If you are considering an investment in warehouse automation, or have already automated your DCs, you will understand the importance of uptime and the financial impact even a few minutes of disruption creates. James Hannay, Managing Director of SCHAD Ltd, an engineering mobility specialist, explains how its smart mobile application, EXTEND7000, is transforming logistics automation and ongoing maintenance management.
What does SCHAD do?
We specialise in developing smart mobile applications for monitoring automation systems and managing planned or unplanned maintenance activities. Our system -EXTEND7000 – integrates with any logistics automation solution to create a mobile control room, allowing engineers to monitor, maintain and control operations from any location using the DC’s existing WiFi or GPRS network. It means the technical team responsible for maintenance are immediately aware of problems with their automation equipment, within seconds of a fault occurring.
Why integrate mobility with logistics automation?
Automation is highly efficient but it is also expensive. Any company investing in automation equipment – conveyors, sorters, high bay unmanned cranes – is looking at a significant investment on the hardware and software required and cannot afford to incur unnecessary downtime. Capital expenditure at this level in today’s economy represents a real risk to the business and any investment case will be very carefully scrutinised.
EXTEND7000 allows the financial outlay to be recouped more quickly by minimising interruptions and downtime, helping the user see a faster return and ultimately, a lower total cost of ownership.
Baggage handling illustrates the impact on automation KPIs
One of the clearest illustrations of the financial impact EXTEND7000 has on automated environments can be seen in airports already using the system. Traditionally heavy users of automated conveyors, a number of airports working with Vanderlande Industries automated baggage handling solutions have adopted this technology to reduce downtime. Baggage handling especially is a highly complex and time critical operation that relies on achieving almost 100% uptime to ensure flights leave without delays and bags are not left behind.
EXTEND7000 is currently being used at Munich, Koln and Berlin airports in Germany who have seen significant improvements to baggage handling operational performance. Specifically, it has been able to reduce the LBI (leave behind index), an important KPI used by airport operators to measure business performance and realise all round service improvements.
Greater uptime means handling more stock, greater revenues
The same principle applies to the logistics environment where higher automation uptime means the warehouse can run more efficiently, handle greater volumes of stock and use fewer resources.
Streamlined production and logistics automation
Lugato, an adhesives manufacturer merged monitoring activities for its automated production and logistics activities onto a single user interface – a BlackBerry smartphone – working with SCHAD. Prior to implementing EXTEND7000, Lugato’s production and logistics operations were run as separate functions, resulting in high overheads. Notifications and alarms in the event of plant automation malfunctions were sent manually to a central control room by phone, which needed permanent manning to support engineers working on the shop floor.
Now after implementing EXTEND7000, notifications are sent straight to an engineer’s smartphone allowing them to respond to problems immediately.
Depending on their level of authorisation, engineers can remotely control systems, visually investigate the cause of issues, fix problems on the spot or access the central maintenance system to review work or check for spare parts availability – from any location. Distances travelled by each employee within Lugato’s large industrial complexes have also been reduced which means improved resource utilisation levels.
30 mins less downtime means an extra truckload is shipped daily
What has been the financial impact? Lugato has measured much higher automation system availability levels since implementing EXTEND7000 with a corresponding 3% increase in staff efficiency. Approximately 30 minutes less machine downtime is consistently being recorded by the company each day. Overall, Lugato has estimated this extra half an hour of machine availability means they can ship an extra truckload of finished products every day.
Complex, multi site automation monitoring
BAUR, one of Germany’s biggest e-tailers, uses EXTEND7000 at its three highly complex automated DCs. At these sites, BAUR operates a variety of different conveyor and sorting systems, 14 stacker cranes and high-rack storage machinery, controlled by over 60 Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Around 70,000 notifications have been defined within EXTEND7000 to monitor its logistics automation technology including conveyor states such as “running”, “standstill”, “maintenance switch off/on” or run time errors.
Before integrating EXTEND7000, control room technicians would individually call maintenance engineers with error messages. This caused workflow issues because control room staff did not know which of the 35 engineers were in service, or, whether they had already accepted a maintenance task.
As a result, several calls were required before an available engineer could take over the task, increasing downtime levels. Telephone costs were also higher than necessary because before introducing EXTEND7000, each employee used mobile phones with a traditional call tariffs. Now BAUR equips its warehouse engineers with Blackberry smartphones using more cost effective ‘call & surf’ tariffs.
The result? After implementing SCHAD’s system, employee efficiency increased by 15 percent and support telephone call costs were reduced by 60 percent, which has meant BAUR has already completely recouped the conversion costs of moving its engineers onto smartphones.
Smart integrated mobile technology
Described by SCHAD as a smart mobile application, EXTEND7000 has the ability to seamlessly interact with multiple systems, an existing SCADA system, directly with PLCs or with a CMMS maintenance system, such as IBM Maximo. It allows logistics automation engineers to monitor and control multiple systems remotely, using any mobile device from any location, according to a pre-defined workflow.
Notifications sent directly to the most appropriate engineer in seconds
Alerts and notifications are prioritised by severity and urgency and allocated to the right engineer according their skills, agreed escalation route, existing workload and physical proximity to the problem. All this occurs in real time onto their mobile device whilst they are working on the shop floor. It means information to fix a fault, including documentation or maintenance history, is instantly available and time-consuming allocation of on-site personnel by a control room via phone or text message is eliminated.
The application works in the same way as the native application or mobile device, making it very intuitive. Blackberry users scroll down information using the roller, whereas those on Android or Apple devices have the same touch screen methodology and the EXTEND7000 environment mirrors the design of the central software application – a SCADA or CMMS system. As a further benefit, because EXTEND7000 works by ‘pushing’ notifications to the user’s device, battery life is maximised and there is no need for organisations to purchase traditional ruggedised computers.
SCHAD believes it is a natural extension for companies who use logistics automation to apply a new layer of enterprise mobility. And as more warehouses introduce process automation, the issue of downtime reduction will be increasingly important to improve control and reduce the costs of downtime.
Tel: 01628 602223