Peak performance every second with SAP EWM

bilstein group remains on track for global success with new logistics center

Logistics Next Level: Since mid-2022, the bilstein group has been shipping car and commercial vehicle parts all over the world from its new logistics center in Gelsenkirchen. Behind this is a huge, highly automated intralogistics machinery on a floor space of 45,000 m², intelligently managed and controlled by SAP standard software. The mega project involved a best-of-breed approach, which the spare parts specialist implemented together with IGZ Automation GmbH. The latter acts as SAP EWM general contractor for the intralogistics, has taken over the logistics planning, consistently implemented the entire mechanics and control technology as well as SAP EWM, and continues to support the plant with an onsite service team after project completion.

Starting from eleven logistics locations worldwide, the bilstein group supplies more than 170 countries with spare parts of the well-known brands febi, SWAG and Blue Print. The range comprises more than 62,000 different items, most of which are stored in Germany at the company's headquarters in Ennepetal and distributed from there. With the new building in Gelsenkirchen on the premises of the former and traditional industrial site "Schalker Verein", the company now has significantly expanded capacities. In addition, the bilstein group took the opportunity to comprehensively equip itself for further growth and the logistical challenges of the future with state-of-the-art technology and highly efficient logistics processes - precisely where heavy industry used to have its home. In doing so, the bilstein group is breathing new life into the site and at the same time catapulting the venerable "Schalker Verein" into the age of digitalization.

"In view of the scope of the project - at around 120 million euros, the largest single investment in the history of our company - and the numerous challenges, particularly due to the pandemic, I am particularly pleased that the construction work was completed on schedule," says Jan Siekermann, Managing Director of the bilstein group. In fact, the realization from the start of construction to Go Live took a span of just 32 months, which is equivalent to a true "sprint" for such a project dimension.

Partnership at eye level as a success factor

Ambitious projects, especially on such a scale, need reliable partners. "For the realization of this challenging logistics project, we decided on a partner who supported us in the idea and planning up to the really time-sporting realization. And now the IGZ onsite team is looking after the plant on site during ongoing operations. In addition, it was important for us to find a partner with core competencies in the digitization of business processes using SAP supply chain modules ", says Managing Director Jan Siekermann, explaining some of the key selection criteria for the general contractor IGZ from Falkenberg in northern Bavaria. Felix Wortmann, project manager at bilstein group adds: "It was a real mammoth project with well over 100 of our own project members across all project phases. Since our customers and our day-to-day business always take priority, we needed a partner who understood us, but above all who could also contribute his own ideas that were of value to us. Here, IGZ convinced us as a partner at eye level."

Tight schedule, demanding service package

The construction work started in August 2019. IGZ was responsible for the specification and coordination of the intralogistics supply trades, and at the same time close coordination was required with the building and building services subproject. The rough planning with area and concept planning including deployment analysis for SAP EWM (Extended Warehouse Management) was followed by detailed planning including planning simulation in order to consistently and repeatedly put the planning results to the test and achieve the perfect result.

The coordination effort was also considerable in view of the tightly timed implementation window. This challenge was solved by successive commissionings that took place in parallel with the assembly work. For example, plant components were already being intensively tested while screws were still being tightened in other warehouse areas. This required a constantly agile and flexible processing of the daily tasks. In order to further accelerate the project, a test setup with key elements of the new overall system was set up in advance at the IGZ headquarters in Falkenberg and put into production. This also enabled a high level of process reliability to be demonstrated at an early stage and the ergonomics of the workstations to be optimized. And this gave the bilstein group the opportunity to familiarize itself with essential parts of the bearing physics at an early stage, to test these as well and to coordinate optimizations with IGZ if necessary.

The test times and commissioning times at the physical plant could be reduced to a minimum thanks to a digital twin. The digital twin is a detailed emulation of the entire intralogistics system in order to virtually commission the complete warehouse management and material flow control in SAP without recourse to the warehouse and picking technologies. The emulation was also used for extensive mass tests, which could not have been carried out physically with the intensity required. This ensured that the logistics system could start up without delay, which was then actually achieved even faster than originally planned.

Processes and system integration completely in SAP EWM

Central functional areas in the new bilstein group logistics center are a 10-aisle manual wide-aisle warehouse with 15,000 pallet spaces, a mobile racking warehouse with 13,500 pallet spaces, an electric floor conveyor on two levels with 55 vehicles, a 13-aisle high-bay warehouse with 86,000 pallet spaces, and a 15-aisle small parts warehouse (miniload) with 228,000 container spaces.

