operate at maximum efficiency to ultimately reduce operational costs. Furthermore, early-warning system for malfunctions reduce downtime of critical equipment and allow a business to create calculated risks. Predictive maintenance is the next step towards Industry 4.0.
Smart concept
Condition Monitoring replaces the preventive or reactive maintenance and service strategy of the past. Instead of conducting routine checks at regular intervals and performing scheduled replacement of intact parts with a specific remaining service life, maintenance and spare parts provisioning occur precisely when the data indicates they are necessary. This innovative approach to proactive maintenance and service offers enormous cost-savings potential because the service life of critical elements can be fully utilised.
The core tasks of the condition monitoring include recording, analysing and visualising information to provide ongoing warehouse monitoring, including all tasks, processes and warehouse components. State-of-the-art sensors, data collection methods, and optimisation algorithms based on big data analytics are the cornerstones of Industry 4.0 that supports systems throughout their entire lifecycle.
Business intelligence tools, such as Swisslog’s cockpit manager, availability manager, event manager and, at the core, 3D real-time system visualisation interface (SPOC), record the data generated by the system. Information about the condition of the system can not only be displayed as classic charts, but also directly on the system visualisation screen as, for example, heat maps which highlight all critical elements. A number of other apps can be added to the chain of software modules. For example, the Report Manager can be used to generate a PDF report when a specific problem is detected. This report, in turn, is then e-mailed to the warehouse managers by the Event Manager. The result is effective reporting about all the errors that occur and the corrective measures that are initiated in response.
The power of software
In today’s competitive world, more than ever before companies must be able to deliver with increasing frequency the right orders to the right customers at the right time. Intelligent software has the ability to manage peak demands and provide holistic automation to ensure optimisation is achieved at the appropriate level to enable material handling equipment and people to perform at their maximum level. Furthermore, a powerful software can transform insight into intelligence. This is achieved through tools that give businesses quick and accurate visibility of operations through standardised data aggregations and appropriate visualisation, all without the need for IT experts or custom programming. This transformation of data becomes actionable intelligence to help with analysis and optimisation of warehouse performance.
The future of the warehouse
Future-proof operations with software that provides convergence of connectivity, big data and advanced robotics to create cyber-physical production systems that will be the hallmark of Industry 4.0. With its modular architecture and intelligent, automation-centric design, SynQ helps users adapt to these changes and capitalise on the opportunities that are emerging as Industry 4.0 evolves.
Building on condition monitoring and predictive maintenance service will be the next building block of Industry 4.0. Predictive maintenance will be made possible by networking all automation sensors, integrating external data into the complete system and detecting correlations and behaviour patterns. Sending information not only about where a problem will occur but also about when and how it can be fixed proactively.
Sean Ryan is the head of sales and consulting at Swisslog Australia. For more information call +61 447 771 933, email or visit Swisslog is a member of the KUKA Group,

CCA to install fully automated ACPaQ mixed pallet technology

Coca-Cola Amatil will install Swisslog’s ACPaQ fully automated palletising technology as part of a major expansion of its Auckland distribution centre.
The robot-based order picking system was selected by food and beverage giant Coca-Cola Amatil as part of the automation and major expansion of its Auckland distribution centre.
The ACPaQ technology to be installed in Auckland this year is an evolution of Swisslog’s advanced automation technology, which combines robotics for palletising and de-palletising with Swisslog’s CycloneCarrier shuttle technology to create a fully automated process that facilitates high throughput and reliable picking of orders for logistics, distribution, food and beverage and retail applications.
General manager – supply chain for Coca-Cola Amatil NZ John Truscott said the new system will enable the business to keep pace with increased demand along with rising expectations on the quality of customer deliveries.
“The whole picking system will be fully integrated using Swisslog SynQ software, which also controls automated delayering of single product pallets into individual cases,” he said.
CCA has been using a fully automated pallet storage system in both Auckland and Northmead since 2007, and the expansion into robotic picking allows the company to meet rising customer demand while reducing costs and improving quality, efficiency and predictability in its operations.
The heart of the new system will be three Swisslog RowPaQ robot cells, which can each handle up to four cases simultaneously and stack up to 1,000 cases per hour into multi-product pallet loads ready for customer delivery.
The new installation will also includes Swisslog’s multilevel shuttle storage system, CycloneCarrier, which quickly delivers sequenced cases to the robots, all linked with pallet and case conveyors.
The ACPaQ system will be installed this year and replaces a manual, voice directed picking system but will link with the existing automated pallet store to create a seamless operation.
View a video of the mixed case palletising system here.

