Intralogistics – Optimising Internal Logistics
Published on : Saturday 05-11-2022
Experts debate the process optimisation trends in internal logistics.
Intralogistics controls material flow between different plant areas – from incoming goods to warehouse, production areas and final assembly to order picking and shipping. It covers every dimension of logistics within the four walls related to implementing, managing, monitoring and optimising materials handling and information flows. By optimising the integration of information processing with the latest material handling technologies and software achieves optimal productivity for both manual and automated systems. The Covid pandemic has dramatically changed the intralogistics scenario with emphasis on more automation and autonomous operations.
In seven wastes enumerated in Lean Thinking, viz., overproduction, inventory, motion, defects, over-processing, waiting, and transport, it is easy to visualise that better intralogistics can reduce or eliminate many of these wastes. And yet, from visualisation to actual realisation remains a difficult journey. As more and more companies embrace digitalisation, smarter material handling equipment is changing internal logistics in many companies, as they seek to minimise their logistics costs. So what are the major new products which have influenced intralogistics in recent times?
“Businesses today face unprecedented global challenges and need to adapt and address these challenges quickly and in an intelligent way. Without a doubt intelligent automation will help address this requirement,” says Ranajoy Punja, Senior Vice President – Warehouse Automation, Hinditron Corporate Systems. Some of the major new products include intelligent software and digitalisation solutions, embedded artificial intelligence (AI), AI-equipped automated mobile robots (AMR), automated picking robots and advanced shuttle systems. In India Hinditron provides, through its partnership with KNAPP AG, industry leading all-in-one intralogistics solutions and automated warehouse systems. Punja cites the example of KNAPP KiSoft, which is the driving force behind KNAPP's technology and the central intelligence which links the automation together. This intelligent logistics software enables customised software solutions that cover vertical integration with machine control, warehouse control and warehouse management as well as horizontal integration along the entire value chain from production and distribution to the point of sale.
“There are lots of new products on the market today which have influenced intralogistics in recent years. Previously, the high costs associated with automation, as well as the abundance of labour, were barriers in making the initial investment. However, as technology advances, and with the pandemic accelerating the need to become more innovative, automation of intralogistics processes is increasing across a range of industries – from air cargo to pharmaceuticals and hospitals,” says Gary Warner, Marketing Manager, Joloda Hydraroll. UK-based Joloda Hydraroll has expertise in material handling, particularly for loading and unloading processes. The 60-year old company is a pioneer, creator and experts, offering solutions to innovate, automate and streamline logistics. Warner draws attention to the Warehousing Market in India 2021 report, released by Research and Market, which says the warehousing sector was worth INR 1,050 billion in 2020, and is predicted to grow at 14.86% between 2021 and 2025, reaching INR 2,028.86 billion by 2025. “Furthermore, influences from the government and initiatives such as the PLI scheme will see more investment into intralogistics, as well as into automation technologies,” says Warner.
According to Ninad Deshpande, CEO and Co-Founder, Sceptertech Digital, Just in Time (JIT) was a revolution in supply chain and inventory management. Over the years, machines, lines, and factories have increasingly become automated. With Industrial IoT and digitalisation, production lines, maintenance, and diagnostics have all witnessed a paradigm shift. Intralogistics has not escaped the clutches of digitalisation and today, many organisations look at striking the right balance between JIT and safety stock to avoid production disruptions. “Intralogistics and material handling solutions are demanding an increased use of automation and cloud solutions for efficient operations. Moreover, users demand flexibility, reliability, safety, and security for transporting a variety of products and materials, which has given a boost to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Conventional logistics systems such as forklifts and other material handling systems need to be complemented with other automated systems as well as cloud-based technologies, says Ninad.
There are the conventional devices like forklifts which are commonly available and frequently used. What are the benefits of automation in these cases when a decision has to be made to switch from manual operation to automatic?
“Automated Production Units typically perform the manufacturing process with less variability than human workers. This results in greater control and consistency of product quality. By streamlining equipment and processes, reducing scrap and using less space, automation uses less energy,” says Ramesh Bhorania, Vice President, Robotics and Factory Automation, Prama Hikvision India Pvt Ltd. Automation increases efficiency on the factory floor. This is because robots and machinery dedicated to specific tasks can increase production rate and labour output. They can do more per hour and are capable of handling heavy loads with ease. “The key benefits of automation include lower operating costs, improved worker safety, reduced factory lead times, faster return on investment (RoI), ability to be more competitive, increased production output, consistent and improved part production and quality and smaller environmental footprint,” he points out.
Some products like AGVs have been aspirational for all sizes of operations. What is a scientific method to calculate the RoI of such a device? Are there non-monetary benefits to be obtained by using AGVs?
