Innovative intralogistics with AI and robotics

SAP IT, control and automated warehouse technology from a single source: IGZ, as the SAP EWM general contractor with overall responsibility, met this requirement and the associated demand for interface and risk minimization "in time, in budget, in quality" when building the new logistics center for BHS Global Logistics. The new logistics center at the Weiherhammer site combines production supply and spare parts distribution for BHS Corrugated, a global solution provider for the complex requirements of the corrugated cardboard industry, under one roof. At the same time, the platform opens up a wide range of options for implementing new business models based on a company-wide SAP EWM and SAP TM strategy.

BHS Global Logistics GmbH is a competence partner of BHS Corrugated Maschinen- und Anlagenbau GmbH. As a lifecycle partner in the digital age, BHS Corrugated, with more than 3,200 employees worldwide, offers its customers a wide range of lifecycle services and digital services in addition to the development and production of corrugating rolls, individual machines and complete corrugators. The task of BHS Global Logistics is to secure the supply chain of the machine and plant manufacturer. BHS Global Logistics also uses its expertise to successfully offer end-to-end solutions in outbound logistics for third-party customers on the global market. The portfolio of logistics products will continue to evolve.

Growth expectations require realignment

In line with this strategic orientation, the new logistics center in Weiherhammer (Bavaria) acts as the hub for the operational business. Alexander Walberer, Managing Director of BHS Global Logistics, knows the reasons for investing around 38 million euros in the new building: "The warehouse capacities in Weiherhammer were becoming scarce and the growth of BHS Corrugated could no longer be accommodated in the medium term. In concrete terms, this means that we want to double the turnover of around 600 million euros currently generated by the production site over the next five to six years." In order to achieve this, new production and assembly concepts had to be implemented, including the switch to component production, which also required the construction of an additional assembly hall.

Continuation of the project partnership in turbulent times

Make or buy? It was initially uncertain whether the handling of inbound and outbound logistics should be carried out in-house or taken over by a logistics service provider. Irrespective of the final decision to be made to ultimately keep logistics as a core competence under the leadership of BHS Global Logistics, IGZ began creating the detailed concept in mid-2020 and defined the processes as part of the upcoming migration to SAP EWM. As part of this, it was also determined that SAP EWM would be mapped as an embedded version in the private cloud and that SAP EWM/MFS would directly control the PLC controllers. The coherent overall concept as well as the proven expertise and experience as an SAP EWM general contractor were just some of the decisive arguments for commissioning the SAP engineers, market leader for SAP EWM/MFS, from Falkenberg with the implementation of the logistics center.

The advanced project started in October 2021 with the specification of the system and control technology - in the midst of the pandemic and just a few weeks after the official ground-breaking ceremony at the end of September. Intensive tests were carried out with the IGZ system emulation . As a "digital twin", this replicated the system 1:1 and enabled realistic and continuous tests to be carried out before commissioning began, which meant that the pandemic-related restrictions could be taken into account and the commissioning time significantly reduced. The positive results as well as the successful tests on the system formed the basis for a successful go-live of the logistics center in the third quarter of 2023.

Complex processes in a clear layout

The logistics center with integrated spare parts distribution was built on an area of around 26,500 m². It meets the requirements of the new BEG energy standard (BEG 55) and is already DGNB climate-certified. The central functional areas inside are an automated small parts warehouse (AKL) with more than 34,000 container storage locations in three aisles, a 14-aisle manual pallet warehouse with around 7,900 storage locations and a cantilever warehouse designed for a racking capacity of 7,000 running meters. The miniload warehouse has a connection to the incoming goods area including upstream repacking stations. Three picking stations and eight packing stations are also connected.