From MHD: Cut the risk

Sean Ryan

With technology rapidly advancing and evolving, now is the time asses the available options in intralogistics management solutions that use Industry 4.0 technology, are modular, and mitigate long term business risks. Intralogistics is evolving from large, rigid systems into modular, flexible, and software-driven solutions – robot-supported and self-optimising.
CarryPick: a flexible solution for e-commerce businesses
When it comes to deploying automation technologies, although intriguing to many supply chain professionals, many do nothing, but end up spending more and ultimately lag behind in investing in state-of-the-art technology. The warehouse and picking system CarryPick was developed to boost employee productivity, provide scalability and drive substantial cost reductions. Even though highly automated, this goods-to-person system delivers the desired flexibility and adapts quickly and cost-efficiently to future business growth, thus being a completely scalable and forward-looking system.

Unlike traditional warehouses with fixed racks, the modular CarryPick goods-to-person system completely organises the picking warehouse using mobile racks. Low-profile robot vehicles drive underneath the mobile racks and deliver them to workstations, where the requested items are picked and placed in the shipping boxes provided.
Floor space savings of 30 per cent or higher
To maximise the picking rate per mobile rack, each picker is able to process a larger number of orders in parallel, assisted by lasers that illuminate the appropriate picking compartment on the mobile rack. The workstations themselves are equipped with put-to-light technology – small lights let the picking employees know to which order a picked item belongs. Compared to traditional systems, the productivity of the employees at the workstation is considerably higher. At the same time, picking errors are virtually non-existent and floor space savings of 30 per cent and higher are made possible.
Low initial investment – maximum flexibility
The main benefit of the CarryPick system lies in its flexibility. If the product range changes, the rack structure can be modified accordingly. If the quantities to be processed change, the system can be flexibly extended. The initial equipment needed includes a basic number of mobile racks, at least one workstation, and a small number of ‘Carrier’ automated guided vehicles (AGV). As shipping volumes increase or the product range grows, the CarryPick system can be extended with additional components such as racks, carriers or workstations. There is no need to make major up-front investments in systems whose full performance capacity will not yet be needed.
CarryPick is easily integrated into legacy structures that normally would not have the space to support automation. The compact storage system, consisting of a workstation and mobile racks, can be installed in buildings with a ceiling height under three meters.
CarryPick is a part of the Swisslog Click&Pick portfolio for businesses. Click&Pick is a modular concept that can be flexibly adapted to changing customer needs and business models. Depending on the solution concept, companies can fulfil orders up to five times faster than with manual rack systems.
CarryPick supports sustainability
At Swisslog, sustainability is a top priority. CarryPick saves energy. Workplace regulations mandate that only the relatively small workstation areas be provided with heat and light. Any unmanned warehouse areas housing the mobile racks therefore do not need heat, lighting, or ventilation.
Furthermore, CarryPick is a model of ergonomic workplace design. Employees in the warehouse concentrate mainly on their core abilities: see, touch, and pick. Pushing heavy picking carts over long distances becomes a thing of the past, leading to a significant reduction of illness-related absences, perhaps even extending employees’ working life. CarryPick provides a forward-looking option that improves warehouse performance is appreciably increased, and all at minimal expense that is repaid in the timeliest fashion possible.
PowerStore: increase capacity and maximise resource savings
The pallet shuttle system PowerStore provides reliable cost benefits and maximises resource savings. This innovative warehouse equipment boosts capacity, is suitable for high-density environments and can be used in deep-freeze environments. This technology allows businesses to be at the forefront of Industry 4.0 initiatives.

