Making the Most of the Warehouse

Feature Article | June 16, 2009 by Jörn Ballhaus

Cloos Schweißtechnik at Kärcher in full activity. (photo: SALT Solutions)

Modern welding equipment, an efficient warehouse infrastructure, and fast product delivery are the three ingredients of Cloos’ recipe for success. This welding technology specialist’s main goals also include keeping stock levels low and lead times short.

To optimize its supply of production materials, Cloos decided to implement kanban. The company modernized all of its intralogistics and order management at its Haiger, Germany, location with the help of the SAP partner SALT Solutions GmbH and AM-Automation GmbH, a high-rack storage specialist.

Further focuses of the project included an MES installation and the implementation of automated small-parts storage for supplying production materials.

Glossary

Intralogistics

refers to the internal logistics of a company’s flows of goods and materials.

Kanban

is a process used to manage production and material flows based on actual material stock. In RFID-supported kanban processes, all kanban containers or kanban cards receive clearly identifiable and reusable tags.

Manufacturing execution system (MES)

Connected directly to the manufacturing level, an MES facilitates real-time controlling of production and the processes involved by preparing data on operations, human resources, and machines.

[s]-production

SALT Solutions carried out the entire development of [s]-production using ABAP, SAP’s programming language. By concentrating on a single technology, the company was able to integrate the following functions for SAP platforms:

  • Production controlling
  • Detailed production scheduling
  • Inventory management with material flow controlling
  • Machine data entry
  • Operating data entry

Trays

aid the transport of warehouse goods and cargo, primarily in automated small-parts storage facilities.

Assembly-line production with SAP-based MES

During the project, Cloos set considerable store in mapping the material flow controller in its SAP system without additional middleware. This controller uses the same ABAP language as SAP ERP and runs on the company’s central SAP instance. A separate, non-SAP warehouse management system is not necessary.

For the conversion of its processes, Cloos divided its production into assembly areas that milk runners supply with new material according to the goods-to-man principle. This occurs automatically whenever the system displays empty material containers.

The advantage? This method keeps the amount of inventory at the workstations low and helps maintain flexible production.

The MES [s]-production handles all material flow controlling, order management, and sequencing in manufacturing and assembly for Cloos’ SAP users. Under the production planning component (PP) in SAP Supply Chain Management (SAP SCM), the system synchronizes all of the company’s manufacturing orders with its inventories by means of ATP cross-checks and by factoring finite capacities into the corresponding plans. The MES then reports the results back to the PP component.

The MES from SALT Solutions fully maps all manufacturing processes on the central instance at Cloos. The production areas receive minimal supplies to facilitate truly continuous manufacturing.

Cloos uses AM-Automation’s technology for the tray management of its small parts containers. (photo: AM-Automation)

Production according to demand

[s]-production is fully integrated into SAP, thus enabling demand-oriented supply chains and production. It combines all of the processes involved in manufacturing using a common data pool and links the various levels of a logistics system – such as ERP and material flow and manufacturing systems – by means of interfaces.

Customers can adjust [s]-production to their own processes – programming it individually if necessary. The solution then automatically delivers machine and other operating data to the SAP ERP Human Capital Management (SAP ERP HCM) for further production planning and quality management.

Maximizing space with RFID

To keep manual efforts at a minimum, the kanban process requires containers of different sizes. However, working with such containers entails some disadvantages: Warehouse capacity decreases and more advanced conveyor technology is required.

This was why Cloos had to make optimal use of available space when integrating small-parts storage into its existing production hall. The facility needed to incorporate around 3,400 additional storage spaces for trays and containers using the same amount of physical capacity.

Now twice as deep, the warehouse has multiple incoming and outgoing storage risers; storage retrieval equipment accesses the kanban shelves directly. This was where AM-Automation’s high-rack storage technology shined due to its low level of clearance.

“Here, the intermediate space of just over 2.5 inches was even more crucial than the lower clearance level of our storage retrieval equipment, which is now less than 22 inches,” explains Johannes Traub, head of the project at AM-Automation.

“At Cloos, for example, such minimal clearance space enables us to store 12 containers of up to around 16.5 inches in height on top of each other under a ceiling just over 18 feet high,” Traub says. “By storing materials twice as deep, we were able to make use of even more space.”

To conserve and better utilize additional warehouse surface area, Cloos is implementing the RFID-aided tray management system from AM-Automation — a first for the company. “The transponders are permanently integrated into the kanban containers and control the flow of materials on the conveyor technology of the automated small-parts storage facility,” says Christian Kosmak, project head at SALT Solutions.

Manual effort reduced by half

In this application, RFID replaces more than just barcodes. Cloos uses AM-Automation’s technology for the tray management of its small parts containers. Each tray holds up to eight differently sized containers, which are arranged in a way that multiple individual parts required for the production of a device are available on the same tray.

“Thanks to this RFID technology, we can track where the small containers on the tray are located at any time,” Traub says. “We plan to use RFID to ensure the correct removal of small parts from the boxes, as well. Using a large number of small containers reduces the manual effort involved in goods receipt by more than 50 percent.”

The future is RFID

Along with the aforementioned applications, Cloos is considering a further use of RFID technology in the future: Introducing a type of RFID-based product passport for welding equipment.

“This would enable users all over the world to ascertain at any time what components a device had built and what software had run on it,” says Gregor Fuchs, head of the project at Cloos Schweisstechnik.

Carl Cloos Schweisstechnik

is a global provider of welding technology. A family-run company with over 700 employees worldwide, it offers solutions for arc welding and robotics. Cloos manufactures its entire range of products – from welding torches and gas-shielded welding devices to mechanized specialty equipment and turnkey robotic systems – at its headquarters in Haiger, Germany.

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