The system accepts the cardboard boxes packed with goods at the 48 packing stations, transports them via the strapping stations to the dispatch sections for Germany and the rest of Europe and facilitates direct loading onto heavy goods vehicles.
Although conceived economically from standard components of Transnorm, the conveyor system was one that was customised to the exact requirements of AGS with a maximum performance of up to 6,000 parcels per hour. The new system was implemented entirely throughout on-going operations, during which even large parts of an already existing conveyor equipment was integrated into the new system.
Successful system expansion during on-going operations
"The main reason for the expansion was that we took over the physical dispatch for our affiliated company "Madeleine Mode" since January 2009" according to Dipl.-Ing. (Graduate Engineer Maik Webersinke, Manager, Logistics, at Atelier Goldner Schnitt in Muencheberg). "The reason for this was that our existing system was relatively speaking simply knitted together with two packing belts working independently of one another, which led to one strapping line each, and it was also highly vulnerable. In case of a fault in one line, the entire packing belt came to a standstill. Keeping the considerably growing throughput vol-ume expected in mind, the business could no longer have been feasible in this manner". One number illustrated this: "With the old system, we could transport up to 60 parcels per minute, while with the new one we achieve more than 100, which is a quantum leap" em-phasised the Logistics Manager At present, the total throughput of the Logistics Centre, in which approximately 250 em-ployees are deployed partly in two shifts, which includes an incoming goods and returns section, is up to more than 25,000 parcels.
Good reference values and quality speak in favour of Transnorm
The decision in favour of Transnorm as the partner for implementing the new conveyor system that was connected directly to the existing one was made for several reasons.
Firstly, Transnorm had already been active for AGS in 2005 as, similarly, during on-going opera-tions, the existing sorting system then for parcels needed to be expanded from 7 to 15 ejecting stations and Transnorm had "solved the problem" in the best possible manner. "In addition, with the current project, we said that we are aware of the reliability of the con-veyor equipment from Transnorm, just as we know about their quality during maintenance" explained Mr. Webersinke, which meant that Transnorm was also included on the shortlist for the new and larger project. “We had also negotiated very intensively with other providers." In fact, there was also a cost criterion but that was ultimately less relevant. “What was crucial for us was the favourable and positive experience that we have had with Transnorm and the performance capability of the Transnorm distribution equipment, which was also reflected in the reference systems visited and inspected by us. The new system has been in full operation since 2008, whereby while stopping the old system, the new one including that part of the existing system that is used for the ejection of the international parcels, was started directly following reconnection”.
Peak performance of up to 6,000 parcels per hour
The performance of the conveyor system from Transnorm for deployment at AGS, follow-ing detailed discussions with the employees involved, was specified as 6,000 units per hour. "We have reduced the performance to this level in order to make the performance feasible for all sections that are served by the conveyor system" explained Dipl.-Ing. (Graduate En-gineer) Uwe Ehlers, Sales Manager of the Systems Division at Transnorm, Harsum. "We originally had higher performance requirements but it came down to 6,000 parcels per hour in order to be able to handle the complete range and therefore, even the different sizes and properties of the cardboard boxes” he explained. The reason is that these were the additional peculiarities that needed to be considered at the time of conceiving and implementing the system: The overall bandwidth of the various parcel weights ranging from 500 grams to 31.5 kg, as well as twenty different sizes of card-board boxes with a length of up to 580 mm, width up to 450 mm and 250 mm in height needed to be taken into consideration. Similarly, the different surface properties required consideration, since apart from boxes made from solid cardboard, even corrugated card-board box parcels with a very smooth surface as well as simple cardboard boxes are used.
