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Bulk bag handling in channel racking and production supply

Shuttles and AGVs cooperating
It took the Hamburg based forklift manufacturer Still only nine weeks to set up a raw materials warehouse including all necessary automation equipment for the film-sheet maker Kuraray Trosifol. In a smart flow of materials, semi-automated shuttles cooperate for the first time with fully automated reach trucks in a channel rack system.

Without knowing it, virtually every one of us have already been in contact with so called PVB sheets. PVB sheets are highly tear-proof and are used to make laminated safety glass for car windscreens. Kuraray Trosifol in Troisdorf close to Cologne is one of the leading producers of these film sheets that are not only used in car windscreens but also in other safety glass applications such as banks, jewellery shops, sky scrapers, solar panels and even in the glass dome of the Deutsche Bundestag.

Extended production capacities require enhanced supply of materials
To maintain its competiveness Kuraray Europe GmbH extended its production capacity and at the same time centralised its storage for raw materials in an automated materials warehouse in order to cope with an acute shortage of space. Intelligently interlinked software and automation systems ensure a transparent and economically feasible flow of materials throughout the system. The outstanding feature of the system: for the first time semi-automatic shuttles communicate with fully automated reach trucks in order to provide the right raw materials at the right time to the right replenishment station for the production lines.

The PVB specialist had been looking for a general contractor to build the new raw materials warehouse for a long time. With a size of 4 500m² the size of the building roughly matches a small football pitch. "We had held talks with many known suppliers and presented our project. We ended up with only three suppliers who felt capable of delivering such a project and in the end STILL was the only one who was able to implement the required overall concept as a general contractor in the given time frame,” explains Manfred Kania, Head of Logistics with Kuraray.

The details of the concept are:
– High-density channel rack system with 3 300 slots
– Seven pallet shuttles
– Three automated FM-X reach trucks
– Two RX 60 electric counter balanced trucks
– A working platform approx. 40 meters long
– Conveyor equipment including chain conveyors, transfer carriages with telescopic forks, buffer storages and an empty-pallet stacker
– A material flow calculator
– A superior warehouse management computer.

To enable the warehousing system to cope with volatile production volumes it was designed for high transparency and flexibility. Besides this, operation round-the-clock was to ensure fast amortisation.

After the concept had been finalised, it was time to face the major challenge of the project: the time frame available to implement the project, which allowed only nine weeks for completion. Assembly of the racking, conveyors and working platform with subsequent cold commissioning of all areas had to be completed in that short time frame at any cost. Despite initial difficulties to cold commission such a pilot project, the system started service in due time thanks to the great commitment of all suppliers involved and the uncomplicated and partnership cooperation with Kuraray Trosifol.

The raw material needed for production is supplied as fine PVB granulate packed in large bags, so called bulk bags. These bags are unloaded from arriving lorries by electric forklift trucks fitted with manually operated scanners and data terminals. On unloading, the load is scanned for registration in the superior warehouse computer and directed to the right storage channel which is indicated on the touch screen terminal. In the storage channels the pallet shuttles will automatically stack the bulk bags to store them very densely while ensuring quick accessibility to the goods at the same time. At the goods-out end of the channels the three automated reach trucks operate 24-hours a day. The reach trucks automatically relocate the shuttles positioning them precisely to the millimetre into the right channels (photo 4) and move the retrieved bulk bags to the transfer stations where they are picked up by the conveyor system. The conveyor system comprises of chain conveyors, transfer carriages with telescopic forks, buffer storage zones and a stacking machine for empty pallets. All these components move the bulk bags to a total of seven work stations where the raw material is sucked out of the bags to be transported on to the production machines in pipelines. The empty pallets are collected in the empty pallet stacker and removed from there by one of the reach trucks for intermediate storage in specially dedicated channels by one of the shuttles.

Warehouse processes planned by the IT system
The central control hub of the smart material flow concept is the warehouse management computer. It communicates with the truck control computer, the pallet shuttles, the material flow computer and the quality management system. It is responsible for every movement of goods and vehicles and reports received and despatched goods to the superior SAP system – seamless and in real time. The processes in the warehouse are automatically stored in the IT system. This provides transparency and traceability of every movement.

Every day some 400 pallets are delivered by lorry and stored in the racking system. Consumption of the materials and retrieval from the rack system averages to about 12 pallets per hour. The system supplies production 24-hours per day with raw materials. This means that the warehouse equipment needs to be constantly in service. This is why Still implemented an energy concept based on spare batteries. The battery voltage of all trucks is permanently monitored. On reaching a defined threshold level, the trucks or shuttles automatically drive to the battery change station.

All stock keeping was joined up and optimised
All intralogistics components of the new Kuraray Trosifol raw materials warehouse were installed by Still. It was the first time that a combination of semi-automated pallet shuttles and fully automated reach trucks was implemented – and all that in only nine weeks. "In time to start the production, we were able to take the new warehouse system live," Manfred Kania shows his satisfaction. The local, manually operated warehouses were closed down and all warehousing was joined up and optimised.

For the raw materials warehouse the required minimum warehouse system availability was 98% and Still was able to guarantee that. "A failure of our new distribution centre would bring our all or our production lines in around-the-clock production to a halt within hours," says Kania.

The highly modern logistics centre provides Kuraray Trosifol with an economic and transparent warehouse system which drastically simplifies manual materials handling. Possibly occurring disturbances can be covered by an emergency backup concept. The agreed service measures provide frictionless materials handling and make the whole process dependable. A 24-hour on-call service and the short reaction times of the service engineers secure the reliable flow of materials.

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