The modularity of the PowerStore pallet shuttle system enables storage of up to 60% more pallets compared to manual systems. It can also be individually tailored for all shapes and sizes of warehouse buildings. The PowerStore pallet storage systems can be used in a wide range of environments, from -30°C in frozen food storage to 50°C. It can be used in buildings with unusual shapes. The modular design of the PowerStore system opens completely new possibilities for automation in existing warehouses. The system is also suitable for manufacturing businesses, especially those in the fast-moving consumer goods and food and beverage industries.
Unique and modular
PowerStore is backed by over 40 years of global experience in optimising systems with high throughput and reliability. PowerStore’s control software is fully integrated in Swisslog’s SynQ suite of warehouse management software and is designed to work seamlessly with customers’ WMS and host systems. Furthermore, low-height carriers save storage space while still enabling industry-leading lift heights. This allows for normal pallet deflections and minimises the need for troubleshooting within the rack.
The PowerStore is a compact pallet shuttle system that is used in conjunction with vertical conveyors to utilise virtually every square metre of available space. The compact system supports storage depths of up to 20x and beyond per channel within a rack design. This rack design can have ten or more levels and adapts to virtually any building topography, accommodating existing support walls as well as multi-level and barrel roofs.
At Pepsi Bottling Ventures (PBV), for example, PowerStore increased storage capacity by as much as 60%.
Row and aisle carriers are used for pallet storage and retrieval. Vertical conveyors allow these carriers to be used on any rack level. At PBV, PowerStore’s high dynamics support 580 pallet operations (storage and retrieval) per hour. At the same time, customers benefit from state-of-the-art software control and energy-saving operations, thanks to advanced mechanical and electrical components from a manufacturing process that meets ISO 14001 and emphasises environmentally friendly product design.
PowerStore is integrated into an advanced software landscape and can be connected to Swisslog’s SynQ software platform, or used in conjunction with virtually any other modern warehouse management system. PowerStore displays great flexibility when used across industries and can be deployed in deep-freeze environments with temperatures as low as -30°C.
A fully automated way for creating mixed pallets
ACPaQ will automate one of the most important areas of intralogistics operations: creating customised mixed pallets for individual stores from single-SKU pallets. ACPaQ is universally applicable for fully automated order picking of mixed case pallets.

Store-friendly pallets are automatically built in distribution centres using the combination of proven technology, such as the CycloneCarrier light goods shuttle system, conveyor systems and high performance de-palletising and palletising robots. It is configured using modules and scalable for small, mid-size and large distribution centres handling up to 500,000 cases per day. This innovative palletising system has a highly modular design and enables a fully automated process controlled by the SynQ warehouse management software which, compared to traditional methods, doubles or even triples the speed of picking cartons in distribution centres based on store layout, item groups or item classes.
The palletising software allows you to customise the palletising order to increase efficiency during in-store replenishment. ACPaQ can be used in ambient temperature and chilled warehouse zones, and can handle almost all types of cartons, shrink wrapper or foiled packages, and pallet types used in retail & beverage industries.
At the core of ACPaQ is the RowPaQ cell featuring a state-of-the-art 5-axis jointed-arm KUKA robot. It is equipped with a flexible gripper with adjustable forks that allows it to pick up as many as four cartons at a time, even if they don’t have the same dimensions or weight. A RowPaQ cell is capable of setting down up to 1,000 cartons per hour in the exact location predefined by the palletising software. It is completely scalable and additional RowPaQ cells can be added to the system to increase throughput as required.
Networking new and proven technologies
Robot-based palletising builds on an intelligently organised process. Before cartons can be palletised in sequence, they are first separated, loaded into trays and stored temporarily in the highly dynamic CycloneCarrier shuttle system. Even before the warehouse management system issues the palletising order, Swisslog’s software autonomously performs a complex calculation process based on product parameters to determine the best way to load the pallet. The cartons are then transported in the exact sequence from storage to the RowPaQ cell. After palletising is complete, it is shrink-wrapped and transported via conveyor directly to the right shipping station.
Sean Ryan is the head of sales and consulting at Swisslog Australia. For more information call +61 447 771 933, email or visit Swisslog is a member of the KUKA Group,

What's in the press this week?

