Kronospan Swiss AG banks on THE Hubtex Order Picking Platform
High quality boards moved carefully
For the semi-automatic order-picking of high-quality chipboards Kronospan Schweiz AG relies on the order-picking platform EZK 35, with Vacumat, with one or two additional functions by Hubtex and Rohrer-Marti AG for positioning, replacing with aligning, and replacing with securing.
Chianti Oak, Oak Classic, or Swiss Elm: When wood materials bear such names, extreme caution is advised when order-picking. The product names used by Kronospan Schweiz AG stand for high-quality, true-to-nature decors with embossed texture which recreates the grain of natural wood. They can hardly be distinguished from real wood and are aimed at a demanding public – this means that even more importance must be attached to careful transport to avoid scratches right from the start.
Customer-friendly individual order-picking
Against this background, the store managers of Kronospan Schweiz AG began searching for a suitable order-picking solution for the production center in Menznau in the hinterland of Lucerne as early as 2013. A wide variety of decorative wood materials in thicknesses of between 8 and 50 mm are stored in the equipment hall there on 920 shelves. The boards with dimensions of 2,800 x 2,070 mm weigh between 30 and 278 kg. About 100 orders are picked per day here in a two-shift operation.
Every order received by 16:00 is sent out on the next working day, and the customers can even order single boards. “Within the Swiss Krono Group, we are the only center that offers the specialist trade outlets customer-friendly individual order-picking”, stresses Jürg Meier, who works for Kronospan as the commercial director. The number of items in the order is generally between 1 and 24, which means that approximately 21,000 picks are carried out per annum.
Individual order picking presented a major challenge, particularly given the high-quality surfaces. “Sliding the boards down from the stack is hardly possible without scratches and it is unreasonable to expect the employees to lift them manually”, summarises project manager Michael Hofstetter, who works at Kronospan as a technical clerk. Moreover, the board stacks formed for each order must line up exactly so that when transported by truck or train no damage occurs. With these requirements, Kronospan Schweiz AG turned to several solution providers and considered fully and semi-automatic approaches. “The fully automatic solution was soon excluded for reasons of cost, particularly as we wanted to retain the existing support arm frame”, Michael Hofstetter remembers.
Constructive cooperation with HUBTEX
At the end of the selection phase in February 2014, Rohrer-Marti AG and Hubtex were able to penetrate the market with a vacuum lifting device using the order-picking platform EZK 35. “Hubtex and Rohrer-Marti, as the only suppliers, were willing to adapt their existing product with new solutions to our special requirements and the prevailing spatial conditions”, says Jürg Meier.
The EZK 35 platform has been considerably expanded for Kronospan Schweiz AG. The order-picking platform delivered in July 2015, therefore, has automatic shelf positioning and devices, which are currently unique, for centering and tying the boards to the truck. Unlike previously, the entire process is now carried out by a single order-picker who no longer needs to leave the EZK 35 for this. “The collaboration with Hubtex and Rohrer-Marti went smoothly and was extremely constructive from the first project idea to the finished platform”, says project leader Michael Hofstetter in its praise.
High-precision navigation with the HUBTEX order picker
The order-picking process begins with the input of the four-digit storage position which is on the delivery note together with the quantity ordered. Whilst the first digit defines the aisle number, the next two digits indicate the storage rack, and the fourth digit is the shelf level. The order-picker records the four digits on the large touch panel of the operating platform. The operator then navigates directly and with precision to their target. During this process, the barcode strips applied to the shelf aisles play a central role. Each centimeter of a shelf aisle corresponds to a barcode which is recorded by the reading devices installed at chassis height during the run. If, during the run, the reading device finds the barcode of the desired storage rack, the operator – guided by a graphic display on the touch panel – goes to the correct shelf level with their joystick so that they can begin the removal process from there.
The Vacumat, with its lifting and blowing off the boards, now comes into operation. A total of eight bellows suction cups snugly fit onto the board so that they can suck on the board and raise it precisely onto the order-picking platform. “Each order pick is protected at the bottom and top, as in a sandwich, by a baseboard which the order-picker inserts using the Vacumat at the beginning and end of each order”, explains Hofstetter. If there is dust or other contamination on one of the boards this can be removed using the integrated blow-off device with the press of a button.
As soon as the board has been deposited on the platform, the moving columns installed at the corners take over the centering process. In this way, the stacks placed precisely one on top of the other are formed layer by layer with a maximum tolerance of 8 mm, thus enabling Hubtex to meet another requirement of Kronospan. After the last order item has been processed, the operator positions the upper base board in the same way and immediately begins the strapping. “For this, the order-picker needs neither to leave the vehicle nor alter the present vertical position, which saves a lot of time for us”, of which Hofstetter is convinced.
To make optimum use of the confined space on the device, the complete work basket is moved semi-automatically to the right in the direction of travel before strapping so that the operator can move comfortably and without risk in front of the stack. The role of PET strapping is suspended ready to grip on a rail and can be pushed to the typing position by the order-picker without effort. It is there that the end of the strap is threaded into the guide opening provided, then pulled around the entire stack or the individual pick using the compressed air motor.
Here, too, the designers have considered an innovation in terms of the lower return of the strapping. If there are several order picks on the platform it must be possible to tie them individually. For this purpose, an automatic device was installed on the opposite side of the strap input to allow running at every possible height of the order picks and guarantee the return of the strap.
All that the order-picker then has to do is to weld the strap ends with a hand device and run the order now finished to the handover point.
To also save time in this case a new stack of boards can be picked up with the vehicle immediately after the handover of the picked order in the same support arm frame in which a centering device built separately for the vehicle is located on the lowest position and stored in the compartment provided for this purpose.
Ergonomic one-man operation
The four colleagues working alternately on the device have quickly gotten used to the new working process. “After three days the learning phase was completed”, confirms Hofstetter. In the future, further employees will be recruited and trained to use the order-picking platform so that they will be better prepared for absences due to illness and holidays.