The Samsonite brand is primarily associated with a high-quality luggage, which thanks to innovative product developments, such as the current range of "Cosmo Lite" – superlight but durable suitcases and trolleys, of patented plastic meshwork has become renowned throughout the world.
Who would have thought that in the storage buildings at Samsonite’s European headquarters in Oudenaarde, Belgium, logistic solutions would also find a use? An important component of the latest logistic project – a dynamic storage area for the slow rotation of Samsonite products – is three automatic high rack stackers of the Linde K Range series, moving both freely and on wire guidance. The trucks which are equipped with a laser camera, telescopic forks and pallet profile control are the result of the collaboration between E&K Automation and Linde Material Handling.
"Our ever increasing range has become a growing logistical challenge for us, to manage the multitude of products, we rented additional storage areas in the immediate vicinity years ago. But this solution was not cost-effective, fast or flexible and reached its capacity," explains Germain Ghys describing the situation that led to the construction of the new storage area. Ghys is the logistics manager of Samsonite in Oudenaarde and has been with the company for 28 years.
Fundamentally the Samsonite products are separated in accordance with their current status in the life cycle and are split into fast and slow moving products. At the same time, every product can be switched from a slow to a fast mover or vice versa according to seasonal activity and promotional campaigns. Thereby further increasing the logistical challenge. The aim of the new dynamic order picking storage area for slow movers was primarily to release capacity for the turnover of fast moving goods.
In 2007, the initial idea for warehouse was to construct a dynamic storage area, designed both for order picking and bulk storage. After various alternatives had been examined, construction began in the summer of 2008 at a Greenfield site and was completed less than a year later in April 2009. Samsonite did not require the support of a general contractor, because the company could utilise a great deal of its own automation expertise. "Without our own experience, it would not have been possible to execute such a project in such a short implementation phase ", states Germain Ghys. All subcontractors, from the rack builders to the suppliers of conveyer systems, electrical networks and security systems as well as the automatic high rack stackers – were directly selected by Samsonite employees. However, with Samsonites experience they were able to develop their own electronic solutions.
Solution: reliable technical solution for maximum flexibility
Initially, three possible solutions for the dynamic storage area were under consideration: firstly an individual solution with fully automatic cranes. Secondly manually operated very narrow aisle trucks, and thirdly manually operated reach trucks. All three ideas were rejected due to cost and the excessive number of trucks required. The search for further alternatives led Germain Ghys and his employees to several companies, including E&K Automation, who had already gained considerable experience with automated transport vehicles.
"The experience and collaboration between E&K Automation and Linde Material Handling supported with the reliability of the K Range trucks was one of the deciding factors. Additionally, the automated high rack stackers provided a back-up plan in the event of an electronic failure. "As the trucks are equipped with an operator seat, they could be manually driven in an emergency," stated logistics manager Ghys.
The simple maintenance was a further reason for choosing this solution with automated K Range trucks, since the Linde service engineers can access the manual control of the truck. The maintenance intervals are determined on operating times or the equipments’ number of operating hours. Furthermore, the availability of a corresponding interface on the Linde K truck, which E&K Automation could use to access the electronics of the high rack stacker, fulfilled the condition for the automation of the trucks.
Optimised material flow through the storage area
The new storage area is equipped with five levels and 12 aisles which are up to 160 meters long. Intotal there are 11,520 storage locations and 1100 picking locations for a maximum of one million individual items. The pallet racking is divided into six separate sections. Each section consists of an order picking aisle, where the operator or pickers work, and two narrow aisles for replenishment, which is accessed by three unmanned, automated Linde combination trucks.
Every afternoon, orders received by 12:00 noon are processed, the storage area management system determines which products are already available at a pick location and which goods still need to be replenished. On average, the trucks rearrange around 20 per cent of the stored goods until every product can be found at an order picking storage location. Truck movement are transmitted remotely by the warehouse management system to the automatic Linde K Range trucks.
The employees use a route-optimised pick list to take the items from the order picking locations, attach a barcode label and place them on a conveyer belt in the middle of the pick aisle. From there, they are transported to a consolidation area, where they are grouped by destination. A manual electric forklift truck, loads the pallets into a lorry using a dock leveller, which delivers the product. Around 27 lorries with an average of 1000 to 1500 items or a volume of 1500 cubic meters make their way to retailers throughout Europe on a daily basis.
The slow moving products stored in the warehouse are transported from production on counterbalance trucks. Each electrical counterbalance truck places the loaded 1400 x 1400 x 2000mm high special pallets into the marshalling area. After the pallet profiling is completed, the load is transferred to the automated storage area of the warehouse using the cantilever P and D stations. The automated Linde K Range trucks pick the special pallets using their telescopic forks and transport them to the required rack location. When placing pallets the trucks are positioned via a reflector to ensure they have a working tolerance of less than 15mm.
The automated K Range trucks are wire guided along the aisles; each of the racks has a 150mm safety clearance between the truck and the load in the rack. Movement of the truck outside of the aisles is via a laser scanner system. The laser guidance system works by using reflectors located in the warehouse, that always ensure the truck has three reference points.
Since there is only 75 to 100mm of space between the individual pallet storage positions, the automated rack is additionally equipped with a mobile pallet profiler which is mounted on the forks. This ensures that the load can be stored in the rack without a repeat check of the dimensions and that the goods from two neighbouring rack positions do not touch each other. In case the dimensions of a load exceed the standard pallet profile, the Linde narrow aisle trucks can be switched to manual operation.
The 80V/775Ah lead-acid battery is charged by the contact pads on the floor. When the truck has no outstanding loading orders, it travels to the defined charging station and is automatically charged.
Sophisticated Safety Concept
The safety requirements which Samsonite placed on the system were high. This was due to the automated very narrow aisle trucks operating in the same area as forklift trucks with operators and storage area workers. An innovative and secure safety system ensures that collisions are prevented. At the same time it maximises workflow.
The order picking aisle is protected with an access control system for the order picker, trucks are not allowed to operate in this area at all. The truck aisles for the replenishment supply are located on the left and right sides of the order picking aisle. The automated very narrow aisle trucks are operated here; however, individuals can also enter the neighbouring truck aisles.
Access and safety management prevent the automated combination trucks and high rack stackers operating at the same time as the pickers. Thus, the pickers can only enter the section when they are registered and the section is safe. At the same time, the automated forklift trucks are prohibited from entering if pickers are in the aisle. Access to the replenishment aisle is automatically blocked for trucks by a light barrier and a remote controlled emergency stop circuit on the rack entrance.
The base of the personal protection is located directly on the truck making it intrinsically safe. Should a person approach a truck, it stops in a controlled manner and remains stationary. This is necessary because the very narrow rack aisles do not offer the workers an escape route and the trucks not only operate freely in the rack aisles but also in an additional storage area.
After a year of operation, production manager Germain Ghys is still very satisfied with his innovative idea: "We are constantly advancing. Our operation is extremely efficient, providing a significant competitive advantage for us and we look forward to a successful future.