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Sustainable intralogistics

"Digitisation is the key to efficient warehouse operations"

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From 19 to 22 March 2024, Anuga FoodTec will show what is possible in terms of sustainable intralogistics. Together with Fabian Spitz, Sales Manager at Westfalia Technologies in Borgholzhausen, Germany, we took a look at the most important trends in the industry. Here it becomes apparent that: The focus is on an increasing demand for energy-efficient automation solutions for the food industry, as can be found at the Cologne trade fair centre.

Portrait Fabian Spitz

Whether it's digitization or a shortage of skilled workers: There's a lot going on in intralogistics right now. In this interview, Sales Manager Fabian Spitz talks about current trends and what solutions Westfalia Technologies has in store for the food industry.

Mr Spitz, if you look at a warehouse in the food industry 20 years ago and today - what has changed?
Various trends can be observed in the design of warehouses in the food sector. One of them is the consolidation process among food manufacturers. In the process, larger production volumes are concentrated on a smaller number of producers. This ultimately means that the warehouses at the locations have to keep pace with this growth in order to have sufficient capacity. Another trend is the development towards an ever-increasing variety of products at the point of sale, as consumers today expect a wider range of food products than 20 years ago.

Intralogistics plays an important role as the central link between production and trade. To what extent has the need for automated solutions increased with the growing variety of products?
The quantity, cost and time pressure has increased significantly, in part due to the growing demand for frozen and long-life foods. Today, supply chains are organised and networked end-to-end. And the demands on delivery accuracy are constantly increasing.

Same-day delivery is almost standard in online retail grocery trade ...
The intelligent control of the warehouse and the storage and retrieval strategies is becoming increasingly important under these conditions. Extremely high warehouse fill levels and dispatch provisioning can only be implemented efficiently with a sophisticated concept, even with a broad product variety ...

... which means: Transparency is the be-all and end-all of warehouse management? And in order to remain economically successful, the digital transformation in intralogistics has top priority?
Yes. Whereas in the past it was enough to know the stock level, today it's necessary to bring together large quantities of data from the most diverse systems and process them in real time. Digitisation is the key to efficient and resource-saving warehouse operations at this point. Intralogistics solutions from Westfalia therefore have a very high degree of automation. For example, through the intelligent control of the entire warehouse with Savanna.NET.

What exactly is that?
It's a fully integrated Warehouse Execution System (WES) that combines functionalities such as warehouse management and material flow control in one software. Savanna.NET has a modular structure and offers an overview of both the company's own high-bay warehouse and entire clusters of automated warehouse locations. This makes it possible to manage everything from the smallest warehouses with a few hundred storage bays to larger installations with more than 100,000 storage bays. In addition, there are a wide variety of modules, dispatch management, order picking, forklift guidance systems and much more to choose from depending on your requirements.

What components does your modular system include and what tasks can it handle?
Westfalia customers have access to a wide portfolio of storage and transport technologies. With this modular system, we can fine-tune the storage systems to meet any requirement. What the systems have in common is that they are designed and manufactured with a very high level of vertical integration at our site in Borgholzhausen. When it comes to the various storage technologies, food manufacturers can fall back on a wide variety of satellite types for multi-deep storage and diverse types of telescopic fork warehouses for single and double-deep storage in order to optimally cope with diverse storage and transport tasks.

With telescopic warehouses and satellite warehouses you offer two different types of warehouses. Which criteria play a role in the selection?
This question can only be answered to a limited extent. Each storage solution is individual and is optimally matched to the customer's needs by our project planners and engineers. In addition to the required system throughput rates and the available space, other aspects such as the average batch size of the products, shipping structure and much more are also taken into account during planning. The ideal storage system is only developed within the framework of such a detailed analysis.

As in the case of Wernsing Feinkost, for example ...
In 2022, we expanded the capacity here from the previous 61,000 storage bays by around 23,000 storage bays for Euro, industrial, H3 and one-way pallets with an automatic cold storage warehouse and two automatic deep-freeze warehouses. Our satellite technology was used for this.

