Oechsler automates processes despite difficult conditionsAutomation that Cuts No Corners
Long distances, narrow spaces, steep ramps—all combined in a busy environment with people and trucks working side by side. At the Ansbach headquarters of the German plastics specialist Oechsler AG, three Linde L-MATIC HDs ensure the consistently efficient flow of goods around the clock.
Admittedly, at first glance, the three Linde L-MATIC HDs at Oechsler AG, which are called Asterix, Obelix, and Idefix, have little in common with their Gallic namesakes. However, you’ll soon see that the names are not that far-fetched. The indomitable trio from the world-famous comics make the seemingly impossible possible, so what better names for the three driverless pallet stackers whose performance elicits the utmost respect from even the most experienced professionals. “Wide, clearly defined transport routes, even surfaces without obstacles, an unchanging environment—we simply don’t have these luxuries here,” summarizes Sebastian Hornung, Head of Logistics at the Ansbach site.
A dream environment for driverless transport systems looks a little different.
Sebastian Hornung, Head of Logistics Ansbach, Oechsler AG
It Started with a Workshop
Despite this less than ideal starting position, the globally leading manufacturer of plastic injection molded parts and assemblies has considering automating certain goods flow processes for some time. “On the one hand, we wanted to increase productivity, but at the same time we wanted to address the shortage of skilled workers,” recalls Chief Operating Officer Christoph Faßhauer. So the logistics department directly contacted Linde MH network partner Ernst Müller Fördertechnik, which initiated a multi-day workshop on site as a first step.
In the Spotlight: From the Major Picture to the Smallest Details
As Thomas Eußner, an intralogistics consultant from Ernst Müller, recalls: “It was very important to us to approach the matter with an open mind and to involve not just logistics at Oechsler, but also other areas such as production and shipping. Because it is only when you have a comprehensive picture of the processes and needs of the customer’s company that you can design suitable solutions.” At Oechsler, this solution turned out to be the implementation of three Linde L-MATIC HDs,which would be used for material supply in production, as well as for the disposal of pre-packaged goods and downstream transport.
Ramps Don’t Have To Be Hurdles
While the brief may sound simple, in practice it was anything but. For example, some of the aisles in the production and storage environment are extremely narrow, with confusing corners and intersections lurking all over the place. At one point there is even a ramp with a gradient of four percent to overcome. “The question was: What can we do to prevent the trucks from touching ground here?,” says intralogistics expert Thomas Eußner from the Linde MH network partner. The answer lay in the Linde L-MATIC HD, with its integrated initial lift. The function is automatically activated when passing, and provides extra ground clearance so that the ramp can be used without damaging the truck.
No More Two-Way Traffic Troubles
Due to the confined spaces, the trucks have been fitted with features like adapted sensor fields, special side bumpers, and 360-degree safety mirrors, to ensure safe processes. “If an automated truck approaches a certain point, red LEDs light up and alert our employees that a truck is approaching,” explains Oechsler Logistics Manager Sebastian Hornung. To go one step further, the Linde L-MATIC HD is even able to pass oncoming traffic at certain points, thanks to an intelligent traffic management system.
A Flow Rack Completes the Efficiency Package
However, there was still one challenge: The production at Oechsler runs in three shifts—but the logistics work in two-shift operation. Buffering of the goods produced at night would not have been possible on the existing floor space. That’s where the idea of a flow rack came from. Thanks to the Linde L-MATIC HD’s ability to store goods at heights of up to four meters, it could even be built as a two-story version. The trucks use their sensors to detect which of the 2x2 lanes are currently occupied, and place the finished goods in the free spaces. “This allows us to store twice the amount of pallets on the same surface area, and ensures a continuous outflow from production,” says Sebastian Hornung, with satisfaction.
A Job Well Done by the Automated Helpers
Satisfaction is also the keyword in Ansbach, especially when it comes to the performance of the driverless warehouse assistants. In the specifications, those responsible for the trio specified a total of 22 trips per hour—an amount that could be easily maintained during operation. “There would even be potential for even more than that, but that’s the best way to fit it into our processes,” says Sebastian Hornung. The bottom line is that the three Linde L-MATIC HD now cover an impressive distance of around 85 kilometers a day, and automatically find their way around the warehouse thanks to the natural feature navigation, without having to rely on guide rails, for example. “This is a major advantage that clearly distinguishes the Linde range from the solutions offered by other market competitors,” Hornung points out.
A Role Model for Other Sites?
“By now, everyone here knows that the trucks are an essential part of what we do, they make our work easier at all levels, and the whole team benefits,” Sebastian Hornung sums up—and adds: “And there’s no reason for it to stop there!” Plans to automate logistics processes at the site in Weißenburg, Bavaria, are already being considered. Maybe that will be the location for our next success story…