Now is the time to start applying Industry 4.0 concepts to the pressures and constraints of operations. For the last several years, Industry 4.0 — a concept that spans a mix of technologies that constitute a fourth industrial revolution — has intrigued many supply chain professionals because of its potential to address the challenges of running operations more efficiently.
Industry 4.0 is about using technology to make supply chain operations more responsive and efficient. The first big shifts in manufacturing were around once revolutionary approaches, like assembly lines and the first wave of computerisation. Now Industry 4.0 posits that by having digital, near real-time knowledge over resources, constraints and workflows, and by applying data-driven insights to systems on the floor, you can run operations much more efficiently whilst adapting to consumer demand. Industry 4.0 spans multiple technologies, but at a high level, it means that via digitalisation we can respond to customers in an accurate, cost-efficient way.
While these ideas are compelling, the next step is to figure out how to apply them to environments such as factories, supply chains, distribution centres (DC), and the ‘intralogistics’ processes within the four walls that are so vital to order fulfillment. In short, how do we take Industry 4.0 building blocks such as robotics, Big Data, sensors, and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, and turn them into smarter, data-driven operations?
Flexible, smart response
In Swisslog’s approach to Industry 4.0, software plays a key role in achieving data-driven operations that can instantly adapt to changing customer requirements, while taking out costs and being far more flexible than previous generations of automation, explains Francis Meier, managing director for Swisslog ANZ.
“The need to respond very quickly to order fulfillment requirements and rapidly changing consumer demand is driving up labour costs at many facilities, which increases the need to automate,” said Mr Meier. “However, the challenge is that automation needs to be flexible to accommodate today’s pattern of smaller, more frequent orders and sudden shifts in demand. This means that automation needs to be data-driven, and in synch with all resources and existing systems.”
The resources in warehouses and plants include human labour. The idea of a completely automated facility that doesn’t need workers — a so-called ‘lights out” approach in which everything is automated — has been around for decades, but has proven elusive, in part because past generations of robotics weren’t very flexible. However, now companies can deploy a new generation of robotics that are smart, meaning they know the status of other systems, and can work safely alongside humans.
While human-like robots that can think and talk tend to capture our collective vision of ‘advanced’ robotics, in industry the real advance is the availability of collaborative and mobile robots. They might not look like a Star Wars’ ‘droid’, but they can sense and learn from their environments, make decisions, and be either mobile or easy to configure in a modular fashion.
This new breed if intralogistics robots make use of vision-based navigation, sensors, and machine learning to allow them to do things like work safely alongside humans and move through warehouses in efficient, safe patterns. They are also synchronised via software with demand requirements coming down from enterprise-level systems, and with other automated systems within the four walls.
Swisslog’s solution set exemplifies this new breed of robotics that can collaborate with humans and synchronises with both enterprise- and control-level processes. The warehouse software layer is important, because it coordinates real time automation processes with enterprise management systems, including traditional warehouse management system (WMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that companies typically used to manage orders and other transactions.

For example, Swisslog’s advanced warehouse software, called SynQ, spans automation control, material flow control and warehouse management functions to handle the coordination role. Additionally, robotics from Swisslog’s parent company KUKA, as part of its AutoPiQ solution, are smaller, collaborative robotics or ‘co-bots’ that can work safely alongside humans. To accomplish this, co-bots use sensors to instantly stop movement if something enters its path. The result is that companies can leverage picking robots alongside workers for intralogistics processes, using warehouse software such as SynQ to intelligently coordinate the automation with available resources and incoming order details.

