Annual Report 2019

We are shaping the supply chain of the future

Warehouse management is facing major upheavals. At the Körber Business Area Supply Chain, we are facing up to these challenges. New technologies and agile forms of collaboration are important components of our strategy to conquer supply chain complexity.

by Dirk Hejnal, CEO Körber Business Area Supply Chain

  • Robots play a key role in the supply chain, and they are fundamentally changing the structure of warehouses — for the benefit of greater flexibility and productivity.
  • Consumers are increasingly expecting same-day delivery of their orders — and this requires a rethinking of hardware and software solutions.
  • More than ever before, close collaboration with our customers and partners is the number one success factor for our development of new solutions — and agility is becoming a clear competitive advantage.

What is our vision of the future? This question conjures up the same associations in almost every industry. It brings to mind new technologies, digitization in countless areas of our lives, and ways to make daily life more convenient. And in the next step, we add automation, robots, artificial intelligence, and full transparency along supply chains. But we also want to make sure that our technical innovations generate real added value as fast as possible. How do we distinguish here between innovations that stand the test of time and flash-in-the-pan ideas that soon disappear? At the Körber Business Area Supply Chain, we keep a clear focus as we drive and analyze innovations. When it’s a question of how and why these innovations will be used, we think first of people — our employees, customers, and partners.

In the warehouse of a Körber customer, an employee places goods in a basket, which is then transported further by an autonomously moving robot.

Mobile robots play a key role here. Our Business Unit Software is already deploying a new generation of mobile robots that operate autonomously, independently of rails or magnetic tracks. Thanks to their flexibility, they adapt themselves easily and individually to their environment. Their big advantage is that they move in the way that best matches the specific processes and different warehouses in which they are deployed — without requiring time-consuming programming for each individual robot.

Robots relieve employees of strenuous physical tasks

The key driver of the use of such innovations is not the wish to reduce employee numbers. On the contrary, there is a shortage of logistics personnel, and it’s not easy to fill warehouse staffing vacancies. The robots’ main task is to transport goods and pallets from one place to another. They relieve employees of strenuous physical tasks and save time because employees no longer need to walk back and forth anywhere near as much. But they will also fundamentally change the structure of warehouses. Step by step, mobile robots will also take on tasks where we still use traditional materials handling technology today.

A drone developed by the start-up Doks was used in a warehouse of a Körber customer to record the inventory.

For example, in an initial step our Business Unit Automation is investigating how mobile robots can be used in existing palletizing cells to replace certain components of materials handling technology. This enables us to offer customers significantly more flexible and compact solutions. We are also expanding our expertise regarding how we can use mobile robots in complex automation solutions without having to predefine fixed routes for them. In addition, we are evaluating entirely new solutions. The latest developments in the area of gripping and camera technology, for example, as well as machine learning, are opening up entirely new opportunities for automating the bin-picking process.

In addition to technological innovations, the growth of major cities is a megatrend that will have an impact on warehouse management as well as the control of entire supply chains. More and more people live in conurbations, and in many places traffic is approaching collapse. In order to reliably deliver goods to consumers in spite of these factors, we need micro-fulfillment solutions. Goods have to be warehoused as close to the customers as possible. In addition to micro-warehouses that could use retail spaces, for example, it is extremely important to create an overall fulfillment network — in other words, to connect numerous warehouse locations to one another and create an efficient and predictive software-based control system. In this area as well, at Körber we are already thinking about initial projects.

lIn the future of warehouse management, new technologies and new forms of collaboration will be working hand in hand.r

Dirk Hejnal, CEO Körber Business Area Supply Chain

Already knowing today what customers will order tomorrow

At the heart of all these developments is data — and access to it. We are learning how to link data so that our customers can, for example, already know today how many smartphones will be ordered tomorrow in Madrid or Barcelona. In all of these projects, at Körber our top priority is our definition of ethics and data security. We take our duty to protect personal rights very seriously, and that’s why we only evaluate and analyze non-personalized data.

One thing is clear: More and more often, we are mastering challenges in collaboration with partners. That’s why we are changing the way we work. In addition to traditional development projects that are generally oriented toward the long-term, we are more and more often running short test phases in collaboration with customers and partners and jointly developing new solutions. One example of that is a drone project in which the cooperation partners are one of our customers, Körber, and a start-up that develops drones that help to register warehouse inventories much more efficiently. 

This example shows that in the future of warehouse management, new technologies and new forms of collaboration will be working hand in hand.

About the author

Dirk Hejnal has been CEO of the Körber Business Area Supply Chain since 2019. Previously, the business administration graduate was responsible for the Agricultural Engineering Division and the Food Solutions Division of the GEA Group, a specialist for process technology and plant engineering. Hejnal was co-founder of a 3D start-up company belonging to the AGOR Group, a member of the management of the Capri-Sun Group and Managing Director of INDAG Pouch Partners, a manufacturer of beverage processing and filling machines.

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