Sustainability and performance in harmony


Following a construction period of just over two years, Winterhalter + Fenner AG’s new central warehouse in Wallisellen went into operation at the end of June 2020. As the first of its kind in Switzerland, the new wooden high-bay warehouse caught a lot of attention – and not just locally. It forms a key element of a compactly designed and highly dynamic overall system that distributes goods over three floors. Stöcklin Logistik AG was awarded the contract for the warehouse’s intralogistics operations, with the total costs for the entire warehouse system amounting to over CHF 50 million.

“A story with both a tradition and a future” – these words describe the development of Winterhalter + Fenner AG in a nutshell. It was in 1903 that A. Fenner + Cie. first began operating – the first electrical wholesaler in the Zurich region. Bruno Winterhalter would later follow a similar business model when he founded his eponymous one-man business Bruno Winterhalter (BW) in St. Gallen in 1937. The main focus of the business was replacements for automotive parts, in addition asbestos and rubber components were part of the product portfolio. It wasn’t until a few years later that they added “electrical materials in bulk” to the product assortmentl. From 1946 and going forward, the company decided to devote itself entirely to the lucrative electronics wholesale market. A decision was made to combine the resources and competencies of Bruno Winterhalter AG and Fenner + Cie. AG, now known as Winterhalter + Fenner AG with their headquarter located in St. Gallen since January 1, 1992.

A leader across all channels

The company has 14 branches in Germany and West Switzerland and is one of the country’s leading electrical wholesalers, offering electrotechnical components, installation materials, products for data networks, and photovoltaic systems. Winterhalter + Fenner forms a part of Sonepar Suisse, along with its subsidiaries Dysbox SA, ElectroLAN SA, and Fabbri SA.

Sonepar Suisse has been part of the Sonepar Group since 2008 – the worldwide no. 1 in B2B electrical wholesaling. From April 1, the five companies will appear a single, unified banner: Sonepar Suisse AG. Winterhalter + Fenner customers can now place orders via every conceivable channel: cellphone app, online store, phone, data connection, or at the electronic store. Thus, networking and digitalization are core elements of our corporate and logistics strategies, with a further focus on service that aims to ensure high availability of goods and reliable delivery. Not only does the new and highly automated central warehouse in Wallisellen reflect the company’s values and strategy, it also represents a significant milestone in its ongoing process of improvement and development

Environmental commitment and bold innovation

The wooden construction of the 22-meter-tall high-bay warehouse is particularly striking; a project of this type, realized for the first time in Switzerland by the engineers and planners Brühwiler AG, requires a high level of engagement and willingness to innovate.

“For us, sustainability isn’t just a hollow term, but something we live by wherever possible,”

says Benjamin Ertl, supply chain manager at Winterhalter + Fenner AG.

“Our past experiences have shown that responsible behavior in this area doesn’t have to come at an economic cost.”

Thus it was decided to install solar panels on the roof of the new building to cover all the internal energy needs with renewable energy. Further, 18 loading ramps were installed in the basement level, protecting employees and local residents from constant high levels of noise.

A little more than two years passed since February 27, 2018, when project started and the automated system going live on June 25, 2020 – an outstanding performance by the various project teams involved, who worked hand in hand to make it happen. As a thank-you for the superb collaboration, Stöcklin took the opportunity to provide Winterhalter + Fenner with some of their own hand pallet trucks. Because even operators of highly automated intralogistics system solutions – in this case Keller Logistik – can’t get by without any conventional warehouse technology or transport systems at all.

“In Stöcklin, we now have a strong Swiss intralogistics partner from our own region that also has a strong international reputation as a manufacturing service provider,”

says Benjamin Ertl.

“Know-how and experience are one thing, but interpersonal communication also worked well, which contributed to the overall success of the project.”

Synchronized material flow across three levels

Stöcklin project manager Serkan Zeyrek shares his take and positive experience on the project:

“A constructive and fair approach to working with one another is crucial in realizing such a complex system within such a short period of time, especially with pandemic-related restrictions applying later on in the process.”

The results speak for themselves: Winterhalter + Fenner AG’s new warehouse brings together more than 50,000 items across 10,000 m² of floorspace. These are distributed between a fully automated high-bay warehouse, which has space for 6,000 palettes and 1,500 cases, and an autostore system with 55,000 containers and 70 robots.