IGZ has implemented all processes, including large and small parts picking at ergonomically designed workstations in SAP EWM including the material flow component SAP MFS (Material Flow System). In addition, it integrated the extensive control technology for all warehouse technology trades from its own value creation. The coordination of the mechanical sub-trades up to project completion was also managed by IGZ.

"As a long-standing partner of SAP, we create benefits for our customers with SAP standard software and accompany them on the path of digital transformation of their business processes," explains Alfred Meyer, Managing Director of IGZ Automation GmbH. "In this project, we were able to contribute all of our experience and many innovative ideas." Thus, IGZ not only realized the SAP EWM warehouse management including the SAP ERP integration, but also the SAP MFS material flow control integrated in EWM for a continuously networked, high-performance process design.

Highly efficient, robotics-controlled single-item picking.

Another reason for choosing IGZ was the best practices brought by the Falkenbergers, which can be perfectly integrated into the bilstein group's logistics processes. For example Pick-by-Robotwhich was installed at two workstations. There, the IGZ robots pick goods autonomously in parallel to the goods-to-person picking stations. Their task is order-related pre-picking of the articles as well as compaction and container splitting. Pre-picked totes can thus be stored or served directly at the workstation ready for dispatch. This saves valuable time. Compaction and splitting optimize the tote fill level and thus also the warehouse fill level, as order-related stock splitting increases availability.

Furthermore, this avoids competing accesses during subsequent commisioning. Robot control is also carried out directly from SAP EWM/MFS. The Rotary Gripper patented by IGZ is a component of Pick-by-Robot and enables an automatic gripper change, so that a wide range of articles can be gripped by the IGZ robot and even heavier parts or parts with a smaller cubic shape can be picked up and delivered safely. The output per robot is up to 500 picks per hour. This scalable solution, which can be installed via plug & play, pays off especially in multi-shift operation and the use of additional robots is feasible at the picking stations configured for this purpose.

Visualization and fault handling centrally in one system

The IGZ onsite service team, which was specially deployed for the bilstein group at the Gelsenkirchen logistics center, ensures maximum system availability as part of the long-term customer service and also provided active support during the ramp-up phase. The Smart Logistics Cockpit (SLC), including system visualization in SAP EWM, is the control and switching center for the IGZ onsite service team, control center and first level support. All combined data from SAP EWM/MFS and the PLC level converge here. Thanks to proactive, automatic alert messages, interruptions are reduced to a minimum, as the causes of problems can be quickly identified using detailed views and malfunctions can be specifically remedied without loss of time. .

For example, you can quickly and easily configure key performance indicators (KPIs) from all plant areas and access comprehensive dashboards, including detailed analyses. But the IGZ Best Practice SLC also provides a comprehensive view, for example for the logistics manager. Integrated cameras also enable remote fault analysis: the SLC is based on a role-specific authorization concept and can even be used on all common mobile devices. All currently relevant information, as well as statistical and historical data, is thus always and everywhere available, detailed and aggregated. Fault handling is thus carried out centrally in a single system, which in turn saves time. Stationary control panels are no longer required, nor are additional visualization solutions.

Focus on efficiency and relieving the burden on personnel

"A core requirement for the logistics concept was to be equipped for the logistics requirements of the future - and to do so with efficient processes," emphasizes Felix Wortmann. For example, goods practically only have to be picked up once, as the electric floor conveyor transports the shipping modules in the pass-on principle to the various picking areas, where the customer orders are completed. With 55 vehicles, there is sufficient capacity for this, even with further growth. "The two robot units integrated into the picking process for single-item picking represent a further relief for the employees," Felix Wortmann continues. "With the seamless integration of the new logistics center into the supply chain, the bilstein group is ideally equipped for future customer requirements."

Future security as a joint task

The best-of-breed approach selected at the technology and supplier level also contributed to the success. This ensured that only components in the areas of mechanics, IT and control technology were integrated that would fully meet the performance specifications of the bilstein group in the long term. "For IGZ Automation GmbH, this was the largest general contractor order in our company history to date," notes Managing Director Alfred Meyer. "But we as IGZ are even more proud that the bilstein group has placed its trust in us for this demanding large-scale project and that we are therefore allowed to help shape the future to a certain extent." Thus, IGZ accompanied the project not only up to the go-live, but also beyond that in the ongoing operation of the plant.

In the future, around 25,000 order items with up to 167,000 picks will be dispatched daily via Gelsenkirchen alone. In view of the ongoing dynamic growth, it can be assumed that the proverbial journey will continue at the new logistics location. After all, the current construction of the new logistics center represents only the first phase of construction. The 200,000 m² of space acquired in total on the site of the "Schalker Verein" still offer sufficient options for further expansion after deduction of the freshly built 45,000 m².

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