Trends & Markets 02/19

Deus ex machina

Rhenus tests autonomous systems

Process automation has long since become one of the well-established megatrends in Logistics 4.0. Artificial intelligence, which is becoming increasingly effective, is changing the working world – whether through autonomous vehicles, independently operating production arms or fork-lift trucks that raise pallets in warehouses by themselves. However, automation also causes concerns for employees who wonder whether they are still needed. Despite this, things are very different at Rhenus: employees are the major focus for the company – and how modern technologies can make their work easier so that logistics services are effective.

reach truck

Oxford English Dictionary:
deus ex machina:
A power, event, or person arriving in the nick of time to solve a difficulty

It is 3 p.m. on a Wednesday at a warehouse operated by Rhenus Warehousing Solutions in Dortmund. Employees walk between the high shelves in their blue working jackets, move large and small cartons and blue boxes on pallets using lift trucks. Only one forklift stands out – it is moving without a driver. It automatically knows which pallet from the incoming goods area belongs on a particular shelf – and it is able to transport it there even if the shelves are ten metres high. It then moves back to the incoming goods area, carefully avoiding its human colleagues, and picks up the next pallet.

An intelligent solution for the bottleneck
The Autopilot RAE 200 reach truck from Toyota Material Handling has been in service at Dortmund since the end of October 2018. It is even the reach truck with the greatest lifting capacity in Germany – up to a height of 10.80 metres. The vehicle completes as many as 20 pallet runs every hour and can even handle up to 1,000 storage or relocation movements every day. It has a 360-degree personnel protection system to guarantee employees’ safety. It recognises the correct storage point for each pallet with the help of a vision system sensor and because it is linked to the warehouse management system.

“The incoming goods area is the bottleneck at the warehouse. We have a huge number of full pallets arriving here in Dortmund,” David Labusek, Project Manager for Technical Purchasing at Rhenus Contract Logistics, explains. “Storing the pallets on the top shelves requires a great deal of skill and concentration. We’ve decided to use the autonomous reach truck for this work to ease the pressure on our employees.”

A recipe for success
However, the reach truck at Dortmund is not by any means the first of its kind. David Labusek and Ralf Markwart, Head of the Technical Department for Purchasing Industrial Trucks at Rhenus Contract Logistics, are responsible for developing and introducing this innovative technology. Their first project for a driverless vehicle involved an Autonomously Guided Vehicle (AGV) from Jungheinrich, which has been in service at a warehouse site in Minden since 2016. Here too, the employees give instructions to the AGV through the transport management system at the incoming goods section. It then transports the goods to the handover point at the high shelf warehouse. The AGV even manages to complete as many as 230 pallet movements every day.

“It’s particularly important to ensure that the employees accept this kind of project if it’s going to succeed. That’s why they were involved from the outset and they know that the new technology is there to support them in their daily work, but not replace them in any way,” Ralf Markwart confirms. Two autonomous projects are being tested in addition to the two fork-lifts and five more are in the planning stage. They not only involve industrial trucks, but also cleaning and outdoor sweeping robots.

The warehouse of the future
There are many different approaches to make the work in a logistics warehouse more efficient and save time and costs. Rhenus Warehousing Solutions launched its own initiative in 2016 and it has set itself the goal of designing the warehouse of the future. “These solutions are not necessarily automated or digital,” Theresia Teigelkamp, Innovation Manager at Rhenus Warehousing Solutions, explains. “Each warehouse is different and we’re guided by the local circumstances, what is needed for customers and goods and the way that our employees work.”

Small assistants
Several successful projects have already emerged from the innovation initiative. The Rhenus warehouse in Swarzędz near Poznań in Poland handles 18,000 consignments for the online and mail order business every day; the building has 50,000 square metres of storage space. The distances covered by the employees every day between the shelves with the goods and the packing station have been reduced by 800 metres per section since 2018. Once the consignments have been put together, small robot vehicles, known as effibots, automatically transport them to the next working point. “Thanks to this support, the employees are able to put together consignments more easily and quickly,” says Theresia Teigelkamp, fully aware of the benefits.

The warehouse professionals
An automated warehouse system was put into service in the Netherlands in April 2019. An aluminium grid with 21,000 containers and covering an area measuring 1,000 square metres has been set up in the warehouse in Tilburg, which has 60,000 square metres of storage space. 19 robots handle the storage and picking of high-quality products for various sectors and customers. The AutoStore system from Swisslog is connected to Rhenus’ warehouse and transport management systems. The robots stack the containers directly on top of each other and transport them to three picking stations. The AutoStore system in the warehouse therefore not only reduces the distances that people have to walk, but also saves space because the structure is so compact.

“By making existing processes more proficient with modern technologies, we can remain competitive in the long term,” Theresia Teigelkamp emphasises. “We always make our employees our focal point when integrating these systems. Our solutions are designed to help them complete their daily tasks even more efficiently. Other projects that we’re following at the moment illustrate this too: working with picking gloves and inventory drones in future will simplify our operations even more.”

Type: Autopilot RAE 200 made by Toyota Material Handling
Special feature: Lifting pallets to a height of max. 10.80 metres
Place where used: Warehouse space measuring 85,000 square metres

Place where used: 800-metre route between the shelves and the packing station
Capacity: Up to 18,000 orders per day Put into service: June 2018

Equipment: Aluminium grid with 19 robots, two supply and three picking points
Capacity: 21,000 containers
Specialisation: Automatic recognition of the relevance of the goods and efficient storage in the system in line with this

Type: Autonomously Guided Vehicle made by Jungheinrich
Put into service: February 2016
Capacity: Up to 230 pallet movements per day

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