The leading steel distributor in Baden, Germany, Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel GmbH & Co., has a motto: “We love steel,” and they have a long history of abiding by that motto, having been
founded in 1870. Today, the company has facilities in multiple locations in Germany and one in Switzerland, turning over approximately 132,000 tons of metal annually. Handling that volume of material is much easier now with the use of an automated storage and material handling system.
Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel is in its fourth generation of family operation, but the majority of those company leaders preceded the digital age, which means they oversaw manually paper-managed warehouses. Dr. Steffen Marco Auer, managing director at Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel, recalls the paper-managed days. Due to the broad range of products, “mix-ups occurred.” For example, employees would remove the wrong materials or incorrect quantities, resulting in the customer “not always receiving what was ordered.”
Simply locating the required materials on the long rows of shelves was a feat in itself, so Auer and his team began searching for a way to integrate the storage areas into an “intelligent electronic control system.”
“To achieve this goal,” Auer says, “we compared systems from two competitors and quickly selected Kasto. Kasto’s extensive technical competence and willingness to provide a solution tailored to our particular situation was equally important to us.”
Kasto designs and manufactures sawing machines but also offers several storage and material handling systems for bar metal and sheet metal. Working together with Auer’s team, Kasto’s experts assessed the conditions in the Baden-based facility and customized a solution to display all storage areas in a standardized and consistent control system.
To that end, the solution chosen was the UniCompact system, which works from a “material to operator” principle to deliver requested materials fast and ergonomically to outfeed stations. The process with the UniCompact system begins with the incoming material being placed the receiving bed, automatically scanned and transferred via gantry crane to Kasto’s Honeycomb storage and retrieval system, which has up to 400 storage locations (offering a honeycomb appearance) that can handle loads up to 17,600 lbs each. The storage system can be designed as a rack-supported building with a roof and walls or as a standalone storage unit inside existing buildings, such as the Baden facility.
UniCompact offers an extensive variety of station designs to increase efficiency for cutting solid steel and other shapes, as well as aluminum and non-ferrous materials. For example, if an order for structural, tube or solid materials comes through and requires a 90 degree cut, the station could be designed with a bandsaw equipped with a hydraulic clamping system that ensures the best results in cutting performance. Should the order call for a large volume of cuts on smaller materials, a semi-automatic or fully automated circular saw could be outfitted in the station, providing rapid cuts to improve productivity.
Part of the brains behind the storage and retrieval system is KastoLogic – a warehouse management software that utilizes a graphic user interface for ease of operation. KastoLogic has a
choice of modules, including material flow for controlling automated storage systems, and stock management with logistics, production and manual store subgroups. Other modules include one for integrating machines for a higher level of automation and one for comprehensive statistics for system analysis.
Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel recently implemented KastoLogic Mobile, which is a platform-independent and mobile version. The software makes it possible to use the essential functions of the warehouse management system on mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones – independent from permanently installed operator panels, which are available in UniCompact.
“For instance,” Auer says, “with this system, we can flexibly manage the bar stock storage system regardless of the location. But more importantly, we are now able to manage our manually operated metal sheet storage with KastoLogic.”
Dealing mainly with construction steel, stainless steel and aluminum, around 70 to 80 percent of Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel’s orders for sectional steel are semi-processed and must be prepared to the customers’ specifications using in-house machinery, including bandsaws.
“Our customers expect us to provide fast, error-free and trackable deliveries,” says Auer, who manages the activities of Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel with his brother, Ingo Auer and Alexander Hatt as the managing directors. “To ensure this, we depend on a simple, clear and reliable control system for our entire material flow.”
Using KastoLogic Mobile, the warehouse employees have access to the order and product data at any time from the palm of their hand. When removing the material, the system directs the user to the respective storage location and specifies the required quantity. The shelves are equipped with QR and barcodes, so when users scan them with the mobile device they can confirm the removal or trigger a follow-up order if the inventory is getting low. All information is available in the warehouse management and the goods management system, which has customized interfaces.
“Searching for the material is considerably simplified,” says Gerhard Lambertz, software designer at Kasto, “as the location of the material is specified and verified by the QR code. The target or destination, such as a saw table, is specified to the operator.”
Auer says the result is a standardized, controllable and seamless transparent material flow. They have fewer errors when picking the orders, can work faster and more efficiently, and individual batches can be followed up and tracked seamlessly.
Auer says Kasto provided his company with a customized, software-based system that works completely independent from the existing storage systems and can be scaled for other sites as needed. The concept has left a great impression on the leadership at Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel, so much so that they are now considering implementing it at its other sites.
“We try, wherever possible, to simplify and standardize processes and avoid unnecessary interfaces,” Auer says. “It helps us to become even more efficient and transparent across all sites.”
For example, if an ordered product is not in stock at a specific facility, it is found in the system quickly and can be delivered to another site when necessary.
“Ultimately,” Auer says, “we are not the only ones who benefit from this organization; above all, our customers profit from it – that is the main thing for us.”