According to Ranajoy Punja, the basic RoI calculation for such a device would be to take the cost of the AGV and divide it by the cost of the equipment being replaced and the cost of labour to run the equipment being replaced. This would give you the break even time frame for the investment. “However, this is not a complete assessment of the investment. It is very important to monetise and includes the non-monetary benefits. Though monetising these benefits require a little more analysis the benefits are significant,” he says.
Part of the planning process of an automatic intra logistics solution should involve detailed mapping of material and the movement between nodes and shops. Is there any simulation study software available to help with such planning?
“With digitalisation, digital twins and virtualisation have become a default for most OEMs and factories. Simulations help factories identify bottlenecks early and offer a smooth integration in various warehouse automation systems. It helps to effectively plan the layout. There are simulations available for such planning in warehousing and intralogistics,” says Ninad Deshpande, who also believes intelligent transports systems, AGV, AMRs all can be virtualised before being deployed to understand the overall effectiveness and productivity. “The digital twins of these models can also be used along with predictive, prescriptive models and long-term cloud-based storage to understand its effective operation over the entire life or operations,” he elaborates.
Ramesh Bhorania mentions the iWMS (Intelligent Warehouse Management System) and the RCS 2000 (Robot Control System) from Hikvision that help with the real-time planning and execution. These can be partially used to study the detailed mapping of material and movement between nodes and shops, he maintains. “iWMS is used to seamlessly integrate the AMR solution into the higher level Warehouse Management Systems. RCS 2000 is used to build the map model of the system, and provide complete fleet management – even for mixed fleets,” he says.
“Yes, there is simulation software available to simulate an automation solution and design being proposed. This simulation will help explore ‘what if’ questions and scenarios without having to build out a real live system to test on. Additionally, it helps identify bottlenecks in material, information and product flows that can be corrected to improve the overall design,” explains Ranajoy Punja. According to him, one can gain insights into the critical variables that are most important to system performance and availability. Further, any potential safety issues can be exposed and corrected in the design to improve overall safety.
Only what is measured, can be improved is the wisdom of ages. How can one go about measuring and depicting in monetary terms the seven wastes? In the era of Industry 4.0, is it possible to get this information in real time and directly from source?
“In the era of Industry 4.0, it is possible to get real-time information directly from the source to make a sustainable change – but data is an essential component of success,” says Gary Warner. As example, he explains how under the lean manufacturing system, collating data from one of Joloda Hydraroll’s automated loading solutions can specifically focus on ‘Waiting’, ‘Defects’, ‘Production’ and ‘Transportation’ aspects of the seven wastes. “Joloda Hydraroll is currently exploring new avenues on how we can make automated loading solutions even more innovative with IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. This will help to ensure the solutions always operate correctly by identifying issues before they can have an impact on operations,” says Warner.
While agreeing with the need to measure in order to improve, Ninad Deshpande draws attention to data which is available on the field in production lines, machines and in supply chain areas. “The biggest challenge is to connect these data sources seamlessly to a central server or a cloud-based platform where the data can be converted into valuable information. This is the place where business intelligence, artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms are executed or in simple terms, data is analysed for achieving actionable information,” he asserts.
We have learnt that automatic devices also offer much data along the way. Are there software products which use such data in production planning? With what promised benefits?
“Yes, there are many applications available. This software can manage an enterprise’s manufacturing process and capacity planning across the supply chain. Through automation this software can get real time information on inventory and raw materials; trigger replenishment of this inventory and control delivery of this inventory for production,” observes Ranajoy Punja. According to him, benefits include minimised product defects and stock outs, optimised inventory levels, and improved product scheduling and product quality. “An example is KNAPP KiSoft logistics software supported by KiSoft Analytics which helps you to make smart decisions at the right moment for systems and supply chains, based on solid information. It links logistics processes with real-time data at the machine level and presents all the information in clear visualisations and as KPIs,” says Punja.
“The key benefits are reduction of labour costs by over 50% and enhancement of efficiency by over 80%,” says Ramesh Bhorania who also mentions how the Hikvision IoT Solution Application optimises warehouse storage through demand analysis of available storage and automatic shelf adjustments. This helps streamline warehouse management by supporting inventory business processes. It also helps in gaining total control with flexible management strategies, user-based permission configuration, and warehouse visualisation.
In conclusion, it is evident that intralogistics play an important role not only in automated movement of materials in factories and warehouses, but also in other areas like distribution centers, courier services, airports, hospitals, and other indoor facilities. These are early days for a large number of companies, but the leaders are already there making their operations efficient and sustainable.
(Note: The responses of various experts featured in this story are their personal views and not necessarily of the companies or organisations they represent. The full interviews are hosted online at https://www.iedcommunications.com/interviews)