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Automate for greater speed and accuracy

14 January 2020

When artificial joint manufacturer, Implantcast, needed to automate its logistics to ensure a faster and more accurate operation, the company turned to KNAPP.

Implantcast is a German medical technology company focused on the development, production and sales of artificial joints. From its manufacturing and logistics site in Buxtehude, near Hamburg, around 600 employees are involved in the production and dispatch of artificial joints to 80 countries worldwide. 

Growth over time meant that Implantcast’s traditional methods of manual retrieval from floor-based storage and person-to-goods picking were both time-consuming and error-prone. In particular, checking the date of ‘minimum durability’ for the products was extremely difficult. Eventually, the company decided to invest in an automated solution. Explains Jens Saß, CEO of Implantcast, “We considered several different systems before KNAPP’s concept won us over with its flexibility. It’s a system that we can adapt to our company growth bit by bit. This meant that we didn’t have to invest in a large system in advance. Instead, we can extend the system and boost performance by adding shuttles and lift systems.”

The solution supplied by KNAPP features an automatic small parts warehouse that supplies two order picking stations equipped with vision technology from KNAPP group member, ivii. The 3D-capable OSR ShuttleTM storage system is served by 10 shuttles and features 16,000 locations over 18 levels with two lifts. In addition to the vision systems, the logistics solution features integrated RFID technology and data matrix codes on product packaging that contain information such as the date of minimum durability.

Implantcast process two types of goods: new goods – which are manufactured at the Buxtehude site, sterilised externally and delivered to goods-in – and sample orders, which contain a selection of different joints that are sent to clinics for a surgeon to decide at the start of an operation which one to use. New goods are randomly stacked in containers of two different heights and an RFID tag allocates the articles to the container before they are stored in the warehouse. The unused parts of sample orders are returned to Buxtehude, where they are checked for damage, sterilised as required, recorded using RFID and then fed back into the system.

When an order is generated, containers are conveyed to the pick stations, where new goods are picked from two source containers into six target containers, while sample orders are picked into roll cages. The user interface shows which container parts should be picked from and which target container or roll cage they should be placed in. At the same time, the pick-to-light display lights up. The ivii image-processing system detects and interprets the data matrix codes on the product packaging in real time, using a beamer to emit a light cone to indicate precisely which article should be picked. This enables employees to select the article with the earliest date of minimum durability quickly and easily from a source container of products with the same article number. Items are also scanned when they are picked, so orders are checked in three ways – by RFID, data matrix and barcode – to ensure error-free picking.

KNAPP also supplied a comprehensive software package including its KiSoft WCS to handle order management and interface with Implantcast’s ERP system; KiSoft SRC as the control system for the warehouse; the image-processing software, ivii.core; and KiSoft SCADA to visualise the system in 3D down to sensor level, showing system status in real time.

At the dispatch workstations, orders are again checked using an RFID tag before being packed and consignments pass through another RFID gate at the dispatch ramp to verify that the order really does contain all the right parts.