Supply Chain

„This is how we take intralogistics to its next level"

Dr. Kerstin Höfle, VP R&D and Product Management, Körber Business Area Supply Chain

Automated warehouse management is becoming a key factor for companies to cope with increasing efficiency pressure and a shortage of skilled workers in equal measure. Dr. Kerstin Höfle, VP R&D and Product Management in Körber's Business Area Supply Chain, uses the example of "Layer Picker AMR" to explain how innovative Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions from Körber contribute to this.

Dr. Höfle, what are the main challenges the supply chain industry is currently facing?

Dr. Kerstin Höfle: The topic of "efficient logistics in the supply chain" has taken on a whole new significance for the global economy in recent years – and not just as a result of wars and pandemics. Volume, cost and time pressures have risen significantly, partly as a result of the rapidly growing e-commerce and retail business. End customers want ever shorter delivery times - no longer within a day, but within a few hours if possible. This requires optimized logistics solutions. In addition, there are simply fewer and fewer skilled workers who want to work in this area. This presents companies with a choice: risk delivery bottlenecks or push automation? Or, to put it another way: companies can only deliver if they automate in a targeted manner. AI-based robotics solutions offer a double improvement here: they step in where we can't find suitable personnel. And they simultaneously increase efficiency and flexibility within warehouse logistics by a considerable amount.

Why is flexibility so crucial here?

Because conditions are constantly changing and demand often varies strongly. If you operate your logistics warehouse only with statically designed systems, you will have little flexibility to react during peak order and distribution periods – simple scalability is not a given. Intelligent robotics solutions provide a remedy here.

Körber has just introduced a new logistics solution: the Layer Picker AMR. How does it work - and what exactly does it improve?

A Layer Picker is a robotic system with a combined suction and clamping gripper that depalletizes and palletizes pallets in warehouses layer by layer. It unloads and loads the pallets – and thus reassembles them into so-called rainbow pallets.  A Layer Picker ensures that from three pallets with only one item (for example, one pallet each of chocolate, red wine and ketchup), one pallet (or more) is picked containing exactly as much chocolate, red wine and ketchup as customers have ordered. Layer Pickers use suction and pressure and can pick and transfer 98 percent of grocery items without error. Previous Layer Picker solutions have used fixed rails and conveyors in the warehouse.

This is where Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) come in?

Exactly. In our fully integrated system, they add a highly flexible module to the Layer Picker as required, thus completely replacing rigid rail and conveyor technology with mobile robots. This allows us to offer our customers much more modular and flexible solutions – which also facilitate an entry into fully automated layer picking. The combined solution "Layer Picker + AMR" is very scalable and can virtually grow with increasing requirements. The overall performance of the system can be easily increased by adding further AMRs step by step. This is how we take intralogistics to its next level.

How high is the flexibility gain for customers?

In a typical warehouse architecture, the combination of Layer Picker and AMR can deliver up to 25% higher performance than classic Layer Picker solutions. For our partner companies in the core areas of Retail, Food & Beverage and Fast Moving Consumer Goods, this is a massive added value. At Körber, we offer the entire system integration between Layer Picker and AMR, software, and other automation technology from a single source – and thus a contemporary level of end-to-end quality. With the Layer Picker Gantry, the Layer Picker Hoist and the Layer Picker Flex, we also have different model versions and characteristics in our repertoire to guarantee customized solutions for a wide range of customer requirements. 

Combination at work: AMR supporting a Layer Picker System in a warehouse

In recent years, automation for the supply chain has made enormous progress. Where do you see further potential for the future?

AI will increasingly contribute to further increasing flexibility and sustainability in the supply chain with smart, self-learning systems, to agilely compensate for fluctuations, and to identify and avoid supply bottlenecks before we humans recognize them. We also see great potential in the area of predictive maintenance of our machines and plants, where AI and big data will enable us to make further progress. We are keeping a close eye on new technologies and constantly evaluating how we can improve our products and solutions and make them sustainable. Overall, supply chain complexity will continue to grow, increasing the pressure to increase portfolio diversity and develop fully integrated ecosystems with an end-to-end (E2E) focus. 

What does this mean for strategic planning at Körber? 

Creative collaboration with partners, customers as well as within the Group is becoming increasingly important for us. We strongly count on joint product development that is closely aligned with the experiences and needs of our customers. We promote cooperation and strategic partnerships at all levels. And we push our people to come up with bold creative solutions in agile team set-ups, using the full arsenal of tools and puzzle pieces we use to develop our supply chain solutions. It is certain that supply chain automation will remain a boom area – and an exciting, highly dynamic career field for talent at the intersection of IT, software and engineering. But I'm also sure that we won't turn everything upside down in logistics overnight. There will still be pallets. And there will still be people working in warehouse logistics.

For more detailed information, please read our latest Blog article here:

https://www.koerber-supplychain.com/about-us/blog/new-layer-picker-amr
 

Dr. Kerstin Höfle studied industrial engineering at the University of Bremen and received her doctorate in 2014 from the University of St. Gallen at the Chair of Logistics Management (now the Institute of Supply Chain Management). In 2018, she started at Körber as Head of Technology.

Since 2021, she has been responsible for the automation portfolio and the development of new technology solutions as VP R&D and Product Management in the Körber Business Area Supply Chain.

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