The robots of the past, while perhaps good at handling the same part or executing the same assembly process repeatedly, aren’t suited to today’s requirements that typically involve a complex, high velocity order mix, explained Mr Meier. “To achieve the speed, accuracy and throughput needed today, more facilities need to automate, but the automation they put in must be flexible and smart in the way it uses software to coordinate with the demand side, and other systems, within the four walls,” said Meier.
Other types of automation, such as goods-to-person robots (carts that tow goods to an ergonomic, light-assisted picking stations) or modular robotic systems that build mixed pallets, are part of the shift to flexible automation made possible via Industry 4.0 technologies, according to Sean Ryan, head of sales Swisslog ANZ.
“There is more than one type of robot that exemplifies how Industry 4.0 can improve intralogistics,” said Mr Ryan. “What these robotics have in common is that they are smart in terms of being able to handle different goods and tasks, and they are synchronised via software with the demand stream and with other automation. They are also more modular and easier to scale to an operation’s needs than solutions of the past. As a result, you can gain new capabilities like collaborative robotic picking, or automated building of mixed pallets, at a price/performance level that is much more attractive than what could be achieved in the past.”
Modularity achieves goals
Building mixed pallets quickly and accurately is a common challenge in DCs. It can be done with human labour and lift equipment, but that grows costs for higher volume operations. Robotic arms can build mixed/layered pallets, but in the past, this tended to carry a high price tag, especially if paired with fixed conveyor system and/or large shuttle systems to buffer and move goods to the palletising arm.
Today, newer, more modular approaches are possible. Under Swisslog’s ACPaQ, robotic systems for de-palletising and palletising can be paired with CycloneCarrier shuttle technology to enable a fully automated process controlled by the SynQ software. The shuttle system is modular, meaning it is available in different dimensions and can be expanded to add capacity.
The core of the system is a palletising robot from KUKA called RowPaQ that has a unique 4-finger gripper that gives it the versatility to gently handle a wide range of products.  A RowPaQ cell is capable of setting down up to 1,000 cartons per hour in the exact location predefined by the palletising software. To scale up, additional RowPaQ cells can be added.
Robot-based palletising builds on an intelligently organized process. Before cartons can be palletised in sequence, they are first separated, loaded into trays and stored temporarily in the shuttle system. Even before a WMS issues the palletising order, Swisslog’s software autonomously performs a complex calculation process based on product parameters to determine the best way to load the pallet. Based on this intelligence, the cartons are transported in the exact sequence from storage to the palletising cell. After palletising is complete, it is shrink-wrapped and transported via conveyor to the right shipping station.
According to Mr Meier, this mixed palletising cell is another example of how flexible automation can improve intralogistics, while having a system that can be expanded upon as requirements grow. “ACPaQ significantly outperforms manual palletising processes not only in terms of packing density and dimensional stability, but also in terms of cost effectiveness and ergonomics,” Mr Meier said. “Importantly, unlike previous generations of automation, the robotic technology itself and software that coordinates the process makes for a versatile, scalable solution that can handle diverse products.”
A step change for intralogistics
Industry analysts predict the new robotics will catch on. IDC Manufacturing Insights forecasts that by 2018, 30% of all new robotic deployments will be collaborative robots and 45% of the top 200 global ecommerce and omnichannel commerce companies will deploy robotics in their order fulfillment, warehousing, or delivery operations.

Other technology elements that fit with the Industry 4.0 concept are Big Data and digital representation of physical processes, also known as the concept of a ‘digital shadow’ of an operation. The benefit of this latter technology is that by digitalising the resources, constraints and workflows in a warehouse, assembly line or a supply chain, a company can more easily adjust its processes to reduce costs and meet demand.
“Analysis of Big Data and access to an accurate digital representation of your operations turn Big Data into Smart Data,” summed up Mr Meier. “Automation needs to be scalable and versatile, but ultimately, you need intelligent software at the warehouse level that lets you synchronise resources with demand, to get the right goods to market on time, and reduce costs to stay competitive.”
The key with Industry 4.0 and related technologies such as Big Data is to examine how they can support intelligent decisions for specific operational goals, according to Dr Kerstin Höfle, IP and strategy manager for Swisslog Warehouse & Distribution Solutions (WDS).
“We already have huge amounts of data from operations,” Mr Höfle said. “The idea isn’t necessarily to get more data, but rather to connect to and integrate the data we already have, analyse it, and use it to make better decisions. In the end, the idea is to make Big Data smart.” Common areas to improve via analysis include throughput of orders, optimisation of labour and material flow, inventory replenishment levels, as well as predictive maintenance.
“The future for intralogistics isn’t from a single technology like robotics, or sensors, or even Big Data, but rather how these elements can be tied together with software to drive operational improvements like fulfilling orders with lower labour costs,” Mr Meier concluded.
“In this continuously changing world, we believe Industry 4.0 can bring revolutionary improvements to intralogistics,” he said. “Flexible robotics and data-driven solutions are the direction we see, with the end goals being cost-competitiveness for operations and a higher level of responsiveness and product availability for end customers.”
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