Microlistics changing WMS post COVID

Supply chains were turned on their head last year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes to warehouse management systems have been pressing issues in the supply chain and logistics industry.

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Welcome to the Third Pillar

Ferag Australia is branching to its third pillar of success, offering intelligent intralogistics solutions alongside its global partners. MHD speaks with Philip Batty, Managing Director of the company’s Australian arm to discover more.

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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.”
For more information call (02) 9869 5900 or email wds.au@swisslog.com.

Logistics Hall of Fame honours Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of e-commerce company Amazon, has been inducted into the Logistics Hall of Fame.
The Logistics Hall of Fame honours figures that have made significant efforts to promote the further development of logistics and supply chain management.
Bezos joins key logisticians including Gottlieb Daimler, credited with investing the truck and pioneering modern freight transport; Henry Ford and Ransom Eli Olds, inventors of assembly-line production; and James E. Casey, Founder of United Parcel Service (UPS), among others.
Bezos has been honoured as a “revolutioniser of e-commerce and logistics,” the Logistics Hall of Fame team wrote in a blog post, adding that he can claim to have revolutionised logistics in the mail order sector.
According to the jury responsible for selecting deserving individuals, Bezos was the first to realise that software and logistics are crucial in the shift from purchasing-driven trading to demand-driven online trading.
“Thanks to a combination of software, efficient delivery, automation and long-term strategy, the computer scientist transformed transport logistics and intralogistics from the ground up, making Amazon a benchmark for the sector as a whole,” the blog post said. “Almost any technological development is nowadays influenced by e-commerce and many innovations are geared exclusively towards e-commerce. Bezos also impressively demonstrated that innovative logistics make an important contribution to corporate success.”
Anita Würmser, Executive Jury Chairperson of the Logistics Hall of Fame, said: “Jeff Bezos has rewritten the history of logistics. His name is synonymous with successful e-commerce and a generation of entrepreneurs whose business models are based on algorithms and innovative logistics solutions. Had it not been for him, not much would have moved in logistics.”
Bezos will be officially inducted in a ceremony at the annual Logistics Hall of Fame Gala in the Erich Klausener Hall of the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure in Berlin on 9 November.

Google Glass reborn for industry

‘Google Glass’, a small, lightweight wearable computer with a transparent display bringing information into the wearer’s line of sight released in 2013–2014, faded from public view quite rapidly after privacy concerns were raised.
The team behind the product went away and realised that they had been pitching Google Glass to the wrong people – Joe Public may have had little need for the gadget, but the logistics and manufacturing industries, and many others, have a real use for such wearables.
It’s now back, with a new name, ‘Glass Enterprise Edition’, and a list of industry partners that have helped in its two-year redevelopment phase.
Product Lead, Jay Kothari, shared in a blog post that one of the first companies to benefit from the application of the technology in an industrial setting was an aeroplane assembly plant.
“Back in 2014, my team was at GE Aviation in Cincinnati, Ohio, watching how mechanics assemble and repair airplane engines,” he said. “Airplane maintenance is a complex and specialised task, and any errors can lead to expensive delays or having to conduct the entire maintenance process all over again. The mechanics moved carefully, putting down tools and climbing up and down ladders to consult paper instructions in between steps.
“GE’s mechanics now use Glass running software from our partner Upskill, which shows them instructions with videos, animations and images right in their line of sight so they don’t have to stop work to check their binders or computer to know what to do next…They estimate that they have not only reduced errors at key points in the assembly and overhaul of engines, but that they have improved their mechanics’ efficiency by between 8–12 per cent.”
Now, more than 50 businesses use Glass, including agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO, global logistics provider DHL, aeroplane producer The Boeing Company and automotive company Volkswagen.
In a work setting, the computer can be clipped onto glasses or industry frames such as safety goggles, so the wearer does not need to have to switch focus between what he or she is doing with their hands and the content they need to see to do their job.
“Workers in many fields, like manufacturing, logistics, field services, and healthcare find it useful to consult a wearable device for information and other resources while their hands are busy,” said Kothari. “That’s why we’ve spent the last two years working closely with a network of more than 30 expert partners to build customized software and business solutions for Glass for people in these fields. We’ve also made improvements to the design and hardware so that it’s lightweight and comfortable for long-term wear. We’ve increased the power and battery life too.”
DHL has used the product to support its ‘order picking’ supply chain process, where orders are fulfilled by scanning items from racks before moving them into totes or bins on carts to be shipped. Using Glass with Ubimax, the company’s employees now receive real-time instructions about where items have to be placed on the carts with the help of visual aids, a process change that DHL estimates has increased supply chain efficiency by 15 per cent.
Picavi, a company providing pick-by-vision solutions, is specifically aimed at the intralogistics industry and has been partnered with Glass since the beginning.
“Glass Enterprise Edition has long since proven its suitability for the logistics sector,” said Dirk Franke, CEO, Picavi. “It has gone a long way toward establishing pick-by-vision as one of the leading order-picking technologies.”

