Precisely timed supply processes


Networking, information transparency, technical assistance and decentralised decisions are key cornerstones of a ‘smart factory’. Companies that systematically interlink and largely automate production and logistics are already creating a solid foundation on which smart factories can grow and thrive. And people continue to play an important role. State-of-the-art technologies relieve them from monotonous work and create an atmosphere that contributes to increasing employee satisfaction and motivation.

In the development of new manufacturing facilities, the focus remains on production in many cases. Material flow, on the other hand, is assigned a more secondary role. However, in the age of Industry 4.0, which is already feasible and based on the core idea of a smart factory, such differentiation or decoupled planning is increasingly being called into question. Instead, holistic concepts are needed so that all processes in production and logistics can be networked and flexibly synchronised. Another advantage is that space requirements are reduced thanks to minimised stocks.

In addition to automated distribution centres, the Swiss Stöcklin Group has also recently implemented a number of projects on a turnkey basis, especially in this segment of production logistics, taking into account the strategic and business objectives of the customers. The individual optimisation of space, time and resources is supported by a broad range of hardware and software products from our own production. As a global intralogistics provider and general contractor based in Dornach, Switzerland, we supply and implement our solutions ourselves – all from a single source.

Swiss quality without compromise

Omega, a brand of the Swatch Group, also made use of this offer to build a new luxury watch factory in Biel, in the canton of Bern. This new production facility, which was built according to the most modern ecological criteria and blends in harmoniously with the urban environment, combines both assembly and quality control under one roof, as well as a fully automatic small parts warehouse with connected conveyor technology. It also houses zones for packaging and the provision of the finished goods for shipment.

‘The implementation of a new logistics concept was intended to optimise material flow and storage facilities and adapt order picking and storage capacities to future requirements,’

reports Domenico Palombo, who oversees French-speaking markets in the Stöcklin Logistik AG Systems division. The focus was also on the highest level of performance and availability over the entire life cycle of the system, as well as maximum flexibility. In parallel, the costs associated with the processes had to be reduced.

Since its launch at the end of 2017, the fully automated small parts warehouse has been the core of the new, five-story production building, which has for all intents and purposes been constructed around the intralogistics system. It manages a variety of components and watch heads, which are sorted and stored according to work steps and picked on different floors. Specialists in their field go to work there, precisely assembling movements with dials, hands, cases and bands under clean-room conditions. Some controls and logistics tasks are assisted by robots. After completion, the finished watches are packaged and sent to shipping via specially designed conveyor technology.

Automatic small parts warehouse assists with assembly

The automatic small parts warehouse offers space for more than 30,000 containers with double-deep storage. In order to best protect the valuable goods in the warehouse, the entire system was rendered inert. In the case of Omega, the preventive fire safety concept provided for a reduction in oxygen content to just 15.2 per cent. In this way, it is preventatively ensures that no fires can be started in the first place. The warehouse is stocked with four BOXer storage and retrieval machines from Stöcklin Logistik, each equipped with a load handling device. In Mr Palombo’s words:

‘Energy efficiency was a big topic right from the beginning. We meet this demand with the lightweight design of the BOXer, which, thanks to this design principle, is one of the most energy-efficient small parts units on the market with comparable performance.’

Due to its modular construction, the BOXer is also designed for maximum flexibility and scalability. And the implemented warehouse management system (WMS) with integrated material flow control is used to continuously initiate storage and retrieval strategies under consideration of up-to-date daily requirements. As a result, the small parts units do not always drive at the highest possible speed, but adjust their pace as needed. This reduces both component wear and energy consumption, saving resources and avoiding unnecessarily high operating costs. At the same time, there are sufficient reserves to provide the required maximum performance at system-level peaks.

The system (27x10x14 meters – LxWxH) extends over three floors –the basement, the ground floor and the first floor. The remaining floors are connected to the system via lifts, which move the goods vertically. For storage and transport, Omega uses special containers measuring 305x405x230 mm, which can be identified by means of two individual EAN barcodes affixed to each container. In total, the automatic small parts warehouse can handle around 1,000 container movements per hour. The integrated warehouse management system acts as a central control entity, ensuring consistent inventory transparency and efficient use of all resources.

Integrated protection mechanisms for people and products

Another special feature is that the containers are equipped with special dust covers before storage so that the high-quality watch heads and components they carry do not suffer any damage. In the course of retrieval, the covers are then removed. Since this is a rather monotonous task for people to repeat over long periods, at Omega, robots take care of it. In this context, the WMS also checks at which point in time a container or lid has been cleaned. When the target cycle is reached, the system automatically triggers a transfer to the cleaning machine in the basement.

‘Considering the value of the stored goods, it is imperative to ensure a largely sterile environment during storage and transport, which prevents even the slightest contamination’,

explains Mr Palombo. Another requirement was the equally important topic of noise protection. ‘The activities carried out in the workshops require maximum concentration, which is why reducing noise to a minimum is essential’, the intralogistics expert continues. As a result, noise emissions were lowered accordingly, so that people can pursue their demanding work undisturbed.

Furthermore, air locks installed on each floor of the production building prevent dirt particles from entering the premises. And Omega’s production is completely paperless, too. All of the information required for assembly can be retrieved on screens or tablets. In the fully automated BOXer small parts warehouse, this ‘purity requirement’ is met by the warehouse management system, which has been used to implement automated, fully digitised warehouse management and material flow control.

While the fully automatic small parts warehouse is used to store watch heads and components as well as to provide the parts for assembly, finished watches are stored in specially designed warehouses. Inflow and outflow take place via completely redesigned container conveyor technology, which the Swiss intralogistics specialists have adapted to the special requirements of the loading equipment used. Here, too, the WMS controls the entire material flow according to orders, right through to packaging and shipping via forwarding agent, and manages the inventory within the finished watch warehouse.

Taking innovation and excellence to the next level

Thanks to the direct integration of the fully automatic small parts warehouse into the assembly environment using horizontal and vertical conveyor technology, it is now ensured that all parts required are always available completely and just in time. This also meets the criteria for lean production, which focuses on the economical and time-efficient use of all resources. At the same time, Omega has laid the foundations for even stronger fulfilment performance. An automated intralogistics system makes a significant contribution to ensuring the speed and punctuality of delivery of goods expected by the end customer and to providing a perfect shopping experience – whether online or in brick-and-mortar shops.

Reliable technology, transparent order tracking with 100% traceability of components, short lead times and explicitly adjusted supply cycles with moderate process costs and the highest possible flexibility are the decisive factors. This concept for an integrated and consistently networked production logistics system implemented for the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer at their Biel site also stands out thanks to its zero-defect strategies and a noise-reduced working environment to keep the people who work there satisfied. In addition to automation, this contributes to increasing overall productivity. The requirements for system availability are just as high. That is why service was also an important deciding factor for Omega. If necessary, the Stöcklin logistics team is on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to remedy any disruptions on site and restore readiness for delivery within the shortest time possible. Smaller problems, which can never be completely eliminated, are handled by the professional Omega Maintenance Team or solved by Stöcklin itself via remote access.