Growth-oriented logistics for laboratory products


A fully automatic small parts warehouse with 22,530 container storage locations is the heart of a new production and finished goods warehouse operated by the technology company Sartorius at the Göttingen location for Distribo GmbH. Stöcklin Logistik AG required only ten month’s time from the time the contract was awarded until transfer of the finished facilities ready for full operation.

Distribo is a joint venture of the pharmaceutical and laboratory suppler Sartorius and the Zufall Logistics Group, also based in Göttingen. As the operator of the new logistics center, the logistics service provider is responsible for production supply to all surrounding Sartorius plants as well as shipment of the laboratory and process technology products from the “Bioprocess Solution” and “Lab Products & Services” branches. Consumers are customers from the bio-technical, pharmaceutical and foodstuffs industry as well as public research in 140 countries.

Strategic investment for further expansion

The shipping and logistics company Friedrich Zufall GmbH & Co. KG has invested a total of nearly 15 million Euros in the property, building and technical equipment for expansion of the storage capacity to match Sartorius’s growth targets. This resulted in construction of a warehouse with floor space of 15,000 square meters as well as a 1,500 square meter service center containing laboratories, workshops and offices.

“The key technology for our new logistics center is the fully automatic small parts storage facility”, emphasized Holger Idzikowski, Business Manager at Distribo GmbH, the company which has controlled all of Sartorius’s logistics activities at the Göttingen location since 2003. “As a pharmaceutical and laboratory supplier, the company is active in sensitive branches, which place extremely high requirements on availability of the goods and delivery quality. With the new small parts warehouse we will be able to continue to satisfy these demands to the required degree in the future as well.

The BOXer is a key technology in the process chain

This new construction and expansion project is simultaneously a centralization measure. Previously the storage facilities for suppling production and those for temporary storage of finished goods were distributed among a number of locations. Small parts were located primarily in shelving racks, voluminous items in pallet racks or block storage. The new era for logistics began on July 11, 2014, the day the facilities were officially dedicated. Just a few weeks later, in the following August, the fully automatic small parts warehouse (AKL) was put into operation. Since that time the facility has been in operation 16 hours a day. Such a schedule requires robust technology and a failsafe concept for system availability.

Decisive for the decision in favor of this system was also the fact that operation seven days a week, 24 hours a day had to be possible. “It was necessary to guarantee, that such high level operation was realizable without reduced performance or limitations in the availability even at peak times. The BOXer from Stöcklin fulfills all of these criteria regarding flexibility and performance. Moreover it was possible to provide reserves for expansion based on this series, including the option to integrate an additional aisle.

“The modular BOXer system with its light weight design has proven itself for over ten years on the market and is first choice for compact, fully automatic storage of containers, boxes and trays as well as in terms of energy efficiency”

confirmed Michael Dörner, Sales Manager for the Equipment Division at the Swiss intralogistics provider Stöcklin Logistik AG with branch offices in Germany. As an overall system ready-for-operation, consisting of small parts equipment, racks, container and package conveying equipment, loading aids, control and warehouse management, the BOXer series has now proven its performance capabilities in the new Distribo logistics center.

Performance designed to meet actual requirements

The shelf construction in the small parts warehouse (AKL) has a height of 9.5 m and length of 51.5 m. 22,530 container storage locations with double depth storage are distributed over three aisles. These locations are served by three single aisle BOXer D1, single mast stacker cranes (RBG) equipped with load carriers. The stored goods themselves are finished goods requiring final preparation as well as semi-finished and outsourced parts for “just in time” supply to the Sartorius production facilities.

22,530 containers of two different sizes - 400 x 600 x 200 mm and 400 x 400 x 400 mm (LxWxH) - are in circulation in the facility. Each of these containers is laid out for loads of up to 20 kg and equipped with a flexible compartment divider system. Since the load is distributed unevenly on the base area of the shelf, Stöcklin Logistics provided a solution with a double ribbed floor. The advantage is that the often extremely sensitive goods do not shift and the conveying equipment runs smoother.

