A collaborative spirit was at work during this stage as well. “We were looking for an automation partner who was willing to be flexible and expand on what we already had in place. It was also important that the solution provide both storage density and new technology,” adds Hambleton.
Schaefer’s Case Picking System (SCP) combined with the Schaefer Tray System (STS) solves the problem of each picking and building a stable pallet. The STS racking system is nearly 80 feet high and provides storage space for 90,000 trays.
Matthias Merz is SSI Schaefer’s site manager, and he’s been heading up the project with ES3 since early 2010, six months before the automation project went live during the summer of 2010.
“What really sets this system apart is layer storage. If the design was a single case system, then the building would have to be considerably larger and less stock would be on hand in the picking machine,” explains Merz, who adds that in addition to improving velocity and throughput, the layer system also offers a more compact footprint in terms of the facility size.
At the heart of Schaefer’s automation solution is the SPPG, or Schaefer Pack Pattern Generator. The SPPG interprets data from the WMS to build an optimal shipping pallet in the shortest amount of time.
“The entire order is placed into SPPG,” says Merz. “It looks at the stock, the order, and then builds the most stable pallet possible—up to 25 percent more dense than pallets packed by humans. It also provides a 3D representation before the pallet is even packed.”
The level of sophistication is rather impressive, really. For example, while other vendors offer technology that segregates caustic products from food products by placing them on different pallets, SPPG is able to utilize a single pallet by packing caustic products on the bottom of the pallet and keeping food products separated at the top of the pallet. It also packs pallets with store-friendliness in mind, which makes for more efficient use of time and labor when the pallet is unpacked at the retail store.
According to Merz, SPPG also takes into account crushability and the weight case stacks, both of which further enhance the optimum packing considerations and attest to the computing power inherent in the software. Furthermore, Schaefer uses a picture processing system—Machine Vision Technology—to store critical information on the items in the system, including a product’s dimensions, weight, and “look,” which are used to file a basic draft of the packing unit in the article database.
Overall, Schaefer designed the SCP on three separate levels to accommodate goods receiving, storage, and goods shipping. Up to 1,300 pallets are received daily into the SSI SCP system, depalletized, and then stored, while 9 robots are used to build up to 74 perfectly designed outbound pallets with 5,350 cases each hour.
“The SPPG software got its debut with the ES3 project,” notes Merz. “This was actually our prototype system. About 70 percent of the equipment used at the York, Pennsylvania facility was never used before, which required a certain amount of faith on the part of ES3 because they didn’t have an opportunity to see it in action at another facility except at our own Technology Center in Germany.”
Reflecting on the scale of the project, particularly on the IT and software side, ES3’s Hambleton remarks, “We’ve been doing ‘big data’ for 10 years. It’s about facilitating the collaboration that allows for optimization. We needed to be able to talk to everybody’s systems—Schaefer’s, our other suppliers, manufacturers and retailers—and not only use the terminology that these different systems used (SAP, Oracle, etc.), but at the level of aggregation that they expected.”
She continues, “Retailers want to see the store data; manufacturers don’t, and neither wants to see an invoice at the store level. So we aggregate, disaggregate, and translate—we make everything work. It’s pretty complex.”
Hambleton takes every opportunity to reinforce the importance of collaboration for ES3 as well as the industry as a whole.