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Targeted automated solutions in sortation and distribution technology: The key to greater efficiency

The trend towards automation is continuing at full pace in the field of intralogistics. This is due to operators wishing to run safer and more logical facilities and systems. At the same time employees are being relieved of tiring, monotonous and physically strenuous activities. BEUMER Group develops customised system solutions for conveying and loading, palletising and packaging technologies. The company provides efficient automation solutions according to customer requirements.

Efficient automation technology which both reduces lifecycle time and lowers costs remains the focus of many operators and is a major success factor. Therefore, companies from various sectors are increasingly using automated systems solutions tailored to their individual needs. ‘The integration of systems is the challenge of the future’, explains Franz-Josef Kleigrewe. The head of the Automation Department has been with BEUMER Group since 1977, demonstrating a proven track record of expertise. He is convinced that the further integration of processes will only increase. ‘Intralogistics is experiencing a transformation due to demographic changes and also because of increased process complexity. Automation technology in particular is being constantly driven forward’, he said. This way manual processes can be optimised and effective synergies formed between man and machine. Automation technology is the key to technical development and further advancement.

Coordinated systems
‘Operators no longer wish to run just one system, they want a combination of several coordinated systems’, Kleingrewe recognises as the market need. Sortation and distribution systems are good examples which can be incorporated into distribution centres. In order to guarantee rapid consignments out to customers, highly efficient processes are required. As soon as products arrive at the goods receipt department, they are unloaded and stacked on to pallets. Employees place the goods on conveyor belts leading to a line sorter. This sorter can lead the goods directly to a dispatch sorter, to the induction unit of the pre-sortation system or directly to the warehouse – like at the NIKE China Logistics Center (CLC) in Taicang, Jiangsu, which represents the sports manufacturer’s largest distribution centre in Asia. All of the clothes and shoe consignments for the Chinese mainland are handled with systems of BEUMER Group. If necessary, employees take the products from the warehouse and put them into the plastic trays of a conveying system, which then transports the trays to another conveyor. The trays and cardboard boxes from the pre-sortation system are subsequently merged and emptied. Then the employees place the items on a cross-belt sorter which automatically sorts the items into designated plastic trays to be distributed into the tilt-tray area. From there, the items are transported on flat belt conveyors to the employees, who put them manually on the end-sorter. Commissioning is done by using Pick-by-Voice technology. As a system integrator, BEUMER Group sees its strength in technology and supports its customers from planning through to commissioning. This efficient approach is represented by a modular system concept with highly automated sortation technology. BEUMER combines system solutions from various different building blocks. ‘Systems and facilities which are not part of our programme, such as scanners, are bought from selected suppliers and then integrated into our systems’, explained Kleigrewe.

Experience counts
In order that BEUMER Group can best support its customers, the intralogistics specialist has set up trained teams in the individual group companies and in Beckum, which are responsible for automation solutions. By now more than 200 employees are involved in this area at BEUMER Group. ‘Our aim is to accelerate development cycles and to constantly increase the skills which contribute to our high standards’, says Kleigrewe. ‘Only this way we can provide our customers the correct solution and support them optimally.’ The employees accompany the project from the inquiry up to commissioning. In the first instance our specialists create a system design which, if up to par, then proceeds to the implementation phase. The employees then install the electrics and integrate the mechanical and system controls. Additionally, part of the system involves graphical representation of processes via a user-interface. BEUMER further ensures that information between the various operating levels is effectively transferred, for example, via ERP and MES-Systems.

In BEUMER’s own testing hall in Beckum there are various sortation and distribution systems. The employees can carry out various tests so that the system can adapt to specific operator requirements. ‘Valuable experience from countless projects world-wide is of great help here’, emphasises Kleigrewe. The challenging finishing touches are implemented by BEUMER experts on site both during installation and commissioning. ‘Our employees know exactly where to intervene so that the systems can be implemented as quickly as possible’, says Kleigrewe.

Always perfectly aligned
There are three equally important factors involved in the development process of systems: Customer orientation, innovation and standardisation. In the case of projects which are based on specific customer requirements, solutions can only be partly transferred to other projects. Innovation projects provide great opportunities, such as potential significant competitive advantages for new projects. On the other hand very tight project management is required in order to keep costs and time constraints. Since there is not much scope for technological advancement without such innovative projects, BEUMER regularly gets involved in them by carefully analysing the risks and opportunities. By employing proven standardised solutions, the customer receives an inexpensive and functionally reliable system which they can go live with in a short period of time. ‘The processes differentiate themselves largely via the various operators’, clarifies Kleigrewe. ‘Therefore, our solutions are always specifically adapted.’ One of the strengths of BEUMER is in adapting to individual requirements.

Uniform standards provide short project lifecycle time
‘At the outset it often seems that the bigger the system and the more systems integrated into it, the more control systems are implemented which must be adapted to each other’, explained Kleigrewe. There have been four control systems developed at BEUMER over the years. ‘In order to be more flexible during the development phase and to leverage shorter commissioning times, it is our aim to base all development on a unified drive concept as well as unified machine and system controls’, says Kleigrewe. ‘We are already offering conveying elements or interface definitions for horizontal and vertical communication out of the modular unit.’ For a rapid development phase, BEUMER Group has created a common software platform for all employees of the company. This is where product and project management takes place. All employees involved in the project have access to a single working environment. This common basis results in more efficient working and reduces project lifecycle times.

The system and device control systems which BEUMER implements can be seamlessly integrated into the warehouse management system. ‘We combine the finely tuned control of individual machines with system-wide workflow transparency’, explains Kleigrewe. Therefore, continual system optimisation is provided and bottlenecks can be avoided. This allows faster throughput and greater productivity.

When the systems are commissioned, employees of the BEUMER Customer Support are there to train machine operators and maintenance personnel. By doing this, systems can operate for a maximum length of time. Machine operators are brought up to date and new employees introduced to the systems. ‘Automated solutions are especially suitable for continuous processes, for example, when systems are operating around the clock seven days a week’, recommends Kleigrewe. ‘Companies thereby save on employees, who can then be deployed in other locations. Thus, automated solutions have paid for themselves in a short space of time.’

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