Efficient processes for motorbike accessories
17. oktober 2011 Efficient processes for motorbike accessories SSI Schaefer has implemented a complex intralogistics concept for the automated storage, transport and shipping preparation of a highly heterogeneous range of items for Parts Europe, a distributor of motorbike accessories. This solution perfectly brings together steel construction, innovative conveyor technology and proven IT systems to ensure high delivery capability and reliable order processing.
By offering everything bikers could possibly need, the LeMans Corporation has become a leading retailer of motorbike parts, accessories and clothing on the US market. From this base, the senior management started thinking about expanding into the European market. The company's European subsidiary, Parts Europe, chose Konz near Trier (Germany) as the location for its new central warehouse. In the winter of 2008, the foundations for a modern warehousing facility were laid in a green field near the town. The first of four project phases is already complete. Once phase 4 is finished, the entire warehouse will cover 45 000 m².
During planning, the management had to take into account the different market structures and requirements in Europe and the US and consider the different intralogistics processes. Since there are different items for everything from tyres and small parts to protective gear, the company needed a totally new approach and a compact installation, mainly automated processes, efficient software and order-picking strategies different from those deployed in the US.
SSI Schaefer was tasked with the job of planning the intralogistics concept and providing the necessary equipment. Not only did the companies from the SSI Schaefer group deliver an impressive steel construction, innovative conveyor technology and installation of proven IT systems, they also demonstrated their ability to deliver a coordinated project without conflicts at interfaces. Parts Europe describes their involvement as "a reliable partnership of mutual trust throughout the course of the project resulting in an ultramodern installation, tailored to our needs, giving us a base for solid growth in Europe".
The distributor has now firmly broken into the European market. The European central Parts Europe warehouse has been operational since the start of March 2010. Over the next few years, more than 10 000 customers, from anywhere between the Atlantic und the Urals, the North Cape and the Middle East, will receive their orders from Konz in between 24 and 48 hours. To this end, the Parts Europe warehouse holds 150 000 items in stock from many different manufactures and can order-pick up to 2500 shipments an hour. Parts Europe is still new to the market and is expecting order processing to peak in the spring when bikers spruce up their bikes for the new season. Further growth is therefore expected and Parts Europe is planning to process up to 20 000 shipments a day in this DC over the next few years.
The intralogistics installation design and components had to be tailored to this forecasted increase in orders and the heterogeneous range of items. In response, the intralogistics specialist developed a complex installation concept with transparent goods flows and individually customised, automated processes for the 16 500 m² warehouse. These processes are controlled by the WAMAS warehouse management system (WMS) and the Convey warehouse control tool from SSI Schaefer. "Given the complex tasks, processes and material flows, the project software was a real challenge," says Hannes Schuster, project manager from SSI Schaefer, Graz. "We had to use the software to develop one solution harmonised to all organisational requirements."
Currently the Parts Europe warehouse is split into four areas: tyres store, small parts store, full-case/self-ship area and hazardous goods store. Quarantined goods are also held in a separate area. Deliveries are recorded and split up using WAMAS. Once the barcodes have been recorded, all the items' information is available for use. What is known as a "dimensioner" is used to record the mass, quantities and weight of every new product. This data is linked to the product barcode and stored in the WMS. Not only does this give Parts Europe totally accurate data about the items in its warehouse, but by using supplier barcodes, it avoids the inconvenience of having to re-label.
The recorded items are passed on to the conveyor system. It transports the items to the storage locations in the various warehouse areas defined by the WMS. "In total SSI Schaefer has installed around 800 square metres of self-supporting steel platforms for the conveyor technology, sorters and packaging machines installed," explains Schuster. "All in all, the installation comprises 4 kilometres of conveyor technology. More than 800 tons of steel has gone into the shelving and platforms."
Four material flows are in place taking items into storage:
The order-picking warehouse for small parts is a four-storey platform system with an integrated hanging garments store for biker clothing. Each racking bay has 18 storage levels. A total of 16 000 storage locations are provided in the 2200 m² of order-picking aisles covering four storeys.
The second key element is the tyres store. Tyres are supplied loose in containers and separated on telescopic conveyors with an overhead conveyor system and what are known as J hooks. The tyres are suspended from the hooks, the barcode recorded and they are then stored by the overhead conveyor in a 10 m high platform system covering three storeys. There is a total area of more than 3100 m² for tyre storage, providing twelve storage levels per racking bay – 6720 storage levels in total. The final stage of the process involves recording the location and tyre barcodes with handheld terminals and posting the items in the WMS. One special feature of the steel construction is that in order to prevent pressure points on the tyres, the storage level cross bars are welded on at angles. This means that the tyres make even more contact with the surrounding framework and are not forced in.
