De Cromvoirtse, a Netherlands-based steel stockholder and contract manufacturer of small batches of semi-finished sheet metal components, has invested in two interlinked, automated storage systems from Kasto and connected them to three sheet metal laser cutting machines to help speed deliveries. The Uniline store and Unitower B ensure fast, accurate, damage-free material handling, while the supplier’s warehouse management system keeps track of stock and ensures smooth order processing.
Internet shopping is on the rise, not only for consumer purchases but also in industry. Manufacturers are increasingly ordering materials online, as it saves time and cuts costs by allowing different offers to be compared easily. The increased competition means that a vendor, to be successful, must not only have a broad range of products at attractive prices, but also be able to make fast deliveries and provide a comprehensive array of services.
Founded in 1982 and with headquarters in the town of Oisterwijk, near Tilburg, De Cromvoirtse spotted this trend early. The company has operated an online portal since 2008, which today accounts for about 70 percent of orders. Customers can use the website to upload drawings and specifications and within two minutes they receive an automatically calculated quotation for production of the component.
Manufacturing capacity includes press brakes in addition to the laser cutting machines. About 90 percent of products are made from steel, stainless steel or aluminium sheet, the remainder being pipes and sections.
Janwillem Verschuuren, one of the company’s two managing directors commented, “Most of our 1,200 customers are small and medium-sized companies, like agricultural machine manufacturers, car body makers and machine builders.
“For them, it often doesn’t pay to buy machines of their own and hire expert personnel to make parts, because they only need limited quantities.
“As a rule, we deliver laser-cut components in 24 to 48 hours, while folded sheet metal parts can be supplied within a week.”
To serve the needs of its growing customer base reliably and quickly, De Cromvoirtse has not only automated its ordering process but also most of its production. Its metalworking machines operate around the clock, seven days a week including for long periods unattended. On average, 400 to 500 tonnes of material are held in stock.
The double-sided Uniline store from Kasto has nearly 1,000 storage locations, with special pallets for different materials and sizes as well as for remnants. A stacker crane travels between the two rows of the facility, storing and retrieving material automatically as needed.
Mr Verschuuren recalled, “When we invested in our new warehouse, we investigated various storage options but Kasto quickly emerged as the front-runner.
“Other manufacturers offered us standard solutions that were unsatisfactory, whereas Kasto worked with us right from the planning phase to develop new ideas for the design. They told us clearly what wouldn’t work and what would.”
For example, it proved possible to connect two flat-bed laser cutting machines seamlessly to achieve continuous material flow. To facilitate this, Kasto installed two manipulators at the Uniline’s output station. With vacuum suction units, the manipulators lift sheets from storage, place them on the shuttle tables and then remove the finished parts and remnants. In this way, De Cromvoirtse has substantially increased the production capacity of its machines and shortened throughput times.
Ronnie van den Hurk, the other managing director at De Cromvoirtse said, “The KASTO solution allows fast, efficient and safe handling of our materials.
“The stacker crane is equipped with two pallet stations to shorten cycle times and avoid empty runs. For each storage operation there is always a retrieval operation happening at the same time.”
Owing to the company’s booming online business and growing number of orders, even this system eventually reached its limits. In 2016, the company asked Kasto how to increase the store’s performance.
The supplier’s first thought was to add a second stacker crane to the existing Uniline system, but this reconfiguration would have interfered with the store’s operations. So Kasto devised an alternative solution involving the installation of a separate Unitower B store next to the existing in-line system to provide additional capacity.
The latest storage system, which was installed in a few weeks without interrupting the stockholder’s operations, consists of a double tower and stacker crane. Rising to a height of 8.5 metres and with a compact footprint, it has space for almost 80 pallets, each of which can hold sheets measuring up to 3,000 x 1,500 mm. Only the pallet that has been called up needs to be moved, ensuring fast access times, while the efficient lifting gear offers significant energy savings.
For maximum flexibility, the Unitower is connected to the Uniline store at the top by a bridge with a longitudinal, rail-mounted carriage. In this way, pallets move automatically from one area of the storage facility to another without losing valuable space below.
An additional laser cutting machine is connected to the Unitower, loading and unloading being performed automatically. Using various grippers, it is possible to handle whole sheets as well as cut parts and remnants, increasing productivity and flexibility. An advantage of the Kasto solution, according to Mr Verschuuren, is that unlike many other storage systems, it allows metalworking machinery of any make to be integrated easily. De Cromvoirtse is therefore able to source production equipment from more than one supplier so can use machines that are most suitable for the given requirements.
Both the new and existing stores are controlled by Kasto’s warehouse management software, KASTOlogic, which has been programmed to treat the two areas as a single, connected system to facilitate operation and increase stock transparency. It is connected with the stockholder’s ERP system, ensuring consistent data flow and smooth order processing.
As with the machine tools on-site, both the Uniline and the Unitower can be monitored remotely. If necessary, Kasto engineers can access the facility online from Germany and rectify any problems, although Mr van den Hurk advised that this has rarely been needed.
He concluded, “KASTO gave us optimum support during our latest project, as it has done since the outset.
“We have achieved another big increase in productivity, while also making work easier for our employees, and our customers continue to benefit from short delivery times.”