What challenge was the producer of potato products faced with in the process?
The goal was to fully utilise the seasonal potato harvests, i.e. to process them in bulk and store them at a single location until they were sold. So maximum capacity was to be created on a very limited footprint. What's more: The production of frozen items and non-refrigerated food is usually realised in larger batches. Storing such high weights over a long period of time - in this case units of potato products weighing around one tonne - puts enormous stress on the pallets used. These bend in warehouses with double support, so that malfunctions can occur ...

... and what was the answer to these punishing conditions for the loading aids?
In a dialogue with Wernsing, the chain satellite with triple support turned out to be the optimal solution for the project-specific requirements. The combination of triple support, i.e. an additional centre rail in the storage channels, and the chain-satellite load handling device enable particularly stable storage and long service lives with high availability of the system. For example, the customer can also easily store items intended for export on one-way pallets without a bottom pallet.

The industry complains about a massive shortage of skilled workers. Especially for frozen food warehouses, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified people for order picking ...
The harsh working conditions at minus 25 degrees Celsius or colder are without question one of the biggest challenges for the industry. Here as well, the key to success lies in the use of automation. Intelligent and networked processes can further protect scarce human resources. Westfalia has various approaches, such as goods-to-man systems or fully automated layer picking, which have been successfully implemented several times in the deep-freeze environment and in the fresh produce area. One special feature, for example, are maintenance lifts on the stacker cranes. In extreme refrigeration and deep-freeze environments, they reduce the workload on staff. In this way, they enable Wernsing's service staff to reach every point in the 29-metre-high warehouses with minimum effort.

Keyword climate-neutral production. Food manufacturers like Wernsing face the challenge of constantly improving the sustainability of their processes. How can intralogistics help here?
A storage system must always be part of the sustainability concept. Especially in the frozen food sector, the satellite warehouse shows its advantages here. The energy costs for cooling can be minimised thanks to the very high storage density and the associated highly efficient space utilisation. This was another reason why Wernsing, which is the first company in the potato processing industry in Germany to be certified as climate-neutral since October 2020, opted for our technology. But the high-bay system provides a building block for the sustainable growth of the food producer in more ways than one ...

Can you elaborate on that?
It is also convincing in combination with its three energy-efficient stacker cranes, which together perform up to 184 pallet movements per hour. They have intelligent drive controls for energy balancing between the travel and lift axles. This makes the braking energy available as lifting energy and feeds electricity back into the system. In addition, the warehouse layout reduces energy consumption. The multi-deep warehouses get by with only three warehouse aisles and vehicles in standby.

Another special feature is the enormous flexibility of the warehouse layout ...
The two deep-freeze stores were built 20 degrees rotated to the cold store to accommodate the property boundary. The available space was optimally utilized with graduated channel depths. 24 storage bays are provided by the deepest storage channel. The high capacity enabled Wernsing to bundle logistics in an economical, resource-saving way.

What should food producers start with if they want to automate their existing warehouse?
We always recommend talking to one of our intralogistics experts at the beginning. In workshops, we can record the customer-specific requirements and framework conditions in detail and derive the appropriate concept solutions from them.

In conclusion, can you say something about the trends that will drive intralogistics in the future?
At the top of the list are rising energy costs and digitization. The trend toward increasingly efficient and highly automated systems will continue. Solutions in the sense of resource-saving warehouse logistics are becoming increasingly decisive for competition. Especially in the field of artificial intelligence, things are likely to get exciting. Machine learning makes warehouse management more agile, enabling it to respond faster to changing supply chain requirements - making better use of resources and avoiding bottlenecks.

Satellite warehouses at Wernsing Feinkost create maximum capacity on a minimal footprint. This allows the harvest of a season to be processed and stored centrally until sale.

The warehouse system also deals with pallets in a sustainable way. The triple support in the bearing channels makes them more durable. This prevents malfunctions and downtimes.

Deep-freeze environments place special demands on service personnel. Thanks to service lifts on the stacker cranes, this can be moved to any position with minimum effort.

The Satellit load handling device transports even heavy loads into deep storage channels quickly and precisely, without damaging the material. At Wernsing, up to 24 load units are stored there one after the other.

Empty pallets on their way to the stacker crane. In a satellite warehouse, the occasionally rare and expensive loading aids have a long life.