High consumer expectations in terms of product quality and product availability, as well as ever shorter delivery times, increasingly call for automated intralogistics. Modern warehousing and material flow concepts must be capable of supporting the increasingly flexible production systems by means of innovative automation solutions - also for the production of very small lots.
The higher the level of integration of all components is, the more efficient and cost-effective the delivery to the customers has to be. ProMessa BV, Dutch manufacturer of prepacked meat products, has recognized the trend. In collaboration with CSB-Automation AG, they have automated their internal logistics. With the new logistics solutions, the enterprise has been able to meet the needs of food retailers even better and, as a result, has fostered its market position.
A definite competitive advantage in a country where the traditional service counter is virtually out of use: The major part of the meat products sold in the Netherlands are prepacked products from food retail stores.
Performance almost doubled
Almost the entire materials flow at ProMessa has been automated by now - from packaging of the meat products at production exit, to storage and picking as well as loading of the trucks. In the past, goods and crates were moved manually from A to B. Today, state-of-the-art robot technology, conveyor system components, sorters and a software solution by CSB-System AG perfectly work together.
Like in all other intralogistics systems, the software is the key for ProMessa: as the controlling system, it organizes and monitors two automatic crate warehouses, robot units, four automatic weigh labeling lines with integrated sorters, an automatic dispatch warehouse as well as a conveyor system. Integrated production scheduling ensures the precise coordination of workflows in terms of time and quantity. Any important details, such as up-to-date order, production and inventory data, are captured and processed in real time. This high degree of networking between business workflows and logistics components secures fast and error-free processes and huge productivity.
The automated flow of goods starts at a central I-point, directly at the production exit. Controlled by the software, the single-item containers with barcodes attached are transferred to the logistics system and moved to one of the two warehouses. Small-quantity units are stored in a conventional single-position high-bay storage facility, which has a capacity of 7,000 storage positions. Fast-moving products, which are sold quickly and in large quantities, go into the fast-mover warehouse. This area gantry robot warehouse uses a storage technology that is relatively new to the food industry. What is special about this type of storage is that containers are not placed in shelves, but stacked directly on the hygienic warehouse floor. One of the reasons for the high performance of the area gantry is that up to seven containers, as necessary, can be moved simultaneously during stock entry and removal. FIFO inventory management (first in - fist out) is accomplished by permanently reorganizing the warehouse and re-stacking the plastic containers. Again, this process is controlled fully automatically by the CSB-System.
After receipt of a signal from the ERP software, the crates are automatically moved one floor up, to the four weigh labeling lines with integrated goods-to-person picking sorters. The software ensures the optimum combination of order data, products and containers, and supplies the data to the picking lines for weigh labeling. The system considers and calculates quantities and volumes as well as the number of containers required, the necessary material flows, and the optimal conveyor tracks for loading the trucks in accordance with routes and subsidiaries.
At the CSB-Racks, the staff can easily see which order is currently being processed, which products and quantities belong to which order, and which labels need to be attached. In the sorter, the products are automatically ejected onto the customer channels and distributed to the containers. The conveyor system then moves the crates completed in picking to the dispatch warehouse, where an area portal robot bundles them in customer-specific stacks of crates.
Decoupling production and picking
The entire intralogistics system is based on the principle of decoupling process steps. The aim of the concept has been to enable working in all core processes from production to shipping, independently of upstream and downstream processes, and to achieve a permanently high level of productivity and flexibility.
The high-performance dispatch warehouse is one of the key elements for success. It secures optimal picking of customer orders, which are combined in stacks of crates in the course of the day. The CSB-System generates individual sub-orders from the customer orders on hand, depending on the availability of the goods. Consequently, despite the high product diversity, the production department can work with optimal lot sizes, and independently of the picking and dispatch processes. Picking of an item only starts after the required goods quantities were stored in the two buffer warehouses. The four weigh labeling lines with multiroll printers and the four connected sorters, combined with the upstream warehouse and material flow system, have a capacity of provisioning 5,000 to 7,000 packages per hour in mixed containers, depending on the order structure.
Responsiveness up, stocks down
Digitalized and integrated material and information flows have many advantages. For example, they reflect the growing importance of the time factor. Today, ProMessa can respond even quicker to reorders without having to build up large stocks. Orders can be entered into the ERP system throughout the whole day and are usually delivered to the customers within 12 hours or on the same day.
“In the past, we had a lot more buffer goods that we had to have on stock. Thanks to the speed of our logistical system, we now buffer only prepacked non-labeled goods for one day,” Rouweler explains. Daily deliveries to the customers are feasible even with extremely short order lead times. The current delivery performance is over 99 percent.