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Manufacturing shows need for speed too

13 January 2016

Retail grabs many of the headlines but intralogistics automation in the manufacturing industry can be just as demanding explains Steve Baker, managing director at Gebhardt European Conveyor Systems.

There is much coverage in the technical press these days about the changing world of retail distribution, as eCommerce takes a growing slice of the retail market, and intralogistics solutions are having to change to meet these new demands. But another sector that is changing the design of intralogistics solutions just as radically is manufacturing industry. An example of the changing requirements there is in manufacturing flexibility – that is the need to be able to customise the final products for individual customers.

An example is the automotive industry, where manufacturers are offering a growing number of options on their vehicles. First-tier suppliers such as seat manufacturer Lear Corporation have therefore to respond to this too, equipping their own production facilities with the capability to meet the demands of the auto companies. In the case of seating, they need to provide options on such items as cushion designs, seat cover materials, seat cover colour, in-seat equipment such as heating and cooling systems, various mechanical and electrical adjustment motors and controls, and built-in in-car entertainment options. In practice this means that most seat sets are unique. 

As an auto company collects orders, it will generate a sequence of cars to be built on the final assembly production line. It will then inform first-tier suppliers such as Lear of the specific requirements of each car in the production sequence.

Key Points

• Storebiter shuttle said to be more resilient than mini load cranes.

• Can handle very large cartons.

• Goods to man, so reduced operator walk times.

The production line is typically set up to manufacture the seats in the same sequence as the cars on the main production line. But the challenge now is to get exactly the required parts, from the huge selection of options, to the seat production line in the correct sequence and in the short time required. Typically only a few hours are available from knowing the final manufacturing sequence to needing the seats made and ready for despatch.

Delivering the parts to the production line correctly is normally done manually in the stores area of a factory. But the growth of the number of SKUs required is putting demands on these stores areas in terms of growing space requirements and manning levels as operator efficiencies necessarily reduce.

The solution for Lear in Coventry has proved to be a Storebiter MLS shuttle system integrated into a goods-to-man picking system for the majority of parts required on the production line. The use of this modern intralogistics concept from Gebhardt-ECS gives Lear several significant benefits over the original system, including a huge saving in the floor space required to store and manually pick the parts.

Another advantage is the much reduced operator requirement, as the automation brings the products to the pickers, rather than them having to walk slowly round the large manual picking area. As well as a reduced headcount, this solution allows more space in the existing building for production, and so a higher throughput through the site.

This modern intralogistics concept gives Lear several significant benefits over the original system, including a huge saving in the floor space required to store and manually pick the parts.

The use of multi-level shuttles is also important. One benefit is that the storage capacity is much higher than a conventional single-level shuttle system. The ability of the shuttle to reach four levels of trays means the investment is much reduced in relative terms.

A second benefit addresses the issue of the resilience of the automation compared to miniload cranes – a key requirement in an industry where any failure to supply could stop the main production line. If a shuttle should fail for a short period of time, the WCS system can manage trained operators to enter the shuttle aisles, which are all equipped with mezzanine floors, and retrieve the storage trays manually until the fault is repaired.

A further benefit of the Gebhardt shuttles is their capability to handle the very large cartons (up to 1200mm long) used for storing seating parts.

So customers’ demands are again requiring evolution in intralogistics techniques, and new goods-to-man technologies are again meeting the challenges being set.