GROB relies on automated storage solution from viastore

Significantly improved supply of assembly area


The machine manufacturer GROB, based in Mindelheim, converted the supply of its assembly workstations completely from the “person-to-goods” principle to an automatic “goods-to-person” warehouse solution. As a result, assembly supply has significantly improved and the processes are simpler, more transparent and faster.

For machine manufacturer GROB it was a logistic paradigm shift: The family-run company based in Mindelheim, Germany completely converted the supply of its assembly workstations from the “person-to-goods” principle to an automated warehouse “goods-to-person” solution. viastore SYSTEMS GmbH was selected to be the systems integrator. The Stuttgart specialists in turnkey intralogistics systems and software implemented an automated mini-load system and a pallet warehouse. GROB derived immediate and clearly noticeable benefit from this solution: The supply of the assembly area has significantly improved, and the processes have become simpler, faster and more transparent.

For nearly 40 years, Mindelheim (1 hour west of Munich) has been home to GROB-Werke GmbH & Co. KG. With more than 113,000 square meters of production space and over 3,000 employees, the Mindelheim plant is the company’s largest site. The family-run company is a provider of customized solutions for high volume production: individualized manufacturing lines consisting of modular machining centers and special machines that are linked by modern automation solutions. This also includes machining systems for the automotive industry and powertrain assembly lines, as well as universal machining centers for suppliers, for the medical technology, tool, mold making and aerospace sectors, as well as for the mechanical engineering industry. Worldwide, the GROB Group employs around 4,500 people and in 2013 generated revenue of €950 million.

High quality standards and constant innovation have had a very positive effect at GROB. In recent years, the equipment manufacturer extended its production by more than 35 percent and created some 700 new jobs. However, along with the entrepreneurial success the requirements regarding the efficient material flow to supply the assembly workstations have increased too. “The storage capacity at the site was no longer sufficient. We had to resort to external warehouses that we operated according to the classic person-to-goods principle,” says Christian Lisiecki, Head of Logistics. “Our staff manually collected together the goods on pallets or in pallet boxes according to paper lists and then delivered them to the assembly with a forklift.” The storage capacities were exhausted over time. In addition, the flow of goods and the inventories were not always transparent. “When parts were missing at an assembly station during the night shift, then the colleagues just went to the warehouse and fetched them,” explains Lisiecki.

Due to the high complexity of assembly processes and the provision of material, the outsourcing of logistics to an external service provider it was not an option. Two years ago the management gave the go-ahead for a new logistics center, with the goal of retrieving the various external storage facilities. With this project, GROB has converted its warehouse concept to a system with planned goods-to-person picking. The goods are stored on pallets, in pallet boxes and in containers of different sizes. “These different load carriers are necessary because we need to store very tiny parts that are just a few millimeters in size, all the way through to very bulky machinery components that weigh up to one ton,” says Lisiecki. A special challenge at GROB is that there are as many as 1.9 million material master records – and each day about 500 new ones are added. So the people in charge of logistics at GROB were looking for a competent partner to master this logistics challenge within a very narrow time frame.

15 potential suppliers were contacted, but after initial discussions only three were left in the running, with viastore being selected. “viastore’s high level of system and software expertise is very convincing. It is not easy to find a partner whose software can be seamlessly connected to SAP. This was a very important aspect for us,” Lisiecki points out. viastore undertook to keep to the contract schedule – and the company kept its word: In spring, the contract was signed and nine months later the system went live.

With both systems, GROB employees pick between 5,000 and 6,000 parts from the automated storage systems each day.

viastore implemented a four-aisle automated viaspeed mini-load automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) with 2-/4-deep storage, and a 7-aisle , single-deep viapal automated pallet warehouse.

The mini-load system, which is 65.5 meters long, 8.4 meters wide and 8.8 meters high, With 26,288 storage locations. 580 containers can be stored and retrieved per hour. The system has four pick stations and is connected to a manual warehouse via a platform with a pick-up/drop-off location. What makes this system so special is that the load handling devices of the mini-load AS/RS can handle either two containers with a footprint of 600x400 mm or four containers measuring 300x400 mm – and also one container sized 600x400 mm or two containers measuring 300x400 mm. GROB benefits from significantly higher flexibility in the storage of small parts and vastly  improved space utilization. Each container can hold a load of 30 and 15 kilograms respectively.

To further increase the flexibility of the system, viastore divided the mini-load AS/RS into two halves. “The advantage is that we can supply both sides with only one material conveyor system connection,” explains Peter Päusch, who heads viastore’s planning and sales office for southern Germany. At the end of the storage system buffer zones have been created in the new logistics center. If necessary, the system can thus be extended easily without requiring additional handling technology.

The 7 aisle automated pallet warehouse 76.6 meters long, 30.4 meters wide and 8.5 meters high, four pick stations. There are 8,772 storage locations in single deep storage, with a maximum load capacity of one ton per pallet. When run at full capacity, the pallet AS/RS can perform 280 storage and retrieval operations per hour.

A Vitronic camera system records the degree of filling of each load carrier. “First of all, this helps us to obtain valuable key performance indicators, secondly, our employees can selectively remove empty containers and add parts. This helps to optimize the degree of filling containers and the warehouse,” says Lisiecki. The images are stored in the data system. If necessary, they are used to check for missing parts, or to detect storage errors.

GROB uses SAP in conjunction with the viastore warehouse management system for the management and control of its warehouse.  The WMS is linked to SAP and SAP controls the assignment and management of storage locations. In addition, it regulates the transport strategies for the load units in the automated part of the logistics center. At GROB, it was specified that SAP should be the leading system in the warehouse, too.

The operators work with the SAP front end so that one system would be used throughout all company areas. “We want to display very specific additional information to our staff in order to avoid mistakes,” says Lisiecki. Nevertheless, GROB wanted to utilize several important WMS functions from viastore. The high level of flexibility within the viastore WMS can be adapted to all requirements thanks to its modular design. “The viastore WMS holds sway over the allocation of storage locations because the WMS system knows where what goods are so it can make better use of the logic of allocations than SAP,” says Lisiecki.

Lisiecki calls the combination of SAP and the viastore WMS an “excellent solution that implements our SAP ideas on the one hand and uses the strengths of the viastore solutions on the other.” The software allows the head of logistics to compile the desired key figures individually and flexibly via a dashboard.

The automated warehouse has paid off for GROB. The system has been running smoothly from the start, with the degree of filling in the pallet racking hitting 81 percent just a few weeks after start-up, and at 46 percent in the container rack. “With the automated solution provided by viastore we can further improve our processes. The pick quality is excellent and the throughput rate is significantly higher than before,” reports Lisiecki. GROB needs maximum system availability to supply the assembly area with high process reliability. “This is just what we got. The system has run smoothly from the very first moment. The packing density has also increased many times over.”

The ‘complete change of system’ will make further optimizations possible in the future for GROB. For now, though, the system is not needing to run at maximum speed, its performance is not exhausted. “There are plenty of concept ideas that we would like to implement over the course of time,” says Christian Lisiecki. The logistics specialist sees the collection and analysis of relevant warehouse data have improved significantly. “We can now apply totally new methods.” The in-house material flow can be much better structured as a result of the viastore solution. Even after a short period of operation further requirements are on the horizon. “We need additional pick stations,” says Lisiecki and looking over to Peter Päusch from viastore he adds: “We’ll be wanting a quotation for that.”

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