No matter who you talk to, everyone is agreed that the UK lags way behind its European counterparts when it comes to the use of automated warehousing. There do not even appear to be any available statistics on the matter, with the Automated Materials Handling Systems Association (AMHSA) saying that a major company installing such equipment in a warehouse could cause a peak if a graph was to be plotted.
The investment required for automated warehousing equipment and the fact that the pay-back could be three to four years are cited as possible reasons for low take-up.
However, one company hoping to reverse that trend is logistics and factory automation equipment manufacturer Siemens Dematic which has developed a new MultiShuttle warehousing system in conjunction with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML), of Dortmund.
A general purpose, modular system that combines storage and transport in one integrated concept, the MultiShuttle has been designed to provide a powerful, cost-effective and innovative solution for the field of automated small parts warehouses. The MultiShuttle, which is currently being tested in IML’s demonstration halls, is a track-bound shuttle which serves the entire warehousing system as a storage and retrieval vehicle.
The concept is based on autonomous track-guided vehicles which transport bins within and outside the warehousing system. A special load carrying attachment enables loads to be changed quickly, and allows simultaneous loading and unloading.
The system has running tracks installed on every level of the ShuttleRack, and elevated or suspended tracks in the staging area. They guide and supply the shuttle with power. Eliminating batteries from the shuttle has enabled its weight to be reduced to an optimum. The shuttle changes levels via fast elevators. The shuttle receives its transport orders via W-LAN (Wireless Local Area Network).
Summarising the advantages Richard Kunder, head of planning and simulation at Siemens Dematic, says: “As well as being able to store and retrieve bins at a higher speed, the system is very cost-effective and can work at high capacity. The MultiShuttle is a powerful and innovative solution for small parts warehouses and complements the automated small parts warehouse.”
In comparison to conventional solutions for automated small parts warehouses, Nuremberg, Germany-based Siemens Dematic says that the MultiShuttle is “particularly superior” in the smaller warehouse capacity range. MultiShuttle solutions are especially cost-effective in the mid-performance range for order collection centres – i.e. where lower storage capacity but high turnover prevails. Other components designed for the system enable unit loads to be transported in the staging area. This illustrates the universality of the MultiShuttle, as the load is moved from source to destination as it were without any additional transport interchanges.
According to Dr.-Ing Volker Jungbluth, head of the Machines and Systems Department at IML: “The advantages of the system include the almost unlimited increase in overall plant performance gained by adding a cost-optimised shuttle to an existing, basic system.”
The test configuration entails standard 600mm x 400mm bins carrying loads up to 30kg being transported. Three shuttles working together with a rack system, running tracks, a slewing platform, a vertical turning device and order-picking stations have already been tested within the scope of the research project. Siemens Dematic is also carrying out simulations close to reality in parallel to the test configuration.
For example, the capacities of the basic system with only one elevator and one vehicle are being determined and system expansions with additional vehicles are being simulated. The two-sided linkage with an elevator at each end of an aisle and with different numbers of vehicles has also been included in the simulations.
Positive results were also achieved for the order collection centre. The MultiShuttle managed about 1,000 double cycles per hour in this buffer, which has a low capacity but a high throughput.
With this concept, Siemens Dematic says it has met customer demand for a fast and hard-working solution for small parts warehouses.n