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Digital forklift control system

Production supply: quick, easy, and just in time

- Business Operations

4 Min Reading duration

To optimise production supply flows, FIEGE banks on a digital forklift control system at its location in Marklkofen.

Dependable, just-in-time production supply is one of logistics’ supreme disciplines. For materials to arrive just in time in sufficient quantity and quality at the production lines, many cogs need to mesh smoothly on the side lines. After all, delays or disruptions at this point often have far-reaching consequences. In the worst case, production will come to a complete standstill.

At the FIEGE location in Marklkofen, this is our daily challenge. The branch operates the suppliers’ logistics centre (LLZ) for our client, MANN+HUMMEL. The family business is a world market leader in the field of filtration. The world’s largest production facility is in Lower Bavaria. Some 180 million filter elements come off the conveyor belts here each year. With regard to production supply and the organisation of the LLZ, MANN+HUMMEL has been placing its trust in the pioneer of contract logistics, FIEGE, for over five years now: “We were looking for an innovative contract logistics company which had a finger on the pulse of time and saw eye to eye with us; also, we wanted someone with extensive experience in developing logistical properties”, says Stefan Hausbeck, in charge of the LLZ at MANN+HUMMEL.

Digital system for a more efficient production supply

To supply production on one hand with buy-in components and semi-finished products and on the other store the inbound supplier products, FIEGE works around the clock in Marklkofen. When which contract is processed in what order was decided not too long ago with the help of printed lists. For this reason, those in charge decided in spring 2020 to digitise these processes. FIEGE Branch Manager Marc Styrnal recalls: “To increase our efficiency and up production supply transparency, we installed a digital forklift control system together with our client in autumn 2020.”

The objective was ambitious: “It was not about buying in a high-end solution; instead, the goal was to achieve the best-possible digital outcome using existing standards with the warehouse management system that was in use”, Styrnal says. The new process was thus integrated into the client’s already existing flows. “We then activated the queue control from SAP’s Material Management module and tailored it to the specific requirements of on-site production logistics”, the Branch Manager explains.

Technology frees up logistics team

The new fully automated and paperless system controls the prioritisation of production orders. The client’s supply needs are available online and are translated into transport orders every 30 minutes. To ready these for colleagues in a digital format, in the order of priority and in real time on the forklift, the vehicles were retrofitted with tablets. During the test phase, this turned out to be difficult in the beginning, according to Styrnal: “We needed a solution that complemented the working conditions inside the operator’s platform. A further criterion was user friendliness. It must be easy for employees to use the technology for the concept to work.”

For this, different hardware components were trialled. Once the best technology fit was found, all forklifts were fitted accordingly, and SAP’s queue system was activated. “Until recently, forklift operators had to independently work through their orders based on printed paper lists”, the Branch Manager explains. By now, the system handles this part of the process digitally and prioritises the production’s requirements using a traffic light system. “Work routines have become clearly more efficient and employees can finally focus on what is essential. Moreover, it is much easier and faster to train new workers which creates added safety for the entire onboarding process”, Styrnal comments.

Traffic light system for a plus in efficiency

A red light means that all forklift drivers are required to process production orders only. As soon as the light switches to amber, the drivers switch to a two-pronged approach. “This means that initially, any new pallets delivered are stored and when returning a pallet is taken out for production”, Styrnal says. Once the traffic light goes green, all time-sensitive orders have been completed and the supply areas for the production are optimally stocked. From that moment onwards, forklift drivers focus on storage activities.

Products that have been taken out are dropped at two supply points for MANN+HUMMEL intra-logistics to take over. One of these stations is operated directly from inside the logistics centre using a Driverless Transport System (DTS). From the other supply point, tugger trains take supplies directly to the adjoining production facility.

Better safe than sorry

The more technical a workflow, the greater the problem in the event of a malfunction. Hausbeck explains: “We need to uphold production supplies persistently as otherwise, not only our production lines will stand still but bottlenecks may arise for downstream operations.” Especially the automotive sector has extremely tight supply chains.

To secure this key process against downtimes, a local data backup system was installed in Marklkofen. The back-up system has already demonstrated its capabilities during system malfunctions and secured the supply of the production site.

Working eye to eye

In the meantime, the system has been up and running for around six months now, and the overall result is extremely positive, as Styrnal knows: “We have clearly increased the location’s productivity and were able to achieve economic savings which benefit both us and our clients.” Therefore, within the framework of a continuous improvement process, the goal is to further optimise process flows.

Hausbeck even counts on this: “FIEGE has evolved to become an innovative and extremely flexible logistics company for MANN+HUMMEL these past years. For this reason, we would not want to miss out on the many years of experience and outstanding know-how of the FIEGE team despite all the technology that is involved.”

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