The demands on global logistics and their reliability are increasing rapidly. Avoiding errors, identifying potential savings and the need for forecasts to improve planning often require new approaches – real-time location technologies combined with IIoT solutions make a significant contribution to digitization and process optimization.
A concrete example is the use of the INTRANAV multi-technology platform at a logistics company in Hesse: with 15,000 retailers worldwide, 15 textile and accessory brands and a readiness for dispatch within 24 hours is TB International (TBInt.) a globally recognized retailer for renowned fashion labels, handling international logistics for their online retailers and brands. Automation and digitalization are an important pillar of the corporate strategy for TBInt. and are being massively driven forward with high annual investments.
The challenge: High number of steps for identification and acknowledgement along the process chain as well as search times and faulty putaway processes
In order to adapt the classic processes of inbound, storage, and outbound to the constantly increasing requirements in a warehouse with 25,000 square meters of logistics space and almost 35,000 pallet spaces, where up to twenty 40-foot containers are delivered every day, it is not enough to only avoid incorrect bookings, packing errors, and empty runs. Employee fluctuations, process changes or pandemics are also disruptive variables that must be compensated for.
That is why in 2020 TBInt., together with the team of INTRANAV, an Inpixon company, started to analyze the business processes in whole carton handling in detail in order to generate an increase in efficiency. INTRANAVis an expert in the field of industrial real-time localization with the use of a wide range of radio and sensor technologies as well as location-based process automation.
The solution: Implementation of the INTRANAV Smart Warehouse solution, based on the combination of RFID and UWB the radio technologies.
Together with INTRANAV, TBInt. designed a target image for automated order pool processing on a white sheet of paper and with an agile approach within a very short time and completed the first field tests after a few months.
In this process, the packages equipped with RFID labels by the supplier are automatically identified by RFID readers when they arrive at the logistics center and are stored in real time in the INTRANAV as well as in the ERP system “SAP Business One”. Here, SAP is operated in the Google Cloud, which makes the implementation of the INTRANAV IIoT platform very simple. The goods receipt process is significantly streamlined by automated data entry; manual matching of goods and scanning of individual cartons is no longer necessary.
The subsequent sorting of the cartons on the pallets takes place in an exchange between SAP (or a digital delivery list) and INTRANAV so that it is ensured that the real and the required quantity match. For this, a monitor with the Smart Warehouse platform shows the current pallet loading progress and gives the employees instructions on which carton has to be loaded on which pallet. This creates a digital pallet bundle and also creates a transport order in the INTRANAV Smart Warehouse. This will be picked up by the next available forklift.
A forklift equipped with RFID and UWB radio technology detects with the help of the INTRANAV Smart Warehouse, which pallet and its contents it will pick up as well as at which free position of the high-bay warehouse (also equipped with RFID labels) it should be placed. Smart Warehouse shows the forklift driver the next available storage location via the tablet in a route-optimized manner. The storage that has taken place is again booked scanner-free and automatically in the ERP system.
The retrieval process will be similar in the future: The logistics employee picks various packages and pallets from the warehouse, and retrieval is automated again by RFID. The loaded truck then passes through an RFID gate, where the retrieval order is checked for completeness and completed in the ERP system. In the clearing shipping zone, the goods are consolidated and shipped. The packages are booked in real time and automatically in the ERP as soon as they are full. At the same time, a pickup order is triggered at the shipping company.
Finally, the goods are unloaded in a virtual buffer zone at the ramp. This automatically triggers various events in the ERP: creation and printing of invoice and loading list, customer notification, etc. At the same time, the system checks whether the goods have been transported to the correct gate, otherwise alerts are triggered via the INTRANAV Plattform and triggers correction requests.
All of these operations generate a flood of data, as the forklifts and all other participants generate a great deal of both static and motion data in a constant stream. Not only must these be captured without loss, but they must also be made available immediately for real-time analysis. Likewise, fail-safety must be guaranteed. For these reasons, an IT infrastructure is required that goes beyond simply transferring data within the cloud.
To pre-filter the real-time data from the installed sensors locally and process it as quickly as possible, as well as to keep latencies low, a hybrid cloud architecture was used. The cloud-side smart warehouse application consumes the data from the locally installed appliance (INTRANAV Edge Unit) using secured MQTT protocol. The consumed data is stored in the cloud and used by the smart warehouse application to generate warehouse tasks, booking confirmations, etc., and sent via Rest API to a service layer that maps the counterpart to SAP Business One. Scaling across additional sites is very easy. In the Smart Warehouse Cloud application, additional warehouse tenants need to be created and equipped with a sensor appliance on site.
The result: 40% increase in efficiency
From goods receipt to shipping, TBInt. tracks and controls its intralogistics processes with its digitized forklift fleet, based on a multi-RTLS layer with UWB and RFID technology.
RFID sensors on the belt in the goods receiving area as well as on the forklifts (including UWB) enable the transport (and tracking) of pallets without scanning through all logistics zones, including storage and retrieval in the RFID racks. This eliminates manual steps – all data collection is handled by the RFID and UWB sensors on the forklifts.
Automatic transport order processing is also controlled by INTRANAVSmart Warehouse. This ensures process reliability, route-optimized processing of transport orders and the orchestration of vehicles.
Specifically, the RFID implementation in whole carton handling generated an increase in efficiency of almost 40 percent. If you look at the entire process – from incoming goods to outgoing goods – productivity has been increased, process times reduced, and order throughput accelerated. The Smart Warehouse solution will also enable TB International to sustainably increase efficiency at its other logistics locations – an important milestone for the company and its digital supply chain strategy.