Seven times faster with RFID-capture
Retrofit the distribution center
A. Kempf Getränkegroßhandel GmbH
SSI Schaefer was contracted to retrofit the distribution center of A. Kempf Getränkegroßhandel GmbH by incorporating Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology into its critical, throughput subprocesses. The implementation and setting of the software interfaces was completed and running within one week. The Auto-ID solution with radio reading now enables Kempf to save eight man-hours per day.
Intralogistics is key to optimizing productivity and resource efficiency within all sectors. Depending on the industry, after seven to ten years, warehouses become antiquated: obsolete, worn-out and insufficient in functionality. Modernization can unlock optimization potentials up to 30%. And, with the inclusion of information and identification technology, savings and efficiency benefits can be seen even earlier. Take A. Kempf Getränkegroßhandel GmbH, Offenburg, for example.
Mehr Effizienz durch intelligentes Lager- und Warenfluss-Konzept
Since 2002, A. Kempf Getränkegroßhandel GmbH has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Edeka Handelsgesellschaft Südwest mbH, and provides beverage services for the food retail industry in the Southwest of Germany. The company runs two warehouses in Offenburg and Balingen which supply 125 customers with up to 110 tours per day. In peak seasons, up to 174,000 full-product packages, boxes and carriers leave the distribution center every day. To adapt to the fluctuations in throughput, the company wanted to restructure its beverage warehouse and automate its goods shipping processes in Balingen. The objective was to design the warehouse to accommodate further growth and to achieve extensive cost and process advantages. With those objectives in mind, the company chose SSI Schaefer to implement the project.
The intralogistics specialists recommended a dynamic flow rack system with sorting functionality for goods shipping. In a 12-fold deep-lane storage system, the order buffer has a total of 1,152 pallet positions available for the pre-picked order pallets. And a tour buffer allows for 720 additional pallet positions available for 16 truck loads. Similar to the loading processes, the compilation of tours from the order buffer is done in the tour buffer. “With the automation and implementation of a two-level goods shipping logic, we were able to reduce the yard throughput time for the trucks, from up to four hours to less than one hour,” explains Patrick Zurheide, Operations Manager of the distribution center of Kempf in Balingen. With the systemic triggered order and tour compilation by the plant design, Kempf has achieved an increase in throughput from 90 pallets per hour to 240 pallets per hour. The capacity of the shipping buffer has nearly doubled.
Kempf relies on the approved barcode-typology and scanner-capture. Zurheide explained: “We felt confident that this was the correct indent-basis for our processes.” While the storages, stock transfers, retrievals and shipping buffer provisions are working, picking vehicles and forklifts compile orders in the beverage warehouse. Six to eight fourfold forklifts, 16 internal forklifts, and 30 picking vehicles are used per shift. The picked order pallets are forwarded to a pallet conveying system via two floor-level, double-pallet in-feed stations. The system introduces the pallets into the automatic process of the two-level shipping buffer. Order pallets with full products are introduced into the deep-lane storage system via a third feed-in station.
The forklift drivers and pickers get their picking and travel orders from the warehouse management system (WMS) via WLAN on the installed terminals. In the past, to acknowledge the pallet transfer at the three in-feed stations for the conveying system, the employees had to scan the pallet barcode as well as the in-feed station barcode. The scanning process lasted 10 seconds for the pickers, and 15 seconds for the forklift drivers. “Those were manual activities that we easily identified as loss of additional time compared to the performance level of an automated system,” explains Zurheide. “We therefore searched for a solution for automatic identification. The idea we came up with was to capture the data with RFID technology. We reached out to SSI Schaefer to see if and how this could be implemented.”
With its small, battery-free memory chips consisting of a transmitter and a responder, RFID becomes more and more important in intralogistics. The RFID-transponder, also called a tag or chip, is individually encoded. And contrary to barcodes, the dataset of the RFID-memory offers a significantly higher capacity. They can be readout without visual contact. As soon as the transponder gets in the range of a receiver, it can read and capture the data.
One year after completing the restructuring of the distribution center, SSI Schaefer received the order to retrofit the in-feed station to RFID-technology. “We wanted to develop an optimal solution that allowed for continuous picking processes without time-consuming scanning processes at the pallet transfer,” explains Dominik Kampf, Service Account Manager at SSI Schaefer. “After the RFID-technology was set, we generated the necessary design, hardware and IT-interfaces to efficiently accommodate peak seasons and longterm growth.”
The hardware solution provided included three industry-standard UHF-RFID-read/write units, known as interrogators. They are used in the identification of body components in automobile production or at the backtracking of transport totes, among other things. With SSI Schaefer’s solution for Kempf, the interrogators are used to capture the picking vehicles and forklifts at the three pallet in-feed stations. Parallel to that, the Kempf employees receive an individual identification card with a RFID-chip that acts as a passive transponder. Data transfer is done via load or frequency modulation, and all material handling vehicles used for the pallet transfer are equipped with a special holder for the employees’ chip cards.
When dealing with metals and liquids the capture of RFID-signals is often impaired, making it difficult to display the information completely. For Kempf, a RFID-solution had to be developed which also supplied solid results even under these extreme conditions. “We used transponders and read units working in the high-capacity, ultrahigh frequency range of 869 MHz according to the Ultrahigh Frequency (UHF)-standard of the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI),” says Kampf. “With that, the data exchange is possible in the vicinity of liquids and metals.”
At the beginning of every shift, employees log in at their vehicle terminal and insert their chip card in the holder. During the shift, the WMS sends the respective picking and transport orders to the terminal. The employees then report the completion of the storage pallets to the WMS via the terminal which generates a telegram that is sent to the material flow computer. At that time, the material flow computer supplies the interrogators at the in-feed stations with individual pallet information, as well as employee identification details. From there, the read/write units know that a pallet transfer is pending and are expecting the arrival of material handling devices. At the transfer of the pallets onto the conveying system, the RFID-transponders within the chip cards are identified without any employee effort and the pallets are forwarded into the automated processes. “Transfer times are reduced from 10 or 15 seconds to two seconds each with RFID-capture”, summarizes Zurheide. “This is a sum of up to eight man-hours per day.”
Due to intensive preliminary work, SSI Schaefer was able to implement the retrofit project during running operation within one week. There were two days allotted for assembly and hardware installation, and five days for the successive modification of the IT. “First, we implemented data capture at the three in-feed stations in parallel with the barcode and RFID-system operation. Then we modified each of the three in-feed spurs to the RFID-solution”, explained Zurheide. “The entire in-feed processes are now running via RFID in a stable and error-free environment. With the RFID-solution we have further optimized the transfer processes and adjusted it to the high throughput capacity of our new system.”