SCM is investing in customer relations and in the efficiency of customer care with “Autostore”, a futuristic high-automation warehousing system for spare parts management.
If you were used to peep through the big doors of the historical foundry (an activity now carried out in the Villa Verucchio facilities), you will no longer find the old atmosphere. That’s why we were happy to pay a visit and see what has replaced our memories.
“The renovation under way at the Rimini site has enabled us to build a brand new structure for the spare parts warehouse at SCM”, said Luca Maggiani, Service&Parts Business Development Manager. With his team, he is in charge for customer service, after-sales relations and customer care, to use common definitions.
“The first action in the former foundry facilities was the construction of the new spare parts warehouse, built around “Autostore”, a big automated high-efficiency warehouse that helps us be even more efficient in customer relations. The remaining areas will be assigned to different activities, following modernization, renovation and expansion works that will increase the production capacity of the SMC Rimini site.”
The automated warehouse is a more and more popular trend in the industry: what are the key features of your investment?
“We wanted to take another step forward, choosing the best of modern logistic management”, Maggiani said. “We selected “Autostore” because it offers the typical performance of e-commerce operations, not only transferring spare parts to the operator, but also operating with high performance and speed levels. This has led to the partnership with Swisslog to design a solution that exactly matched our requirements, a technology that had never been applied before in spare parts management in companies like ours.
This significant investment, besides offering much higher operating efficiency, is helping us increase the quality of customer service. We are talking about a technology that, so far, has been mainly used in e-commerce, where the fulfilment process from order to shipment must be completed in few hours, and you must be sure that the customers will receive exactly what they ordered.
We were the first in the industry to face this technological challenge, once again showing our commitment to create value for the customer, even when this means delivering the right spare part within the shortest time possible.”
Give us some figures…
“The first result we have achieved is an improved capacity to handle bigger volumes of parts in less space, basically all the spare parts available to all the SCM sites.
The “automated section” covers an area of 900 square meters with 5.5 meter headroom, 13 storage levels with a capacity of 24 thousand boxes with a volume of 60x40x40 centimeters and up to 30 kilo load capacity; each box can be divided into smaller spaces to hold up to 16 different items.
Today, out of 34 thousand items on stock, 30 thousand are managed with the new system, offering 75 percent faster picking operations: after few months, we have slashed shipping time by 30 percent on average, and our customers really appreciated these results”.
All picking operations are robotized, and every 45 seconds on average, one of the 19 robots operating in the warehouse – powered by two 12V rechargeable batteries – can pick a piece, working around the clock, 7 days a week. The operators just have to insert the order and execute the second part of the process, i.e. completing the order with bigger parts stored in the traditional warehouse, plus packaging and shipping.
Each day, 300 shipments are made, including approximately a thousand components, with a lead time from order placement of 48 hours maximum”.
“…and we can go further: we have oversized the structure, as we believe that in the future it will be even more useful than today.
And don’t forget the benefits of these technologies for our human resources: we have the same staff, but they can focus on management and control tasks, much less distressing and repetitive. Also in the spare parts segment, we apply the principles of the “Smart&Human” solutions we offer to our customers, empowering the operator as the director of each process. According to our “go digital stay human” concept, people make the difference, also in customer service. We encourage the reskilling of our team, focusing on the tasks that artificial intelligence cannot perform”.
Can you explain how “Autostore” works?
“The suppliers deliver their goods to the reception area, where each item is scanned, registered, weighed and measured, so that the operator can choose the most suitable box to place it. Then, “Autostore”, using a light beam, indicates the box compartment where the item must be placed. Following further tests, the box is “loaded” into the warehouse, and that’s where one of the most fascinating features of this technology comes in. Besides loading the boxes and taking them back to the operator, the systems continuously operates to optimize space organization, putting each box in the best position according to the picking frequency of the items it contains, calculated by accurate algorithms.
If you look into “Autostore” from above, you see a sort of dance, a continuous flow of stacks that are built and dismantled continuously, day and night, to ensure the most effective operations: each time a box is delivered to the operator, the system relocates all the necessary boxes to restore the “best possible warehouse”, securing the optimal placement of “high-rotation” parts compared to less requested items. The operator can take action at any time, making queries to know where a piece is exactly, even a single bolt.
The only “idle” time is when the robots move to the battery recharging stations, and then resume their work.
“Autostore” stores a list containing up to two-hundred orders, constantly updated and implemented, which is used as a starting point for all operations.”
Watching the robots at work is fascinating, just like the logic that underlies the entire system managing 30 thousand items in the same space where normally 4 thousand items are stored with conventional shelves.
You can easily guess that SCM is not happy with the results of the new investment, as they are realizing they can do much more than initially planned. If you look at the three picking bays, carousels that receive four boxes delivered to the operators, order by order, you immediately realized the efficiency levels achieved and how much more you can get…
“There is one more thing to consider”, Luca Maggiani continued. “I am referring to the possibility to manage all the data related to our business more easily than in the past. This brings great benefits in tracing every single item, as well as the possibility to make advanced analytics on the life of a piece, how often it is requested and any other information useful to manage the warehouse and to support the customer in terms of predictive maintenance. Today, we know and we handle a host of useful data also for production, providing valuable insights about possible actions or solutions for future projects”.
“The benefits are really many”, Maggiani concluded. “The customers are more satisfied, the lead times have shortened, the quality of work in the spare parts warehouse has improved, the shipments are optimized, and this translates into lower costs for the benefit of everyone.
Not to mention the significant contribution in terms of sustainability: “AutoStore” is designed to achieve maximum energy efficiency and long operating life, with energy consumption levels below 0.1 kWh per robot. The recharging system enables the robots to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without the need to add more robots”.