The system handles the most diverse sizes and surfaces of cardboard boxes
This has a great impact on the transportability of the parcels explained Mr. Ehlers: "We have deployed plenty of roller equipment in the system that invariably generates slack ef-fects. That is why you are far more dependent here on the characteristics of the cardboard boxes than with belt conveyors for achieving uniform speeds and throughput". In the first three months of the system operation - from October to December 2008 - only the qualities of cardboard boxes specified at the time of project planning ran over the roller conveyor equipment – only then was the smooth one of the "Madeleine Mode" brand added. Additional testing and checking efforts and a series of system modifications became necessary. It speaks volumes for the operator and the system supplier and also for the quality of the cooperation that these problems that could not have been foreseen earlier could be resolved in full on-going operation. The internal logistics process begins with the transport of the picking carriages to the two packing lines arranged in the U-shape. As Mr. Webersinke explained, the U-shaped ar-rangement of the packing lines took concrete shape only in the last 3 - 4 weeks of the pro-ject planning: "The U-shape provides advantages as the individual packing station can be reached directly and over a short path".
Four conveyor speeds at both packing lines
Four different conveyor speeds are used at the packing lines with a total of 48 packing sta-tions: The starting point begins with 25 per cent, then the system moves to 50 per cent, increases to 75 per cent and finally reaches 100 per cent. With this graduation, the gaps necessary for placing the parcels that are ready can be generated since each of the two transport routes serves 24 packing stations and generates a correspondingly high rate of cardboard boxes being loaded. The quantity of the cardboard boxes being generated is less dependent on the time-related peaks than on the number of pieces of apparel packed in each cardboard box. At AGS, we speak here of 1-model or multi-models, that is, cardboard boxes with more than one piece of apparel in them. "In general, at AGS, the goods are forwarded very quickly as we have very few buffer areas in the entire section for preparing the dispatches and we also generally endeavour to avoid inventories of goods" explained the Logistics Manager.
Accurate alignment of the cardboard boxes in front of the strapping stations
The two packing belts fitted with belt conveyor equipment run together at a crossing diverter, which ejects the parcels at one of four strapping stations, as a result of which jams are avoided since the system regulates itself even in case one of the strapping machines fails. Three short belt conveyor routes installed one after another and achieving gaps between the individual cardboard boxes ensure the optimal flow of goods and control the parcels specifically towards the crossing diverter. The swivel rollers tracks installed are used, as Mr. Ehlers from Transnorm explained, pri-marily to align the parcels placed continuously and randomly on the belts. In this way, the parcels are aligned longitudinally and can then be ejected cleanly in the direction of the strapping machine. In addition, in case of a fault, the flow of goods can be mixed so that the redundancies generated prevent jams or backlogs as far as possible. The precision of the parcel alignment in front of the strapping machine is extremely im-portant not least on account of the considerable difference in the width of the parcels. The reason is that with a track width of 47 cm, parcels with a maximum width of 45 cm must also be strapped just as securely in the middle as the much smaller parcels.
The diverters form the core of the system
After passing the four strapping tracks, the parcels are again merged into two lines. At the next crossing diverter, the parcels are sorted by two scanners according to the destination city. Mr. Webersinke: "We have two destination addresses from this crossing diverter; one belt is meant for foreign parcels and the other for inland dispatch". As both Mr. Webersinke and Mr. Ehlers emphasised, it is in particular this diverter for sort-ing goods intended for Germany or overseas that is "the aorta of the system", with which "high availability is very important". "We run the conveyor system at this central point at very high speeds" emphasised the Logistics Manager. “Moreover, the entire quantity of parcels to be dispatched arrives here one after the other". And there is no pre-sorting whatsoever, which means that the diverter completely takes over assignment to the ap-propriate track. The scenario that out of two cardboard boxes one needs to be ejected to the domestic track and the other to the international track is more the rule than the excep-tion. This calls for maximum availability and reliability, on the one hand, for the conveyor equipment and, on the other hand, for the controller that has been implemented by P.H.S.I., Landshut, even for this system. All parcels that AGS puts together - from its own goods and those of "Madeleine Mode" - are dispatched from Muenchberg. Apart from Germany, the European countries of Switzer-land, Austria, France, Belgium, Holland, England, Greece, Finland, Sweden and Norway also make up the geographical destination territories for the consignments. All foreign con-signments are picked up on a daily basis by the freight forwarder at 3:30 PM, sorted in the yard for onward transport and distributed, transported overnight to the various neighbour-ing countries, and handed over the next morning to the respective postal department, while the other consignments take somewhat longer.
