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FEATURE AUTOMATED WAREHOUSING


RISING TO THE WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION CHALLENGE


The need to maximise storage capacity places tight constraints on the space available to install equipment. Pressure to control costs and reduce the environmental footprint of distribution operations places extra emphasis on energy efficiency. At the same time, machine builders find


T


oday’s warehouse operations must deliver unprecedented levels of


speed, flexibility and efficiency. As companies gear up to meet demands of e-commerce fulfilment, for example, they need to handle high, and variable, volumes of diverse products with ever shorter end-to-end cycle times. Responding to these challenges requires smart choices about the components and technology platforms used.


THE CHALLENGES And if day-to-day operations weren’t challenging enough, warehouse systems must be able to cope with steep seasonal peaks and a rapidly changing product mix. They must do all that while keeping demand for space, energy, labour and capital equipment under tight control. For many warehouse operators, this environment is driving a dramatic rise in the degree of automation within their intralogistics facilities. As such, today’s automation systems need to be fast, agile and, above all, available. For the builders of warehouse handling


equipment, this environment creates conflicting challenges. Distribution centres are becoming more complex, with many more automation elements from conveyor systems to robots and automated guided vehicles. These all need to be tightly coordinated. Systems are smarter too, following the influence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). There are more sensors, capable of collecting and processing more data and able to communicate with a greater number and variety of external systems.


24 NOVEMBER 2017 | AUTOMATION


Distribution centres are becoming more complex, with many more automation elements from conveyor systems to robots and automated guided vehicles


their customers are pushing for shorter development lead-times so they can quickly follow new market trends. They want simplicity in operation, minimal maintenance, standard components to control spare parts inventories, and responsive service and support. Finally, pressure to keep capital and operating expenses under tight control means costs are always under scrutiny. Responding to those challenges requires OEMs to make smart choices about the components and technology platforms they use. Here are some key areas to consider when selecting an automation technology partner.


Automation needs to be simple, safe and easily interfaced with the warehouse master system


SUPPORT FROM CONCEPT TO PRODUCTION Whether it is an OEM developing new handling equipment or the warehouse operator setting out on a major refurbishment project, the choice of provider for drives and automation is crucial. The chosen provider should have the capabilities and willingness to work alongside you through the complete project, from initial concept to long-term service. Lenze has developed and refined a five step process that has been designed around the needs of the machine builder and their end-customers: 1. Developing ideas - Involving the partner at the earliest stages of a project can help to identify opportunities to maximise machine performance and minimize costs. The partner should bring in the latest drive and automation concepts to make a decisive difference to operating performance. 2. Drafting concepts - As a project


moves into the design phase, the partner should take a holistic view of the individual motion and control functions and draw up a consistent drive and automation solution. Motion paths should be optimised. Automation needs to be simple, safe and easily interfaced with the warehouse master system. 3. Implementing solutions - Here, the partner should be able to bring in expertise in areas such as energy efficiency, optimised product dimensioning and easy to use software.


The solution should be the one that best suits the requirements of the application rather than one the provider prefers. 4. Manufacturing machines - When


automation, visualisation, control, logic and the drives all come from one partner, developers and commissioning engineers benefit from interfaces that fit together by design. This reduces machine development times and costs. 5. Ensuring productivity - Minimising


problems and downtime for machines in service requires aftersales support. Here, Lenze offers international service packages for continued safe operation. The primary focus is on technical support, based on the application expertise of a knowledgeable support team.


THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY The provider of drives and automation needs to have the resources to support through the project lifetime. Experience in intralogistics is important, leading to the ability to choose the right technology. Servo motor systems are an example. They work brilliantly in highly dynamic, accurate high speed motion applications, such as those found on packaging and wrapping machinery. However, in material handling the requirements for precision are usually not so high, therefore, simpler solutions are better. The increasing capability of conventional motors with modern inverter drives means that they can often become the right choice, reducing costs. Another example are the drives for conveyors, the ubiquitous element in materials handling, requiring a fixed but adjustable speed and soft start/stop ramps. The Lenze Smart Motor provides a motor, drive and gearbox in a single, adaptable package that includes numerous integrated functions for materials handling applications. Specifying Smart Motors in a warehouse automation system can reduce the number of different drive and motor variants in a facility by up to 70 per cent as the running speed can be easily pre- set electronically. Thus, identical stocked drives can be set to run at different speeds. This simplifies maintenance and spare parts inventories. Wiring is simplified too, as the motor incorporates the electronic contactor, the ramp settings and thermal protection.


THE RIGHT DEVELOPMENT TOOLS Today, a major part of the costs for material handling machinery is motion


/AUTOMATION


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