Distribution Center for Fashion Logistics
Well prepared for the future with a lasting concept
With the implementation of the central distribution center for fashion-jewelry provider beeline, SSI Schaefer as general contractor for construction and logistics set new standards in logistics in terms of economic efficiency and sustainability of processes and claddings. The new construction in Cologne is a reference project for the potentials in Green Logistics. The system design with two-level batch-picking, an innovative Twin-Sorter concept, and modern automation systems, such as the Schaefer Quad System (SQS), furthermore enables throughputs of up to 10 million items per month and is thus an intelligent solution for an increase of efficiency at small-amount picking with high revenue from a sophisticated range of products.
Economic efficiency and ecology in unison - with the continuous restructuring of its logistics the fashion-jewelry and accessories provider beeline GmbH, Cologne, has not only increased the efficiency of the business processes to an optimum within eight years. The consequent implementation of a sustainable energy concept makes the turnaround from a manual picking warehouse to a highly efficient logistics center with automated processes a striking reference project showing the potentials of Green Logistics. In charge of the design and step-by-step implementation: SSI Schaefer, Giebelstadt. “The quality of delivery, speed, and sustainability were the basic reasons for the change from the former static stock-keeping to the order processing with dynamic, resource-efficient components”, beeline-founder and CEO Ulrich Beckmann explains the background. “In a comparison with respective offers conducted by consultants of the Fraunhofer Institute, the solution concept of SSI Schaefer for the implementation of a respective distribution center was most convincing.”
Already in 2001/2002 the intra-logistics specialists in Giebelstadt supported the distributor in optimizing material flows with the construction of a separate, manual commissioning warehouse. The restructuring reduced the routes and pick times and led to a significant acceleration of the processes. In further optimizing steps Pick-and-Pack-Handling, Multi-Order-Picking as well as different picking strategies for fast-moving items and B/C items were successively introduced at beeline and the workforce was increased. The consequence: beeline was able to significantly increase the throughput in 2002 – manual picking, however, was rapidly reaching its limit due to a fast growing demand, an increasing range of products, and an annual growth rate in the double-digit realm.
In the face of the continuing annual growth, beeline finally decided in 2007 to erect a new, sustainable distribution center close to the head office in Cologne, a place where the activities of the external warehouses could also be concentrated. At the beginning of August 2008, SSI Schaefer was awarded general contractor for construction and intra-logistics. Speciality: „The customer asked for a modular design both for the building and the system components; he also wanted the design to cover a potential extension", explains Elmar Issing, division manager New Technologies and Solutions at SSI Schaefer. “Besides considering an efficiency increase, the complete system should also operate CO2-neutral and be powered by regenerative energy.” Tasks for specialists.
For of the ecologically ambitious realization of the building, SSI Schaefer involved the Goldbeck company group in the project. After SSI Schaefer had created a logistics concept for beeline exactly tailored to the specifications, the structure of the building was planned together with the building company from the inside out, the respective space requirements were defined and a suitable building ground for the required building envelope along with areas for possible expansion was searched for. MalOrg GmbH, Dortmund, a Spin-Off-company of the Fraunhofer Institute Material Flow and Logistics (IML) with CEO Dr. Markus Nave, identified the basic logistical data for the warehouse dimensioning on the basis of a future analysis. Parallel to that the designers created an up-to-date energy concept. Result: a custom-made building envelope that perfectly fits the complex logistics inside. The application of regenerative energies, photovoltaics, and geothermal energy provides more power than necessary for heat, light, hot water, and system operation. The payback period of the integrated heating system is only four years, at the photovoltaics system eight years. The generation of power provides turnover exposures of more than 140,000 Euros per year. By excess building insulation as well as further ecologically reflected measures the energy consumption of the building even falls 30 percent below the strict requirements of the energy saving regulation. The entire investment will have been amortized within a few years.
SSI Schaefer designed its intelligent system also based on resource efficiency. At its basis: warehouse automation by an energy-efficient conveyor system in combination with dynamic systems such as a four-aisle automated small-parts warehouse (Miniload), a two-modules Schaefer Quad System (SQS) as well as ten sorter-operated picking stations. For physical relief of the employees ergonomic workstation designs were furthermore implemented. “With this concept we currently work 2,000 orders per day. This is equivalent to a turnover of ten million items per month – a multiple of the previous throughputs”, says Beckmann. “The intelligent combination of the system components enables high flexibility and efficiency especially at seasonal changes of the series without the previously necessary interventions and set-up times.”
For efficient material flows and optimal space utilization the distribution center is mostly built on two levels. By this means, SSI Schaefer was able to make a total useable area of nearly 22,000 m² available for beeline. “So there is enough free space on the ground floor for goods receiving and shipping, shipping processing, and order consolidation”, explains Peter Berlik, responsible project manager at SSI Schaefer. “Repacking and picking work stations as well as a flow rack for large-volume items are located on the first floor.” Only the areas of the Miniload (1,200m²) and the SQS-system (900m²) have no intermediate level. The high degree of automation of the distribution center is proven by the fact that the technical components as a whole take up about 17,000m².