All eight dispatch gates are reached directly by the conveyor system
The "old" part of the system, which Transnorm had implemented to a large extent for AGS as a project five years ago, as Mr. Webersinke explained, could be left primarily as it was - just as the complete conveyor system - and could be integrated into the new system during operation, being used for the dispatch of international parcels. The so-called "Dispatch to Germany”, i.e. the transport route used for this purpose, is one of the peculiarities of the system.
This is so because all eight dispatch gates can be reached with the main conveyor belt and only one other belt. In this manner, two container bridges can always be controlled simultaneously.
"For prompt loading, there are another three movable telescopic conveyors as well as one that is permanently installed. Of these, three are gravitational telescopes and one is a re-versible belt telescope conveyor; with these as well, you can traverse three changeable bridges in order to fetch returns via the conveyor equipment being driven.” Even the re-turns belt with ten collection places as well as the particularly wide disposal belt installed below it for the old cardboard boxes is an integral component of the new conveyor system from Transnorm. The ready goods boxes for domestic delivery are stacked in the heavy goods vehicle con-tainer directly and then transported to the next freight posting centre in Neumarkt near Zwickau, where they are sorted according to postcodes and cities and then distributed all across Germany and delivered.
Intensive and trustworthy cooperation
The system virtually underwent a cold start and was put into operation by turning the pro-verbial lever, and it has proven itself well, as Mr. Webersinke explained. Therefore, a total of approximately 1.6 million parcels were transported via the system in the first four months in 2009.
As the Logistics Manager emphasised, the system availability could be en-hanced further with the new conveyor system, the failure rate was reduced noticeably and the bottlenecks were eliminated. "Moreover, the throughput could be enhanced consider-ably beyond the 22,000 consignments moved per day until then, whereby the system, in view of up to 6,000 possible dispatches per hour, yields substantially more".
In addition, if required, extensions are possible without any constructional measures, such as adding extensions to the branches of the packing lines. Mr. Webersinke is highly satis-fied with the cooperation with Transnorm: "We have worked very intensively with one an-other, time and again we have questioned all aspects of the system for the optimal solution and things have been managed very comprehensively. The design and project planning was the best of its kind". Only cooperation of this level of quality makes it possible to run a complex conveyor system, such as the one at AGS, from 0 to 100 with on-going operations.
AGS – Quantities specialist and dispatch service provider
AGS operates as a specialist in large quantities for fashion goods and as a special dispatch-er, employing approximately 700 people all over Europe. AGS dispatches its own collection and with effect from January 2009, it is also a dispatch service provider for the collections of the label "Emilia Lay" as well as for the "Madeleine Mode" brand. "We dispatch fashion for the sophisticated woman” explained Mr. Webersinke, with the target group being fe-male customers who are aged 50 years and older. Regardless of the size of manufacture, AGS makes a special contribution as a specialised dispatch service provider to the physical proportions of the more sophisticated customers with a special size concept, in which based on empirical values and verified measurements the compatible shape of the clothing is adapted according to the age. Therefore, instead of the usual 6 to 8 different sizes of dresses, up to 29 different sizes are offered. Even in their catalogue, AGS has a unique feature since material samples are incorporated in the catalogues. In addition, the customers are requested to return the catalogues to AGS after browsing through them. Mr. Webersinke: "With the regular customers, the rate of catalogues being returned is more than 95 per cent: Each catalogue is circulated 3 to 4 times". At present, seven main catalogues are sent over one season, which the customers receive at different points in time, but only one catalogue is sent at a given time. An order can al-ways be enclosed along with the envelope for returning the catalogue free of charge. Overall, AGS still receives more than 60 per cent of orders in writing.