The load carriers are a mix of variously sized containers, Euro 1 palettes in four height classes, and special palettes that are suitable for handling cases. The load carriers are loaded into the incoming goods area on the first floor level They then pass through a contour and weight check before being transferred to the stacker cranes’ transfer points using a conveyor system. This allows a storage process to be initiated using the conveyor system in the basement or on the upper floor These three levels are connected by cable hoists. The central warehouse also receives cassettes, small parts that need to be transferred to containers, and boxes. Spiral conveyors are integrated into the box-conveyor system hung from the roof, allowing boxes to be moved between levels.

Storage and retrieval with no time lost

The pallets are transferred from the spur runways and stored in the compartments allocated to them in the high-bay warehouse (HRL) using four 22-meter-high, fully automated stacker cranes (RGB), each equipped with a 2-prong telescopic fork. Each aisle has a travel distance of 38 meters. All devices from the MASTer 24 series are controlled by the SIMATIC S7-1500 Advanced Controller, which is integrated into the Totally Integrated Automation Portal (TIA Portal) and is currently considered the fastest controller worldwide. RBG 1 is exclusively intended for cases. Up to 33 double cycles per hour are performed during storage with parallel retrieval for picking. RBG 2 is also responsible for handling palettes with reels. A total of 13 double passes are achieved here each hour. RBG 3 and 4 are used exclusively for receiving, storing, and retrieving Euro 1 pallets. Here, too, each trip sees two pallets unloaded or loaded. A total of 24 double passes are possible each hour.

The orders are picked using pick stations in the basement level that are integrated into the conveyor technology. Chain and roller conveyors, elevating units, and turntables serve as transport elements for preparing the required load carriers at the picking workstations and facilitating their return to the high-bay warehouse. In addition, a palette dispenser is also available. While the picking stations for cases are located in the basement and first-floor levels, reel picking takes place exclusively on the upper floor.

As soon as the picking orders are completed, goods are either fed to the sorting lanes in the basement or transferred directly to preparation areas there.

Compact and integrated power density

An aisle-less, compact storage system was installed for the stocking of small parts. 70 autonomously operated robots ensure that fast and slow-moving items alike are constantly transferred, so that containers can be accessed in the easiest way possible when required. High-speed workstations and a vertical lift are incorporated within a tunnel structure, while the supply and discharge container conveyor system is attached to the ceiling.

“Realization of the new warehouse required close coordination with the building services department,”

says Serkan Zeyrek.

“Because avoiding any potential for collisions was always the highest priority.”

Up to 400 containers can be loaded each hour and picking of small parts can reach 1,600 positions during the same period at peak times.

IT-supported ongoing optimizations

Material flow and storage location are both managed by the StöcklinWCS (Warehouse Control System), which is controlled by the higher-level host using transport orders. Storage strategies, for example, are used to allocate suitable storage compartments, with the best possible balanced article distribution, container dimensions, and ABZ zones all taken into consideration. Load reduction is planned for and managed accordingly. Priority control, order sequencing, empty container management, and control station functionalities are all also provided for. This makes it possible to visualize the current state of the warehouse through the control center, for example, with dynamic 2D graphics that show the current capacity of all subsystems. In addition, any disruptions within the system are displayed. Fast tracking offers a decisive advantage by allowing temporary problems to be dealt with quickly. The WCS also includes an application for energy management, with a sleep function that automatically switches management components to stand-by mode outside of operating hours.

Communication between the subsystems’ PLCs (including fire and high-speed doors) and the material flow computer takes place via the industrial ethernet. Subsystems with their own controllers use a TCP/IP interface that connects them with the Profinet automation network.

“In order to ensure long-term stability, the automation network was implemented separately from the customer LAN,”

says Serkan Zeyrek, Stöcklin’s project manager for logistics.

“This prevents the network from becoming overloaded. It also rules out any disruptions caused by broadcast telegrams (network messages) or updates, or by changes in the LAN’s network infrastructure.”

The latest success in a long-term logistics strategy

It is possible for the entire system to be operated 24 hours a day without interruption if needed, but it usually operates for ten hours a day, five days a week.

“With our intralogistics system, realized by our partner Stöcklin, we’ve taken an important step towards automation and the security it offers in the future,”

stresses supply chain manager Benjamin Ertl.

“It constantly optimizes itself while taking into account current demands and is designed to cope with a growing turnover of goods.”

The central warehouse’s high levels of energy efficiency also aligns with Winterhalter + Fenner AG’s commitment to the environment – without compromising on safety and value retention. Wood meets the same criteria as steel in terms of precision, durability, structural safety, and fire protection. This aspect is further supported by an intelligent fire safety concept implemented by Stöcklin inside the facility.