Automation is a key trend in intralogistics. For customers like Heuchemer Verpackung, the KION Group always comes up with intelligent solutions: innovative, tailor-made, offering real customer benefits.

Automation is a key trend in intralogistics.
For customers like Heuchemer Verpackung,
the KION Group always comes up with intelligent solutions:
innovative, tailor-made, offering real customer benefits.

You can taste the plastic in the warm air of the factory. A huge machine is producing a never-ending stream of gold-coloured plastic blocks before an employee casts a critical eye over them. Any defective blocks go straight into a wire mesh crate, while the flawless articles are deposited in a cardboard box as tall as a person. If you look carefully, you can see that the blocks are actually stacks of inserts used in boxes of sweets. The machine takes less than half an hour to make 1,000 of them from a gold-coloured plastic film that is subjected to pressure of 20 tonnes and a temperature of 200° centigrade.

“Once one of the cardboard boxes is full, we use a hand pallet truck to transport it on a pallet to the stretch machine,” explains Christian Heuchemer, managing director of Heuchemer Verpackung GmbH & Co. KG. The machine tightly wraps the box and its pallet in clear film. The route taken by the truck passes a number of other machines pounding away. To maintain hygiene, the people working at them wear white caps.

Specialising in plastic, corrugated cardboard, and wooden packaging

In the production hall, which is roughly half the size of a football pitch, Heuchemer Verpackung manufactures plastic packaging for customers in a variety of sectors, including food and beverages, consumer products, automotive, electronics, construction and chemicals. Plastic and corrugated cardboard packaging from Miehlen, close to the German city of Koblenz, are two of the three business lines of this family firm, which was established by the great-grandfather of Christian Heuchemer and his two sisters as a manufacturer of wooden packaging in nearby Bad Ems almost 100 years ago.

Today, business is flourishing more than ever before. This is due to the popularity of discount supermarkets, which do not unpack their products in their stores and instead simply place them on the shelves still in their packaging. Special requests are no problem for Heuchemer Verpackung, which has more than a dozen developers at the ready. Heuchemer Verpackung itself builds the unique and powerful tools with which it shapes and die-cuts the packaging, thereby ensuring the high level of quality that its customers expect.

In order to free up capacity and space for new ideas, the company has automated most of the processes in its factory buildings. “Now we want to automate our intralogistics as well,” explains Christian Heuchemer. “What is important to us is the strategy for the overall system, not just the quality of an individual truck. That’s why we need our partner STILL.” Thomas Schmidt, manager of the plastics plant, adds: “Heuchemer is a flexible and innovative company, and we demand the same of our logistics partner.”

Launch of fully automated intralogistics

STILL iGoEasy provided Heuchemer Verpackung’s entry into fully automated transport technology – a “truck off-the-shelf that we can program for our processes ourselves,” says Heuchemer. An iPad is used to individually configure, control and monitor the truck, while reflectors have been attached to the racks in order to guide the truck along its route.

The pallets containing the cardboard boxes that have been wrapped up by the stretch machine are removed from the roller belt by the iGoEasy truck, which then takes them to the buffer rack. Usually, the iGoEasy receives its orders from the iPad, but in this case a scanner records all of the pallets at the end of the roller belt and sends the orders. Silently the truck then moves to the belt, brakes gently and raises its fork prongs as it approaches the pallet.

Less than a minute later, the iGoEasy reaches the buffer rack with its load and places the pallet in the correct rack channel of the twelve available. A light barrier identifies the pallet and activates the chain conveyor that pulls it through the channel. It is then collected by a very narrow aisle truck (VNA) at the back of the buffer rack. The VNA picks up the pallet and whizzes backwards along the narrow aisle of the high-bay storage facility while lifting its driver and the pallet to a height of up to 16 metres. The more than 1,000 rack channels contain more than 10,000 storage bays. Once it has reached the necessary height, the VNA places the pallet on a semi-automated STILLPalletShuttle, which takes it to the storage bay in the channel.

“By working closely with STILL on our project, we have created a unique system for our company,” concludes Schmidt, the plant manager. He adds that Heuchemer Verpackung is monitoring the system carefully in order to make decisions about future developments. After all, “we want to fully automate the movement of goods within the foreseeable future,” says Schmidt.

Offering customers unique opportunities to add value.

Industry 4.0, automation, integrated logistics and IT, and lithium-ion batteries – these are key trends in the material handling industry, too.

By 2018 the KION Group wants a significant number of its electric forklift trucks and warehouse trucks to be fitted as standard with lithium-ion batteries, which have a far higher energy density than conventional batteries. In just a few years’ time, the operating costs should fall well below those of existing drive systems.

The KION Group also provides sophisticated solutions for automation. Trucks that move as if by magic are already meeting the highest standards in safety, reliability and round-the-clock operation. They can be used for all kinds of applications, including delivering parts to an assembly line, collecting finished products and transporting to high-bay racking. Automation, like lithium-ion batteries, is a growth market for the KION Group.

How the KION Group plans to ramp-up its offering
Share of li-ion truck models of electric and warehouse trucks

How KION plans to ramp-up its offering (line chart)