Since April 2010 the new beeline distribution center in Cologne-Kalk has been run in all-out operation. The cardboard-boxed goods are delivered by truck and container. The unloading of the cargo area is done via telescopic conveyors. The telescopic conveyors lead the cardboard boxes to a conveyor section where the incoming goods are automatically labeled, measured, and weighed with consecutive numbers. The item code from the supplier is furthermore registered and linked with the beeline label. While a conveyor section transports the cardboard boxes to the miniload for storage, a sample inspection is conducted for quality assurance. All in all, there are five work stations for quality assurance installed in the beeline distribution center. At the transfer stations in the miniload four energy-saving SRMs take the cardboard boxes with their load-handling devices and arrange for fast, double-deep storage with up to 100 storages and retrievals per hour. Around 70,000 storage positions are available in the miniload. After the release by the quality assurance the goods are available for picking.
„In the implemented material flow concept the miniload only serves as a supply warehouse", explains Berlik. „The picking stations are fed by the SQS.“ For this purpose, the boxed items are taken from the supply warehouse and released to special processing stations on the first floor. There are two so-called opening stations where the boxes are automatically transferred to trays and are married to the storage aids by barcode capture. At special, ergonomically designed work stations the trays are then fixed so that the boxes can be opened without repacking processes and the items can be compared with the target specifications. On a conveyor line the trays are then passed on to be stored in the SQS.
Two of these modular warehouse systems are installed in the beeline distribution center. Therefore 21,500 storage positions are available in the SQS high-bay warehouse for storage of trays with up to 32kg each. Furthermore, the modular system design of the SQS offers the possibility to extend the system at changed requirements without problems. Eight lifts feed the ten shuttles that operate the storage positions in the two-aisles SQS high-bay warehouse. The lifts take two tray pairs each from the conveyor line that transports the trays from the opening positions to the HBW and feed the four trays to transfer stations in the rack for storage by shuttles. Each of the ten SQS shuttles in the beeline HBW operates up to seven rack levels.
For order picking the host system forwards the orders to the SSI Schaefer warehouse management system (WMS) WAMAS. The WMS activates the retrieval from the SQS and provides the controls for the replenishments from the miniload. The retrievals are controlled by the WMS in such a way that the different beeline brands are processed in batches one after another. For that each of the SQS shuttles retrieves up to 200 stored units per hour. Two conveyor lines lead the trays with open, sorted item boxes to ten connected, ergonomically designed picking stations. Each picking station is allocated to a collection system with 16 chutes, the so-called Pick-to-Bucket system. The respective amounts that have to be taken out of the arrived boxes are indicated to the picker on a display. Then the pickers only have to take single items from the boxes and forward them to a vacant, green lit chute. Non-lit chutes are already filled. The picking system independently and fully-automatically monitors the input, the amount, and the following allocation of the content of the chutes sequenced according to demand. „Picking and operating errors can thus be entirely eliminated“, says project manager Berlik. „Furthermore, every employee can directly carry out a correction of a faulty input.“
The system design of the picking stations includes a sorter line of 2x120m that runs below the picking chutes. There, sorter trays are conveyed to which the picked items from the filled chutes are continuously and automatically transferred according to the specifications of the WMS. This allocation of the chute contents is sequenced to the sorter trays selected by controls. By linking static work stations with dynamic conveyor systems up to 1,224 open target positions or actually available order boxes can be handled by the 2x5 picking stations with this innovative Twin-Sorter concept. At these target positions the sorter trays are directly emptied into the shipping boxes. Due to the decoupled processes between the picker, the picking chutes, and the sorter trays up to 2x 28,000 items per hour, order-related, can thus be commissioned at beeline. And: „The system design does not only offer high flexibility at the modular SQS“, resumes Issing. „The picking stations can also be doubled to 2x10 upon rising demand.“
After completion of the order or after reaching the maximum filling level of the order boxes monitored by the WMS a light signal requests the employees at the final stations to forward the filled boxes to a transport conveyor and to equip the now empty target station with an empty box. The forwarded order boxes are then transported to a weight control or to control stations for quality assurance. After creation and addition of the shipping documents the shipping boxes are then forwarded via conveyor system to the ground floor. For optimal utilization of storage capacities a fully-automatic determination of the filling degrees in the shipping boxes is done at the shipping area. Then the cardboard boxes are shrunk to the minimum packaging dimensions, lidded, labeled, and finally made available to the transport provider.
„The system as a whole at this building stage is technically designed for a peak load of nearly 200,000 boxes on stock and a throughput of ten million items per month", summarizes Beckmann. "The performance until maximum load, however, can be flexibly controlled by the number of employees on the job. For possibly necessary capacities in the future, our property as well as the modular system layout offer further potential. With the new distribution center we are well prepared for the future both technically and ecologically.“
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