Growth-Oriented Logistics for Steel Pipes and Profiles


The Swiss municipality of Tobel-Tägerschen has gained an new landmark. A new high-bay warehouse fits seamlessly into the surrounding landscape, offering separate sections for the stocking of automotive components and accessories. It is part of Kindlimann’s strategy, a steel pipe service provider, to centralize business activities in a new location. This has seen initial investments totaling CHF 50 million. As for the intralogistics part of the project, the project managers relied on the experience and expertise of Stöcklin Logistik AG.

Over the course of its 75-year history, Kindlimann AG has established itself as a leading Swiss steel manufacturer, and is further a major player in the global steel industry. The company, which belongs to the Van Leeuwen Group, produces and sells a full range of C-steel and stainless-steel pipes, profiles and accessories, as well as bright steel and stainless-steel bar stock. Not only do customers benefit from a 24-hour delivery service made possible by the companies own fleet, but Kindlimann further provides additional services in technical support and realizes customized procurement projects on a global scale. In terms of production, more than 30,000 metric tons of steel are processed annually by nearly 200 employees. In addition, around 30 million components for the automotive supplier industry are manufactured throughout same period.

Strategic investment in the future

The option of having parts delivered directly to the production or assembly line is another unique selling point. Customers have the option to choose between just-in-time (JIT) and kanban concepts. or order express deliveries if required. This provides the crucial benefit of being able to reduce in-house material stocks without jeopardizing the security of supply. Besides this broad range of products and services, Kindlimann always succeeds to match the requirements of customers with increasing demands around the globe. This keen sense of customer needs and current trends was rewarded in 2019 with sales amounting to CHF 90.5 million. Kindlimann however, is also characterized by its farsightedness. To create greater efficiency and impact from its future operations, the decision was made to merge the existing locations in Wil and Schwarzenbach into one site in Tobel-Tägerschen in the canton of Thurgau.

For this purpose, four large industrial buildings and one management building were planned and built, on a property measuring a total of 44,000 square meters – which equals the size of seven soccer fields. The symbolic groundbreaking ceremony was set for the start of December 2018. During this event, Roger Gähler, Co-Managing Director of Kindlimann, paid tribute to the new construction as an important milestone:

“Through this, we are safeguarding our Swiss workplace, particularly for the production of highly demanded automotive components, which we manufacture using ultra-modern systems for our global customers.”

Flexible integration and interface linking

At the end of February 2019, Stöcklin Logistik AG located in Laufen, Switzerland, was commissioned with the implementation of the intralogistics concept for the Kindlimanns building. The focus was a one-aisle automatic high-bay warehouse for accessories parts as well as another one for automotive components.

Within the context of our new plans, we were able to consolidate both the accessories warehouse and the automotive warehouse into one building in a space-saving manner,”

reports Tommy Dückmann, Project Manager at Stöcklin Logistik AG.

“However, these two areas are operated independently of one another.”

On an IT level too, the approach was clear. In accordance with Kindlimann’s wishes, both warehouses are to be managed using the Stöcklin WCS (Warehouse Control System). Beyond that, SAP EWM (Extended Warehouse Management System) will handle processes and manage inventory and orders. In turn, the Stöcklin WCS will be responsible for the execution of the transport orders received and for space management in the warehouse.

Relocation without service losses

Some two months before the two automated warehouses went live in August 2020, relocation to the new site in Tobel-Tägerschen began. It was a question of moving not only the inventory, amounting to 11,000 metric tons (pipes, profiles, pipe accessories and bulk materials), but also the fleet of machinery, encompassing more than 60 systems. Despite this Herculean task, Kindlimann succeeded in maintaining its delivery service as usual. Since its commissioning, the intralogistics system has operated regularly for 16 hours a day over six a week. The automotive area is designed to fit 2,028 pallets, while the accessory warehouse has a capacity of 1,950 pallets.

Each section is served by an automatic MASTer 24 stacker crane equipped with a telescopic fork. In the automotive section, Euro type 1 pallets of a special attachment are used. These load carriers are primarily used for loose bundles. The stacker crane that is installed there manages 60 storage or retrieval processes per hour. In the accessories warehouse, only regular Euro type 1 pallets are in circulation. The device operating here carries out a needs-based 32 double cycles per hour.

Independent operation, identical processes

In the automotive area with respect to storage, one bearer pallet is designated for each load carrier. These are kept in stacks of up to twelve pallets in the warehouse and are separated and unstacked or stacked up again by a so-called dispenser. A transfer trolley is responsible for their supply to the high-bay warehouse. Similarly, another dispenser stores and handles pallets for the accessories warehouse. In addition to the stacker cranes and the pallet dispensers, Stöcklin also supplied the entire area-segregated pallet conveyance technology in the preliminary zone, including fire and high-speed doors.

At all transfer and acceptance points as well as at the picking station, the recording of pallets and small-parts bundles is carried out using a handheld scanner in the SAP ERP/EWM system. The Stöcklin WCS is connected to the host via an interface. It manages the bundles and spaces, processes incoming and outgoing transport orders, and virtually directs the flow of materials, including the underlying control technology that monitors the encoders and regulates the motors. In this context, data such as length, width, and height as well as any profile errors and the weight of the bundles are recorded by the PLC and then reported to the WCS. At the same time, the system can optimize movement commands, for example, through sequencing. The completion of a transport order happens in real time by means of a receipt to the ERP system. The WCS, a separately deployable component of the Stöcklin Software Suite, also features integrated visualization. This provides employees with a constant overview of the operating status of the stacker cranes and the pallet conveyor routes.

Freshly equipped for new challenges

We are continuously assessing the efficiency of our internal processes to constantly minimize throughput times from order entry to dispatch with the best possible deployment of resources,”

states Gähler.

“Against this backdrop, it is essential to employ some automated warehouse technologies. With Stöcklin Logistik AG, we knew we would rely on an experienced partner for this project, which not only realized the new logistics concept as desired but also handily developed it further by bringing together the two automated warehouses that share one roof.”

This leaves additional space for further expansion. Through its 20.5-meter-high new building in Tobel-Tägerschen, Kindlimann has simultaneously been able to increase its storage capacity to 15,000 metric tons.

“High availability combined with a further improvement in delivery quality are important prerequisites for future survival in volatile markets and to increase market shares,” continues Roger Gähler, Co-Managing Director at Kindlimann.

“We have now created this foundation in the canton of Thurgau.”

The coronavirus pandemic did, of course, result in minor set backs.

“Some engineers from abroad were unable to travel,”

says Stöcklin Project Manager Tommy Dückmann.

“But we were able to fill this gap with our own people with no loss of time.”

Flexibility was also required in view of the delayed delivery of the bought-in high-speed doors.