INNOVATIONS IN AUTOMATION : FM LOGISTIC IS GEARING UP FOR THE WAREHOUSE OF THE FUTUREFrance
FM Logistic, the logistics partner of choice for manufacturers and retailers, is constantly on the lookout for ground-breaking solutions to meet the new challenges of the supply chain.
In this context, the group has set up an Automation department whose aim is to develop, in collaboration with its customers and partners, high value-added innovations and optimisations, as part of the plan to develop the Warehouse of the future.
Inaugurated in 2010, the 70,000 m² of the M Logistic platform at Fauverney, situated near Dijon,are dedicated to the logistics of the Unilever group's ambient-temperature food products. As part of its drive to improve operational excellence in terms of intralogistic flows during co-packing activities, but also during loading/unloading operations, FM Logistic has recently developed, in partnership with a specialist in robotic production line integration, a brand new concept: a box cutter module.
The logistics specialist has also developed other optimised solutions – a Cartesian coordinate depalletiser, a centralised strapping unit, a robotic arm, an "autodock" – combining ergonomics with productivity.
The box cutting module represents a significant advance for co-packing activities
Opening boxes, unavoidable in co-packing operations, is a repetitive task, and one that can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSds) and cuts. FM Logistic's Fauverney site handles 1.2 million boxes every year.
Although semi-automatic devices for opening certain types of cartons already exist, FM Logistic's Automation department wishes to develop a module that meets precise operational needs:
- to cut boxes open, at different levels depending on their size and shape, with no risk of damaging the contents, to make it easier to take out the products by hand;
- to evacuate and contain the dust generated by the cutting operation
- to have a compact, mobile piece of equipment, for ease of use in the warehouse;
- to supply several packing lines at the same time;
- to benefit from a simple, user-friendly human-machine interface.
Among the experts contacted by FM Logistic to co-develop this innovation, Axys Robotique, a company specialising in robotic production line integration, was selected for its know-how in the design of solutions including the integration of industrial robots.
The two partners have therefore developed a module combining numerous advantages:
- the cutting tool adapts to the thickness and quality of the cardboard to be cut, and can withstand considerable mechanical forces;
- total elimination of opening of boxes by the workers, contributing to the the improvement of working conditions (significant reduction in MSDs and cuts from box cutters);
- the simplicity of the programming of the module (change of box size) and ease of intervention in total safety (in the event of any anomaly ,for example) enabling users to quickly master the machine's functions;
- the introduction of the module on the Fauverney site has led to a convincing productivity gain in the co-packing activity.
With all these advantages in terms of ergonomics, safety and compactness, the box cutting module, is set to be rolled out to other FM Logistic sites. At the same time, the Automation department is working on the development of new functionalities such as the handling of shrink-wrapped logistics units.
The robotic arm: logistics enters the age of robotics!
With the growing automation of warehouses, new generation robots are making their appearance. Intended to work in collaborative mode alongside human operators, these "cobots", equipped with sensors to detect the presence of a human in their near environment, are programmed to optimise and standardise simple handling tasks and significantly reduce MSDs.
The Automation department has therefore selected the robotic arm made by Universal Robot, experts in collaborative robotic technology technology, because:
- it is simple to operate;
- it is easy to programme;
- and it offers a high level of collaboration.
At the same time, in order to explore all the possibilities of the robotic arm and adapt it to the co-packing activities on each FM Logistic site concerned, the Automation department has developed a module equipped with options and gripper tools that is light enough to to be loaded into a service vehicle. The aim is to test the solution in actual conditions of use, the final step in validating the process before it goes into production.
To move on to the industrial production phase, a modular chassis has been designed to which one or more robotic arms can be connected. It groups together all the basic functions in terms of automatic controls and safety, as well as the protocols and connections necessary to establish the dialogue with the other equipment on the production line.
The first application has been developed at the Neuville-aux-Bois (45) site. Consisting of two standard chassis equipped with two robotic arms and interlocked conveyors, it takes care of low value-added repetitive tasks: the first arm removes the top from the "retail ready" packaging and deposits it on a waste conveyor. The second arm simultaneously picks up 6 items and deposits them on a conveyor, in batches of 2 or 3 to supply the labelling machine.
After giving this module the power of speech thanks to a voice synthesiser, FM Logistic's Automation department will soon be giving it the power of sight as well, thanks to a special application.
The Cartesian coordinate robot: when automation is synonymous with ergonomics and rationalisation
When preparing customised consumer units, most co-packing operations involve the handling of what can be very heavy cartons, generating sometimes serious MSDs. The more voluminous the products, the greater the flow of pallets.