Automated picking with pick-by-robot

The topic of automation did not necessarily dominate the agenda. However, Alexander Walberer notes that the company has always dreamed of "using robotics in logistics", for example to ensure a constant flow of goods even when there are staff shortages. In the area of single-item picking, the employees of BHS Global Logistics are now assisted by the LUKE3 picking robot . Not only does it work reliably and fatigue-free, it is also able to cover a wide range of articles thanks to an automated gripper change that is adapted to the picked goods in a matter of seconds. "We have created something unique for us," says Alexander Walberer. "The robot can independently pre-pick parts from the miniload with a specific packaging and a specific weight. And thanks to artificial intelligence, LUKE is constantly learning on its own." Machine learning therefore also supports automatic master data maintenance. At the same time, the robot compensates for the ongoing staff shortage, steps in during vacations or illness - either independently or in parallel with humans - and can be activated at any time when multi-shift operation is required.

Fully automatic container and product recognition

The IGZ best practice "HAWK" also ensures quality and safety . "A high-performance camera mounted above the conveyor technology, often referred to by customers as the 'eye of logistics', is used for continuous, fully automatic and camera-controlled verification," adds Alfred Meyer, Managing Director of IGZ Automation GmbH. "The system enables a comprehensive content check of moving containers on the conveyor system, detects anomalies based on AI and, in the case of BHS Global Logistics, saves time by automatically assigning them to compartments, among other things." In this way, even minor errors caused by humans, which can still occur in automated processes, are eliminated. HAWK is a smart "quality gate" in this respect.

Seamless visualization is also crucial in the logistics control center. Here, both companies rely on the Smart Logistics Cockpit including 3D system visualization in SAP EWM and in the latest SAP Fiori design, another IGZ best practice. This is where all relevant information comes together and provides an overview of the entire system, operating statuses and all important KPIs (key performance indicators) with a customizable level of detail. Proactive, automatic alert messages enable an early response to rule out far-reaching problems or even bottlenecks before they occur. A special feature of this central control center is that it maps the distribution of spare parts, the supply of the two production sites in Weiherhammer and Tachov (CZ), as well as the entire operating technology. It can also be used and accessed on mobile devices, so that all information is available anywhere and at any time on a role-based basis.

Company-wide SAP EWM and SAP TM strategy

"The highest possible performance or throughput thanks to automation cannot be the decisive criterion," explains Alfred Meyer. "Success in intralogistics also requires maximum quality with continuous process reliability. With this in mind, we at IGZ have developed our best practices, which complement the standard SAP software so that the full potential can be exploited while at the same time consolidating otherwise complex processes for error minimization and quality assurance within a single solution. Artificial intelligence has been playing an important role here for some time."

In this sense, the migration to SAP Transportation Management (SAP TM) will not be a completely new start for BHS Global Logistics, as the transport service provider connection, label creation, etc. has already been solved in SAP EWM with the best practice extended SAP Express Ship interface. However, in view of the limited support for this basic version with a restricted range of functions until 2030, both companies have long since identified the optimization and savings potential that the change will bring. These can be used both company-wide and for external clients. For example, SAP TM opens up new possibilities in transport planning in a multimodal environment, in the selection and commissioning of transport service providers, loading space optimization, monitoring and freight cost calculation as well as warehouse integration. "The aim is a fully comprehensive SAP S4/HANA solution that includes EWM and TM as well as all SD, PP, MM, QM and FI/CO," says Alexander Walberer. "That's our outlook, that's where we want to go."

General contracting as a guarantee of success

"The timeline was defined and adhered to precisely. Together, we managed to successfully complete this project despite challenges such as the pandemic." The appointment of IGZ as the SAP EWM general contractor also proved to be spot on. "We didn't make the mistake, like many before us, of purchasing the miniload, conveyor technology or control cabinets separately, for example. That would have created unnecessary interfaces and potential risks." Instead, IGZ supplied everything from a single source and there will only be one hotline for IT, control and mechanics in the future.

The implementation of SAP TM is expected to begin in 2024. At the same time, SAP EWM is to be rolled out company-wide in production logistics, which is still partly WM-led. The importance of artificial intelligence (AI) and image recognition will increase. BHS Global Logistics would also like to integrate autonomous industrial trucks into the processes at a later date. "As we have come to know and appreciate each other, these two projects will not be the last together with IGZ," says Alexander Walberer, taking stock with a wink.

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