König + Neurath commissions autonomous high-bay warehouse
The new warehouse construction was one of the last projects initiated by Egon König, and his widow Gerti König was committed to its progress after his death. It was a matter of personal importance for him – after all he wanted to ensure reliable stock availability for the benefit of his own company along with König + Neurath’s customers and project partners, as well as making sure that the Hessian manufacturer of office furniture and room systems was fit for the future.
“It is now possible to store around 5,000 pallets in the new building, which is twelve metres high, 130 metres long and 20 metres wide. We’re proud that we are now able to use these capacities when construction has only been under way for a year,” David Schuch – who headed the project from its first planning phase in 2017 right up to completion – is pleased to report. “What is unusual is not just the impressive size of the building, but above all the technology used here.” The overall concept was developed and implemented using a “digital twin”. In fact the digital twin is still being used for current state analysis and development of the system moving forward, adds Dirk Fischer, Director of Production / Engineering / Purchasing.
“The interaction between several autonomously operating systems and the data technology is unique,” says Schuch. You understand exactly what he means when you experience the fully automated processes live: everything’s incredibly quiet and ordered when the autonomously controlled high-lift trucks and narrow-aisle forklifts come to life. During the day the autonomous vehicles travel along precisely calculated routes as if by magic to perform their work, sorting all goods delivered to the loading gate in stillages or on Euro pallets and transported into the warehouse on a conveyer, and loading them into the high bays. Then at night items needed the next day are retrieved. “With four self-driving vehicles the system can perform 35 storage/retrieval cycles per hour, which is 280 per shift,” according to production director Fischer.
A sustainable solution that avoids mistakes and makes things easier for the workforce
In view of the impressive numbers, this begs the question of how they managed to move these quantities around before. “Although it might sound like a paradox to outsiders at first, we’re glad that the system’s taking this over now. In future it will know which quantities of which articles are in which container and can be found in which storage location. Furthermore the system optimises itself thanks to the high performance warehouse management software eWM on S4/HANA.” This doesn’t mean that the automated system replaces employees, it’s more a case of humans being able to focus on other tasks that would be too complex for software like this. “It’s cheaper, works without causing damage and avoids errors,” says Dirk Fischer, in summary of the benefits. So it’s a sustainable solution born out of necessity. “The fire load was too high in the old warehouse,” adds Fischer, explaining the main reason for the new building. “Now we also have a sustainable building designed as a low-energy space that requires no heating, and it also has a green roof.”
Complex tasks will be performed by specialists in future
CEO Hartmut Hagemann comments on the strategic significance of the new building, following on from what his colleagues have said and referencing the company’s future-oriented outlook. Hartmut Hagemann is certain that the future of furniture manufacturing is characterised by increasing individualisation. “It’s becoming more and more common for customers to ask us to produce increasingly flexible furniture and room systems. For this reason we need standardised and digitalised solutions for simple processes like storage and retrieval. We need smart ideas, good craftsmanship and therefore a team of specialists to provide advice, plan projects and handle all the more complex tasks in the production process. This is where our employees come in, and we invest consistently in their qualification and professional development.”
We need standardised and digitalised solutions for simple processes
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