Each of the three BOXer stacker cranes (RBG) is equipped with a load handling device allowing two containers with a total weight of 40 kg to be transported in parallel. The telescopic forks move completely under both containers to pick up the load. The two separately driven pairs of belt conveyors for separating the loads are attached stationary on the lifting platform of each of the stacker cranes (RBG). When lifting the machines achieve speeds of up to 1.5 m/s, with a travelling speed of 4.0 m/s.

“If Distribo wants, the acceleration and speed values can be increased by simple intervention in the programming. However the speed was reduced at a sufficient performance rate to reduce power consumption, component wear and wear and tear on the system.

explained the Stöcklin Project Manager In this respect the system is dimensioned so that Distribo saves unnecessary operating costs while simultaneously having sufficient reserves for handling the goods. At peak times, an hourly storage and retrieval rate of 372 containers is thus possible per small parts unit.

Precisely controlled material flow at multiple levels

A further peculiarity to be taken into consideration in this project was that the present warehouse management system (WMS) was to continue to serve as the central control for the Zufall Logistics Group.

“Our intralogistic solutions are laid out for maximum flexibility from the very beginning at the hardware as well as the software level, so that specific customer requirements can be taken into consideration and implemented accordingly at any time.

continued the Project Manager.

On this basis, Stöcklin implemented a StöcklinWMS configured as a material flow computer. While the host WMS communicates with SAP and takes over management of the storage orders and storage locations, the StöcklinWMS, acting as material flow computer, executes the travel orders thus controlling the material flow on the receiving conveyor, in the small parts warehouse (AKL) and on the route to the connected picking stations.

For picking from the small parts warehouse (AKL), workstations were initially equipped according to ergonomic principles, to relieve the employees to the greatest extent possible form physical stress and simultaneously increase their performance. Here finished goods intended for shipment as well as orders for “internal customer production” are assembled. Order picking for Sartorius customers is accomplished according to the “pick & pack” principle, directly into shipping boxes with various dimensions. These are transported in the direction of the shipping department using the package conveying equipment also supplied by Stöcklin for collecting the boxes in the other direction.

For optimal use of the given building geometry, the incoming and outgoing conveying routes run at three levels. Example: At the workstations in receiving, manually filled containers are pushed onto the conveyor belt and transported to the infeed conveyors in the antechamber to the small parts warehouse (AKL) according to the target coordinates specified by the host WMS. After a success profile check, an S conveyor lifts the load units from 800 mm a conveying height of 4,500 mm. Packages and empty containers are transported by continuous conveyors to a conveying height of 1,600 mm and feed via a conveyor belt to an elevator, which lifts them to 4,500 mm. Just before reaching the shipping department, the packages and empty containers are lowered back down to “floor level”.

Well equipped for further growth

Further functional areas have been set up to make the automatic small parts storage facility the hub of the new logistics center: One narrow and one wide aisle storage area for final customers as well as a supplementary narrow aisle storage area for supply of production. Currently the stock level is over 12,000 items. These consist primarily of finished goods, commercial goods, semi-finished goods and raw materials.

“Expansion of the storage capacities at the local location in Göttingen laid the corner stone for keeping in step logistically with Sartorius’s growth projected on a planning horizon up to 2020."

summarized Distribo Business Manager Holger Idzikowski. This shows the importance of being able to trust an experienced intralogistic system supplier and realization partner such as Stöcklin Logistics. All strategically defined targets regarding performance and failsafe operation or system availability were achieved just as was the possibility of reacting adequately to variations in throughput and changes in the spectrum of goods.

Moreover, the automation in combination with voucherless and transparent processes, designed as simply as possible, has contributed to reduction of cost intensive picking and shipping errors. The cooperation between Sartorius, Zufall and Dristribo, which has already endured for over ten years, will continue on this promising foundation.

Author: Urs Grütter