Pallets of items in their original packaging, which are shipped to the motorbike retailers in this form, are transported to the full-case/self-ship area by forklift. There are around 1900 pallet storage spaces. A separate, single-storey R 3000 modular shelving system is provided to store hazardous goods such as paints, batteries and oils, in a separate hazardous goods store. The shelf storage locations with mesh bases and drip trays allow liquids hazardous to water to be stored in compliance with statutory requirements. The option of adding another storey to this system if required was also taken into account during the design.
However, the special features of the installation design, material flow concept and software only become apparent during order picking and when assembling orders. Numerous redundant safety features, an intelligent material flow concept and innovative case calculation ensure maximum efficiency and reliable order processing. According to Schuster, this is all thanks to "a conveyor system which can transport the entire heterogeneous range of order-picked items and IT with an intelligent range of functions."
Order picking is initiated by the WMS. In the tyres store, the process uses a second overhead conveyor circuit. In order to minimise the number of access aisles, the WMS combines various orders for picking depending on where the tyres are stored. The sequence for picking by order is defined during subsequent order consolidation. Order-pickers receive the orders via radio scanners. The order-picked tyres are hung onto the overhead conveyor's T-hooks and the barcode is scanned. Picked orders are checked automatically at the end of the respective storey before passing on to the next one.
There are several possible variants for tyre shipment: individual tyres without packaging or in boxes, several tyres bundled or in boxes and tyres plus small parts in a box. Mention should be made of the fact that when orders are transferred, the WMS from SSI Schaefer uses the dimensions and weights stored in the system to automatically determine the most favourable packaging unit and volume- and shipment-optimised combination of picked order items. If the WMS calculations indicate that tyres are to be combined with other items to form a shipment, they are transferred to the consolidation area.
Small parts are picked straight into shipment boxes in the four-storey platform system using radio scanners. Following a volume calculation, the WMS defines which of the six box sizes to use. The boxes are arranged automatically and provided with barcode labels. The WMS requests order-picking in containers for small parts which form part of tyre shipment orders. SSI Schaefer has provided 600 dividable standard containers for this purpose.
One continuous conveyor line transports the boxes and containers from one order-picking area to the next. Integrated weighing systems are used to check the picked items before they move to a new storey. Any incorrect order picking can therefore be corrected immediately to ensure a high level of order accuracy. Following order picking, the boxes and containers enter a loop. This discharges the load carriers, either towards shipping preparation or – if combining with other order items – to a consolidation station. "One of the special features of the installation design is that all items are transported on the same conveyor system," says Schuster. "This makes optimum use of space and allows orders to be specifically consolidated at various workstations."
The conveyor system uses sequencing roundabouts to transport the containers and tyres to one of six consolidation stations as appropriate for the order. The Convey warehouse control tool from SSI ensures appropriate sequencing. At the consolidation stations the small parts are repackaged into the tyre boxes. Wherever possible, staff also fill the spaces around and inside the tyres to ensure volume-optimised shipment.
After final weighing, Schaefer Compact Insertion provides all order-picked boxes ready for shipment with the corresponding papers. Another station places lids on the boxes, provides shipping labels and if necessary uses a strapping machine to wrap the box. This part of the installation greatly helps to minimise shipping costs. The shipment is then passed to a cross belt sorter where all order items from the tyre and full-case stores, small parts and quarantined goods areas are brought together. The items are discharged to the respective shipment tracks of five shipment stations where the orders are stacked onto pallets or transferred to a telescopic conveyor.
Speed and reliability are key factors to the success of retailers in the B2B segment. The quality of delivery capability and order processing determines a company’s future competitive position. The intralogistics solution which SSI Schaefer has produced for the European central warehouse makes Parts Europe even more efficient than the company's warehouses in the US. Incoming goods recording using supplier codes, pick-to-box order picking in shipment boxes, volume optimisation for shipment volumes and a conveyor system which can be left to run whenever and wherever it is needed have all helped Parts Europe focus on efficiency upon entering the new market - thanks to the SSI Schaefer solution. Positive results confirm that this was the right decision - a solid basis for future growth.