The Klosterfrau team. Image source: Picavi, supplied.
The Klosterfrau team.
Image source: Picavi, supplied.

Pharmaceuticals company Klosterfrau Berlin has been using the Glass along with Picavi over the trial period.
“We have achieved time savings of up to 30 per cent, while increasing safety levels,” said Andreas Paul, Logistics Manager, Klosterfrau.
Glass Enterprise Edition is not the only pick-by-vision device on the market today, it will be interesting to watch and see how it establishes itself inn an already developing market.

Using a modular system to provide customised intralogistics solutions:

In the field of intralogistics, the trend towards automation is continuing at full pace. In order to increase their competitiveness, companies want their plants and systems to work more efficiently and safely.

At the same time, workplaces are required to be designed more ergonomically. Additionally, the emergence of Industry 4.0 integrates all of the involved people, systems, machines and products into one dynamic network.

This allows customers to better organise and manage their logistics value chain. BEUMER Group leverages a modular standardisation concept to offer customised solutions for individual tasks.

"Intralogistics is experiencing a transformation due to demographic changes and also because of increased process complexity. Automation technology in particular is constantly pushed forward," recognises Franz-Joseph Kleigrewe, Head of Automation at BEUMER Group. This way manual process can be optimised and effective synergies formed between man and machine. 

"Automation technology is the key to technical development and progress," Kleigrewe is convinced.

There are three equally important factors involved in the development process of automated systems: Customer orientation, innovation and standardisation. If the focus is customer-oriented, the result are typically tailor-made solutions that can rarely be used for other projects.

Focusing on innovation offers both opportunities and risks: innovation creates competitive advantages, but also poses the risk of increasing costs and postponing deadlines.

One thing is clear: without innovative projects, there is no progress. Forward progress is why these projects need to be done regularly, while being aware of the potential risks.

The procedure for standardised solutions is very different. They have been tried and tested. The customer receives an inexpensive and functionally reliable system, which can go live in a short period of time.

This can be a challenge. The customers' requirements can be very specific. Each industry is different: from non-metallic mineral processing to chemical and mining industries, from CEP services to airports.

National regulations and factory standards differ as well. At BEUMER Group, customised machines and systems are therefore created from the modular system: the mechatronics modules for mechanics, electrics and software are adapted to the customer's requirements.

"Operators no longer wish to run just one machine, they want a process: a combination of several coordinated systems," Kleigrewe recognises as the market need. This includes filling, packaging and palletising solutions: BEUMER Group offers the BEUMER fillpac, a filling machine particularly for the building materials industry. Users can flexibly integrate and adapt it to existing packaging lines. Depending on project requirements, BEUMER Group offers varying designs. "We can provide this filling system with special weighing electronics, for example, coming from the modular system," Kleigrewe explains.

It ensures the weight accuracy of the bags. Depending on the application, BEUMER Group provides the system as a rotary or inline filling machine, with bag discharge line, bag placer, different number of filling spouts or devices for material feed and spillage transport. As a systems supplier, the company offers the BEUMER paletpac and BEUMER robotpac construction series, two different palletising solutions that guarantee efficient stacking of filled bags.

They can be provided with functionalities such as bag and empty pallet transport systems, from the modular system. Depending on the product characteristics, the BEUMER paletpac is equipped with either bar-type, clamp-type or twin-belt turning devices. They turn the bags rapidly and gently to the required position.

The high-capacity packaging system, BEUMER stretch hood, is BEUMER Group's efficient solution to package the pallet stacks quickly and safely. The system provider offers them in different designs, with a varying set of sophisticated features.

Sortation and distribution – customised

Whether mail or parcel service providers, airports or food industries – the requirements of sortation and distribution technologies vary widely. Especially for mail and parcel service providers, the material handling technology in distribution centres becomes increasingly complex.

Sortation and distribution systems must be able to handle increasingly complex tasks and often adapt to different local conditions. Highly efficient processes are necessary to ensure quick delivery of packages to the customer.

Some of the reasons are the changing consumer habits and trends, such as the growth of e-commerce. BEUMER Group offers different solutions including cross belts, Tilt Tray and E-Tray sorters.

Depending on the application, these systems can be provided with modules and functionalities from the module unit, such as scanners, feeding posts, different induction units and discharge systems, balances or DWS systems.

Software from the modular unit

BEUMER Group has developed the modular BG software suite, offering users optimum and continuous control of their material flows. It can be customised to the user's requirements. Products from other companies can easily be integrated.

Its name, BG, stands for BEUMER Group and the software suite is a superior data processing system. Users can extend this modular solution at any time and optimise their material flows.

Process data or reports are displayed on the BG Fusion user interface that works for all programs. Users can access all available data, without having to switch between the applications. They can also use the BG software suite on mobile devices, such as tablets.

The BEUMER Group Warehouse Control System (BG WCS) module allows you to connect the BG software suite to the warehouse management system or the ERP system of the customer via a network connection.

