Material Handling
Friday | 09 January, 2009 | 8:24 am

Time to update

By Liz Sommerville

January 2009 - When Friedrich Remmert GmbH, Lohne, Germany, wanted to find out what kind of potential market existed for its services of offering updates on automated storage and retrieval systems, it conducted a thorough investigation, interviewing 125 managing directors and logistics managers throughout Europe. The results were compiled into the study "Modernization of Automated Warehouses for Sheet and Long Stock Companies."

Possible opportunities
Remmert contacted all its European customers, as well as some potential customers, who are using automated warehouse systems for heavy goods like long bar and sheet.

"A lot of these companies have invested a lot of money in automated storage and retrieval systems over the past 25 years," says Matthias Remmert, managing director. "Now, a big portion of them are starting to think about updating the systems. So we did a little investigation and found out that thereƕs quite a potential market for us in Europe offering updates on the systems."

Remmert asked those interviewed about their ideas for modernization, how they feel about it and what they view as potential risks of the project. Only a quarter of the companies surveyed have modernized their warehousing systems in the last five years, and only 40 percent have had any updates at all. When asked about the most important objectives of modernizing their systems, the responses ranged from improving turnaround times through general rationalization to enlarging warehouse capacity and cutting personnel costs, as well as ensuring safe warehouse operation.

Project plans
Those surveyed listed expanding capacity and replacing mechanical wear parts, as well as drive and control systems, as the most desired modernization projects. Customers emphasized integrating or updating the warehouse management system, with 40 percent listing that as the most important measure. About 20 percent ranked the exchange of IT hardware as top priority.

In terms of warehouse software, Remmert found a significant difference between the modernization projects of the past and planning for the future. Although only 8 percent of the companies with experience in modernization have connected their warehouse management system to production machines, twice as many companies that haven't yet modernized plan to.

About two-thirds of those interviewed considered connecting the interface as the highest risk when updating the system. The second-largest risk named was choosing a partner without modernization experience. According to the companies that already have had an update, the third-largest risk lies in an incomplete specification of the requirements, while those who haven't yet modernized listed poor time management as being the third-highest risk.

Recommended action
To ensure a partner is competent and experienced, Remmert recommends documenting the actual situation in detail at the start of every project and clearly summarizing the requirement specification. It's important that existing systems be documented in detail.

"I would advise anyone who's planning to modernize a warehouse to consider the warehouse's future development before starting on the modernization," says Remmert. "An automated link between the warehouse and production, for instance, usually yields greater potential for optimization and ensures that the warehouse remains competitive in the long term."

Remmert says future opportunities for the company's customers include gaining higher productivity out of a running system, increased speed and output, and integration optimization based on today's production needs.

"Some of my competitors are focused on just one particular process or one particular brand of integration," he says. "They just integrate sawing Machine A and just two or three models of Machine A. We're more open than that. We integrate Machines A, B, C, D, and E, or whatever is needed, into our system. We help prepare [companies] for the future." MM

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