In view of this situation, one FM Logistic has co-developed with Automat System, a local integrator, the integration of a Cartesian coordinate industrial robot coupled with a set of conveyors operated by an automatic controller. The principle consists of automatically unloading pallets with all types of layer configurations, with no prior adjustment required, whilst supplying one or more co-packing lines.
- buffer stocks are limited, upstream and downstream on the line, thanks to a combined deposit/pick-up process;
- waiting times on the first packing station are reduced thanks to sequenced feeding;
- forklift truck drivers' movements are reduced thanks to the U-shaped layout of the co-packing line;
- strenuous depalletising/repalletising operations and the carrying of heavy loads are therefore reduced.
Eventually, other new automated functions may be carried out by the robot, such as automatic label sticking on consumer units.
Central strapping unit: a multi-purpose solution for all formats
Strapping is one of the essential steps in co-packing operations. On FM Logistic's Fauverney site, over 4.5 million metres of strapping band are used on pallets every year.
To complete the job done by manual and semi-automatic strapping machines, and reduce the physical strain inherent in strapping, the Automation department has developed an entirely automated solution capable of handling all shapes and sizes of pallet.
The unit consists of two automatic needle strapping machines, placed on a conveyor with rotating tables. A series of sensors automatically identify the dimensions of the pallets.
In addition to the major gain in terms of ergonomics immediately observed (the pallet is strapped without any manual intervention), the structuring of flows in the workshop has also been optimised. Furthermore, the capacity of the line has been calculated to cope, in the short term, with all the workshop's flows.
The central strapping unit is a solution that is ready, as of now, to be rolled out to all FM Logistic sites with similar needs.
The "autodock": a tried and tested solution
Equipped with steps, a dock leveller and dock bumpers, the autodock has numerous advantages. Little work is needed to install it, and it can easily be moved to another location. As it is situated outside the warehouse, it is better protected against intrusions and easier to heat.
In September 2015, FM Logistic's Fauverney site therefore equipped its loading bays, those of its customer Unilever, with autodocks as well as the trailers of the manufacturer's Transport provider, in order to:
- reduce loading and unloading times thanks to an automated system;
- increase the number of shuttles between factory and warehouse;
- limit and optimise the use of vehicles inside the warehouses.
For the last 6 months, 15 to 18 shuttles a day have been passing through the Fauverney site. Thanks to the autodock, loading and unloading operations are estimated to be up to 6 times faster than with conventional.
Box cutter module, Cartesian coordinate depalletiser, central strapping unit, robotic arm or autodock… all these innovative solutions are enabling FM Logistic to offer its customers, leaders in mass retail, an industrial approach to co-packing. A partner in their promotion activities, from design to arrival on the shelf, FM Logistic, thanks to the service provider's inherent flexibility, combines mobility of equipment and adaptability of installations.
Testimonial by Danièle Oulé - Logistics Director, Unilever France and Benelux
Profitable, lasting growth, a key element in Unilever's strategy
"At Unilever, we use our know-how to convert the latest scientific advances into products that meet the needs of our consumers. Innovation is therefore truly a key element in our strategy. This is why we expect our logistics provider FM Logistic to provide us with privileged and tailored support.
Whether for a new size of consumer unit or an innovative new packaging, for re-packing or co-packing activities, the supply chain must adapt by developing appropriate and competitive solutions. In this context, innovations that generate flexibility and productivity, such as automation, really come into their own.
To be effective, the supply chain must also be the fruit of reflection and dialogue. With all this in mind, we need our logistics partners to accompany us in our strategic developments. With FM Logistic, which is at once proactive, a source of proposals and always ready to listen, we work jointly and permanently on implementing and continuously improving projects.
Our collaboration allows for greater flexibility and competitiveness; il also constitutes, from our point of view, a sizeable differentiating factor when we need to call on the expertise of such a provider.
And so, the arrival of the autodock in our Chevigny, which is situated about ten kilometres away from the FM Logistic Fauverney site, is a successful example of partnership. Moving from manual loading to an automated solution has made our supply chain even quicker and therefore more efficient."
About FM Logistic France
Created in 1982, FM Logistic France is a subsidiary of FM Logistic, one of the reference international players in the fields of warehousing, transport and co-packing.
With 1,300,000 m² of warehousing space situated in the heart of the logistics barycentres, FM Logistic France optimises industrial and retail flows. With 4,550 employees, the company has 27 platforms and and generated a turnover of 380 million Euros in the year ending 31 March 2015.
With its expertise in the food, industry and electronics , retail, personal and home care, beauty and health sectors, FM Logistic France is the no. 1 co-packer in France with 600,000 units prepared every day. For more information: www.fmlogistic.fr