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Automated materials handling optimises efficiency and space

13 March 2017

Comfortable, stylish, safe and durable seating is a significant element of the complete driving experience in any car, but never more so than in the case of high-end vehicles such as those produced by Jaguar Land Rover. Entrusted with the contract for delivering these essential items to the JLR plants in the UK is the Coventry factory of Lear Corporation, a world leader in this field.

In order to match rising sales of Jaguar Land Rover cars while also meeting the requirement to integrate very closely with their production schedules, the 22,000m² facility in Coventry has invested in automated storage and retrieval (ASRS) technology within high-capacity racking.  This installation, carried out by Nottingham-based Gebhardt European Conveyor Systems, replaced a mainly manual picking and delivery system that was inefficient and required too much space. 

Seat sets are produced in hundreds of different specifications.  The new system takes the components required for each order from the racking, which houses over 20,000 trays of products, to the production area and also replenishes stock with minimal manual handling, freeing floor space for production and improving productivity, safety and efficiency.  It enables the appropriate parts to be delivered in sequence to the assembly area, correlating to the JLR production schedule. 

Multi-level shuttles and a mini-load crane pick the required items according to instructions from the warehouse control system (WCS) and deliver them to four pick stations where the sets of components are sequenced before being delivered by conveyor to the production area.  Following a completed picking sequence, the tote or carton used is delivered by conveyor to a specific drop point within the assembly area on the ground floor.  The conveyor can accept a wide variety of containers, handle at least 600 items/hour and automatically return empty containers.

The ASRS equipment consists of 14 multi-level shuttles (MLS) in four of the aisles and a single mini-load crane in the central fifth aisle.  Each shuttle can access 1120 tray locations and complete 50 in and out tray cycles an hour.  The mini-load crane can access 4300 tray locations and complete 70 in and out tray cycles an hour.  As all the equipment can handle large and small tray types, all products can be stored in any part of the racking.  The shuttles and crane are also compact and fast-moving, so they allow Lear to have the maximum amount of storage capacity and production space while also achieving the throughput required.  

This design has a potential throughput of 770 trays/hour to the four picking stations and also enables up to 185 trays/hour to be delivered from an incoming product induction area into the racking.  Material induction is on the ground floor and connected by an elevator to the main conveyor loop.  Bar code labels are applied to trays and cartons that include package identification, package code, package quantity and tray identification.  Packages are also checked for dimensions and weight.  Maximum weight specified is 50kg.

The Gebhardt warehouse control system controls all high level functions in the automation, such as the routing of the trays on the ASRS and the conveyor systems, the location of the trays in the ASRS, the linking of products with the tray identification, and it also manages the operator (HMI) screens on the system.