It all began with a pallet of whiskey. Because of the bottles’ rounded shape, they are packed in special cartons. Even if the distribution of the bottles is optimal, the cartons do not cover the entire pallet. There’s a gap in the center that makes loading the pallet difficult — that’s why about 30 years ago, the Danish company Riantics, which today belongs to the Körber Business Area Supply, received a request from the whiskey producer to build them a machine that could handle this loading problem. The Danes answered, “No problem!” and promptly developed a machine that became a worldwide success: the Layer Picker, which used clamps to grasp the layers of cartons not only from outside but also from inside the gap. The system reliably caused no breakage.
Today many logistics companies face challenges that are much more complex than that, especially in the areas of FMCG and 3PL (Fast Moving Consumer Goods and Third Party Logistics), where goods of different kinds and shapes have to be transported very quickly and in large quantities. Companies want complete solutions that allow them to fully automate their warehouse processes. “Today the challenge is no longer to simply develop outstanding machines or software. We also have to combine them flexibly and, above all, scalably, in ways that are exactly adapted to the customer’s needs,” says Andreas Ebert, CSO of the Business Unit Supply Chain Automation. Körber is using the expertise of its companies in order to develop solutions of exactly this kind. One good example of that is Layer Picker Solutions, with the Layer Picker at its heart.
lDue to its versatility, the Layer Picker technology is especially appreciated by FMCG and 3PL customers.r
Andreas Ebert, CSO Business Unit Supply Chain Automation
“Thanks to the Layer Picker technology, Riantics has become the leader in the field of de-palletizing and pallet-to-pallet picking systems — in other words, machines that remove layers from pallets,” says Hans-Henrik Jensen, CEO Robotics of the Business United Supply Chain Automation. This machine can handle almost every product and every type of packaging that can be stacked in layers on pallets: beer cans in sixpacks, pickles in jars, potato chips in bags, milk in beverage cartons, paint in cans, deodorant spray cans in cardboard packages, and fruit and vegetables in open wood or plastic boxes. Almost everything that has a flat bottom and can be stacked in layers on pallets can be moved by the Layer Picker quickly, efficiently, and safely.
The machine stops above the targeted pallet, then lowers a four-cornered lifting head with a soft hiss and surrounds the carton layer with a framework of plastic pockets that inflate themselves in fractions of a second, creating a secure buffer. At the same time, 247 valves suck in air from above, creating a vacuum. The goods, which are being held gently and safely, can now be lifted up and moved around. With this technology, which has received a number of patents, 98 percent of all products in food retail can be handled fully automatically today. This is an undisputed top rate in the sector — no other layer picking system has reached it. “Due to its versatility, the Layer Picker technology is especially appreciated by FMCG and 3PL customers. That’s because it can pick up single or multiple layers and re-order them, even if they are incompletely filled,” says Andreas Ebert.
In order to fulfill individual requirements, the technology needs the right software. For example, some customers combine products of various brands, for example a layer of brand A washing powder with a layer of brand B and another layer of brand C. Other customers may combine completely different products on a single pallet. In a third variant, pallets that are covered with only one layer of products are stacked on top of other pallets, because the customer only needs one layer of each product but nonetheless wants to be able to transport each delivered layer with a forklift.
Each operation of Layer Picker Solutions is controlled by software that has been specially developed for this purpose and can be easily integrated via plug-and-play into the customer’s IT landscape. For example, the Layer Picker always knows precisely which products should be picked in which combination, and it also ensures smooth transportation within the warehouse.
lAutomated holistic processes are becoming increasingly important in logistics. That’s why we offer our customers a reliable, flexible, and scalable solution.r
Pieter Feenstra, CEO Business Unit Supply Chain Automation
A new trend is that more and more customers are relying on automated high-bay warehouses to save expensive floor space and thus costs; some companies are already planning warehouses that are up to 40 meters in height. Here, the solution combines high-bay warehouse and conveyor technology, both expertise and products from the Business Area Supply Chain. The conveyor technology moves the pallets into and out of the warehouse and supplies the Layer Picker with material for picking up the mixed pallets. Autonomously moving cranes take over the automated intermediate storage.
In the past, companies had to buy individual components from various producers, which they then built around the Layer Picker to form a system. However, in many cases off-the-shelf products could not be integrated into existing warehousing systems. That problem is solved by Layer Picker Solutions: All of its components come from a single source and fit together perfectly. “Automated holistic processes are becoming increasingly important in logistics. That’s why we offer our customers a reliable, flexible, and scalable solution,” says Pieter Feenstra from Körber Supply Chain Automation. What’s more, a specially developed configurator offers the possibility of digitally visualizing an installation of Layer Picker Solutions and virtually simulating every imaginable material flow. Unmatched capacity: Depending on the size of the warehouse, the product, and the number of pallets, customers can use Layer Picker Solutions to process up to 10,000 picks of pallet layers per day.
At the beginning of 2019, this innovative stand-alone application was effectively presented by means of a 3D Lego® model at the LogiMAT trade fair in Stuttgart. “We are creating genuine added value for our customers with Layer Picker Solutions,” says Feenstra. “They are receiving a more reliable system, because our technologies are perfectly coordinated with one another and no additional adaptation work is required.”