- Improve the efficiency of Bi-Esse’s central warehouse, with full automation of areas dedicated to wire cutting and small-item picking.
- An Integrated Architecture solution from Rockwell Automation was installed, including:
- Allen-Bradley 1769-L33ERMS Compact GuardLogix Safety Controllers
- Allen-Bradley 1756-L71S GuardLogix 5570 Safety Controllers
- Point IO 1734 with Safety functionalities
- Allen-Bradley Kinetix 5500 servo-drives with integrated safety on EtherNet/IP
- Margin of error reduced from 0.1% (1 per 1,000) to 0.005% (1 per 20,000)
- Increased overall operator productivity, from an average of 45 pick ups per hour to 120 per hour
- Improved global efficiency in order fulfillment and processing
- Decreased operational costs
- Improved customer service level and reassignment of personnel to added-value activities
Bi-Esse was founded in 1980 as a point of sale for electrical materials. The company grew over time and today has 20 branch offices in Italy and four abroad, in Albania, Romania, the Czech Republic and Kosovo, and is a point of reference in the domestic market for the distribution of electrical supplies, with a strong bent towards industrial automation. This specialization is further enhanced by the presence of an in-house industrial automation team and manager at every branch office. Rockwell Automation, in addition to being one of the primary suppliers for Bi-Esse, is also one of the company’s most important partners. When the company’s constant growth and desire to optimize processes to become more reactive to the needs of the market led to a decision to build a brand new automated warehouse fitted with the most advanced technologies, the choice of Rockwell Automation as an ally for the automation portion was an immediate, natural one.
Bi-Esse has a solid position in the Italian market, and over the course of time it has distinguished itself for its constant growth without pause, even during the economic crises that hit the sector hard. In 2014, to support expansion and improve efficiency in processes and be more reactive to market demands, the company decided to start construction of a new automated warehouse at its Fossano headquarters, specifically in the area dedicated to wire cutting and small item picking.
Prior to this, all logistics activities were centered in this site, and the area dedicated to the warehouse was expanded through the acquisition of structures in the surrounding area. Nevertheless, over time this solution was proving to no longer be sufficient as regards to the needs of a growing market demand, as well the vast expansion of the area, subdivided into several buildings did not promote efficiency. A new automated warehouse would allow the company to take better advantage of space, and manage this space according to logic, to help maximize potential through the use of advanced, high-performance technologies. This would result in a series of benefits, including improvements in service, increase in volumes, a reduction in error, increased speed of order fulfillment and lowered costs.
Given the strategic importance of the project, Bi-Esse commissioned the feasibility study and the detailed logistics project to Simco Consulting of Milan, a well-known European consulting firm specializing in automation. First, the details of all the logistical aspects were deeply defined, followed by the specifications for the automation portion. Once this phase was concluded, collaborators that could meet the needs outlined in the logistic project were selected. For the completeness, performance and potential of its solutions, Rockwell Automation was selected, while for the development and construction of turnkey plants Cubar, based in Fossano, in the Cuneo province, was selected. Cubar is a highly specialized company in technological systems with many years of experience in automated warehouses and logistics and production solutions; it is also a Rockwell Recognized System Integrator.
“We are talking about a warehouse that services all the branch offices as well as all of our clients; and extends to cover 11,000 square meters. There are two areas inside this space that are the focus of the project: the automated warehouse for wire cutting and the small-items warehouse, which alone represent 70% of our warehouse handlings. To help ensure the efficiency of these warehouses, we need to count on reliability, safety and a high performance level, which we knew we could find in the solutions offered by Rockwell Automation, and Cubar, one of its recognized system integrator,” affirms Andrea Sarvia, project manager – new Ce.Di of Bi-Esse.
“We are well versed in the resources and potential of these solutions, not only because Rockwell Automation is a very important ally for us, but also because confirmation comes from our clients daily,” continues Sarvia.
To automate the two warehouses, Rockwell Automation proposed an Integrated Architecture® System. The heart of the systems is represented by Allen-Bradley® Compact GuardLogix™ 5370 series 1769 controllers and GuardLogix 1756-L71S 5570 Safety Controllers, which associate the performance of a Logix controller and safety and control of the axes, all integrated on a single EtherNet/IP network, in addition to a single common configuration and developmental environment for all the control devices.
A stacker crane with a carrying capacity of 2,000 Kg was installed in the wiring warehouse with 1,500 spots and dual-depth shelves capable of moving coils up to 2,000kg. The stacker crane, which can manage 60 combined transports per hour, is fitted with a telescopic fork that can reach coils positioned at 4 m distance. The coils are transported up to the front of the warehouse and vertically supported to be positioned on a series of rotating rollers that then move them to one of the two wire-cutting machines where they are processed. According to the quantity of the order, once the wire is cut it is wrapped around a spool or smaller coil. Once processing is concluded, the coil is then placed by the stacker crane in the warehouse, while the spool or coil for the order is sent to shipping. Loading and unloading full coils is also managed automatically, based on custom designed programmable automation controller (PAC) logic from Rockwell Automation.
The small-items warehouse system is lighter and offers superior performance (speed 4 m/s & lifting 2 m/s) and productivity, even though it is more complex and articulated from a logic point of view. It is composed of three stacked cranes arranged along three corridors with shelves located to the left and right, containing 30,000 50 kg capacity drawers, measuring 60 x 40 cm. Each stacker crane can transport four drawers incoming and four outgoing and a software program manages picking and placing based on a priority optimized pathway. Once picked, the drawers are placed on rollers that supply the six collection bays.
The bays are manned by an operator with a touchscreen reporting the quantity to be picked from each drawer to fulfill the orders being processed. Each bay can manage 10 orders simultaneously. Once the drawer is positioned, a light shows the operator the drawer to be filled. Once picking is concluded, the operator presses a button and the system containing all the identification information for all the items ascertains if the picks are accurate by weighing the drawer. Any conflicts are signaled, and the operator makes corrections. If there are no conflicts, the drawer is returned to the shelf while the completed box is pushed along a roller that transports it to the closing and the automatic labelling stations, and then to a sorting area.
“We work on a daily schedule, meaning that most of what is prepared in a day or evening is loaded onto transport during the night and delivered the next day,” says Sarvia. “This kind of rapid automation allows us to increase our productivity and drastically reduce margins of error compared to manually counting pieces. The customer, who is seeking rapid, precise service, can now order material up to the late evening and have it delivered on site the next morning.”
“We have only just begun to measure the benefits derived from the decision to create a warehouse from the ground up and equip it with the most advanced technologies. The first results we are registering are the reduction of error margin passing from 0.1% (1 in every 1,000) to 0.005% (1 in every 20,000) and an overall increased operator productivity from an average of 45 pick-ups per hour to an average of 120 pick ups per hour. Furthermore, we have the clear impression of cost reductions and an increase in global efficiency, thanks to the optimization of all our operations. The expected ROI for each warehouse is four years,” continues Sarvia.
“Today we are working faster, resulting in, for example, the possibility to extend the cut-off time for receiving orders, allowing our clients to insert their orders online far past the work site closure time and have the ordered materials the next day.
“Another positive effect that we are especially gratified by is the possibility to reassign our personnel to activities with added value,” Sarvia adds. “According to their personalities, our employees are being reassigned to logistics and sales.
“Our innovation strategies are aimed at improving the entire chain of value,” he concludes, “so it is necessary to take into account a series of factors, ranging from prepared, motivated personnel that see the advent of technology as an enhancement, to an increase in the level of service offered to clients, thanks to greater process efficiency and error reduction.”