This way, BEUMER Group ensures the communication between the different control levels for the user. As a single-source provider, BEUMER Group can create an intelligent connection between the individual systems, and integrate them into existing process and inventory control systems.

The customer receives everything from one single source. The risk for error sources that could result from interfaces is avoided. Technicians carry out the electrical installations, as well as the integration of the machine and system controls. "We also offer support during commissioning," says Kleigrewe.

Customer-focused engineering

"The equipment and systems for our customers fulfil the required functions," says Kleigrewe. "But we also observe our customer's standards."

One of the customers is an international manufacturer of petrochemical products. As a single-source provider of filling, palletising and packaging systems, BEUMER Group provided them with a complete packaging line.

This includes a form fill seal system (FFS system), the BEUMER paletpac palletising system, and the BEUMER stretch hood high-capacity packaging system.

It also includes conveying technology for the pallets, SCADA, a warehouse control and a warehouse management system, a guiding system for the fork-lift driver and a yard management system. "We are in constant dialogue with the user to work out the requirements and match them with our modular system," describes Kleigrewe. "The result is a customised solution."

Industry 4.0 – high expectations

"The increase in networking and automation brings us on our way towards Industry 4.0," says Kleigrewe. It creates highly interlinked system structures with a high number of involved people, IT systems, automation components and machines. The users can significantly improve the organisation and control of their logistics value chain. The system, machine and product controls must be horizontally and vertically integrated into dynamic communications networks. This creates digital engineering consistency through the entire logistics value chain – in other words: it is about the intelligent networking in the supply chain.

"Making this possible in Industry 4.0 requires the development of powerful, linked sensors and actuators. This networking, however, leads to enormous amounts of data and metadata along the logistics value chain," explains Kleigrewe.

Another factor is globalisation: data management is now spread out over different locations, countries, even continents. Horizontal and vertical interfaces can quickly become cost drivers in factory automation. "Cloud computing offers an efficient technological base for holding data," says the automation specialist. This service can replace or expand existing structures. Cloud computing also allows you to process significantly larger data volumes compared to traditional server solutions. In addition, real-time data can be synchronised with historical data. Uniform interfaces of the cloud services are currently in development.

The software interface standard OPC (Unified Architecture) is useful for making data available between all systems of a company.

"It meets the most important requirement for data communication in Industry 4.0'" explains Kleigrewe. "This standard allows you to establish the communication between devices, controllers and applications, regardless of the individual driver. OPC UA can be directly embedded into devices, sensors and controllers. Data from different, non-compatible and open standards from different areas can also be transferred.

What will the future look like? Kleigrewe has a clear idea: "The processes in distribution centres will run fully automatically, from order to delivery, around the clock, seven days a week. This changes the requirements completely, and we are already experiencing this change."

CeMat 2015 exhibition opens in Sydney

Australians will have the opportunity to learn about the latest global industry trends at the inaugural CeMat exhibition in Sydney.

CeMat is one of the largest logistics, warehousing and material handling exhibitions in the world, and is held biannually in Hannover, Germany, and also stages in Russia, Asia, India and South America.

Held over three days, the CeMat exhibition will feature national and international industry exhibitors, live product demonstrations and launches, and stand events to provide visitors with a hands-on experience.

Hannover Fairs managing director Harvey Stockbridge said he was very keen for the Australian market to access the latest international industry trends, and that the show will facilitate knowledge sharing and explore new ways to improve efficiency.

“With 15 per cent of Australia’s GDP coming from the transport and logistics industry, it’s a critical component of our economy,” he said.

“No other industry offers companies such huge scope for rationalisation and savings as the materials handling and logistics sector.”

Stockbridge said CeMAT AUSTRALIA would represent a fast-growing sector of over 165,000 businesses, consisting of lifting equipment and crane manufacturers, forklift truck and warehouse technology producers, software developers and even complete system providers.

“Bringing innovations from across the globe, CeMAT will also feature a large number of international visitors from China, Malaysia, India, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Japan.”

The exhibition will also have guest speakers from industry giants to give presentations and workshop various issues such as supply chain management, global and market trends, tender management, and warehouse efficiency.

Entry is free to the CeMat exhibition, which runs from Tuesday 5 to Thursday 7 May at Olympic Park, Homebush.


Speakers on Tuesday include:

Logistics Operations Manager Kris Lancaster from Foodstuffs New Zealand, who control an estimated 52% of the New Zealand grocery market, will assess the key drivers for automation or manual picking to enable better business outcomes. During his keynote Kris will candidly weigh up the cost of automating versus the potential value it can provide in reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. 

Ben Franzi, General Manager, Global eCommerce Platforms for Australia Post, will share his journey on how he managed the transition from a traditional mailing business to making Australia Post a thriving ecommerce service provider. He will discuss how ecommerce is changing the transport and logistics industry and how other businesses can build resilience into their system design.

Armin Weih, Deputy Managing Director, VDMA – Europe’s leading engineering association representing member companies in mechanical engineering and leading the way in developing intralogistics solutions for the world market, will discuss global trends, challenges and industry 4.0.

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