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Retrofit by viastore secures competitive advantages - The ability to deliver is crucial for market success


Obsolete technology threatened to bring the logistics processes at KTR to a halt – and thus disrupt the drive technology specialist’s entire business. viastore came to the rescue and modernized the automatic pallet and container warehouse during running operations – aisle by aisle and with virtually no downtime.

»We are vitally dependent on our logistics processes functioning smoothly,« explains Olaf Korbanek, Head of IT and Organization at KTR Systems. »The logistics center simply must be up and running!« Headquartered in Rheine/Western Germany, KTR manufactures drive technology for industrial applications and is known above all for its couplings that are produced in wide variety of sizes. Customers range from farmers next door to large international companies, and they all receive their product solutions from the warehouse in Rheine. But the logistics center does much more: It also supplies production with semi-finished products, and not only at the company’s own location, as Benedikt Bußmann, Head of Logistics at KTR, explains: »We have an in-house production share of around 22 percent. The majority of our couplings are manufactured by external local suppliers.« And on top of that, the company’s 23 subsidiaries and over 90 sales partners also receive finished products from the warehouse in Rheine.

Gaining market share with efficient logistics

To be able to supply all these recipients reliably and quickly, KTR decided to build a state-of-the-art logistics center in 2004. Back then, viastore, a Stuttgart-based specialist for turnkey intralogistics systems, installed a four-aisle automated container warehouse and a two-aisle automated unit-load warehouse including a pallet conveyor system, warehouse management software and a visualization system. KTR’s business flourished so much in the following years that the warehouse was continuously expanded: By 2015, it consisted of seven aisles in the automated mini-load system and seven aisles in the pallet warehouse.

»Especially in the currently prosperous economic state, the ability to deliver is crucial for market success,« Olaf Korbanek states, emphasizing once again the important job of the warehouse. »Today, it’s not the one charging the lowest price who wins a deal, but the one who can deliver. Some competitors are currently experiencing massive difficulties in meeting the high demand. We can deliver and therefore we have the advantage in gaining market share.«

Pending shutdown due to discontinued technology

Everything seemed to be going well for KTR. The company was optimally positioned with its logistics center. But a situation in 2015 left Olaf Korbanek and Benedikt Bußmann flabbergasted: »At that time we wanted to update the material flow computer from Windows XP to a state-of-the-art operating system. That was no problem for viastore – however, they told us that we would be facing a much bigger challenge regarding the frequency converters.« This was due to the fact that the converters were already outdated and there were hardly any replacement devices available on the market. »We only had a maintenance support contract at the time, but this did not include any replacement equipment. We were literally told that if we would suffer lightning damage, help could not be guaranteed. And we had a lot of thunderstorms back then,« recalls Korbanek. Not only were the frequency inverters obsolete, the bus technology had also been discontinued: »In the past, Interbus was the technology of choice, but this has since been replaced by the faster Profinet,« explains Frank Hemme, who is responsible for maintenance and building technology at KTR. Other systems in the warehouse used Interbus technology as well, as Hemme explains: »The distance measuring devices of the automated storage/retrieval systems (AS/RS) and the visualization PC were connected to Interbus – and thus also no longer available. If one of those components had failed, we would have had a major disaster on our hands.«

Comprehensive retrofit of the AC/RS

As an initial measure, KTR made sure to get their hands on the last 25 frequency converters of the installed type in stock at viastore. »Afterwards, we very quickly designed, approved and implemented a retrofit project for our logistics center,« says Korbanek. The warehouse aisles had to be temporarily shut down for the retrofit, but this was not an option for the warehouse due to the need for uninterrupted utilization of its capacity. KTR therefore decided to expand the container warehouse by three aisles – a total of 88,000 container and around 9,000 pallet storage locations are now available. »These additional capacities provided the flexibility we needed; they were a prerequisite for being able to shut down individual aisles and thus for modernizing the plant,« explains Bußmann.

As for the AS/RS, the retrofit project included the replacement of the frequency converters, distance measuring devices, optical data couplers, entire bus system and cable chains. In addition, viastore replaced the on-board control cabinets and the warehouse control computer. The retrofit experts from viastore and the maintenance staff from KTR formed a team that worked very efficiently. »Originally, we anticipated that it would require a week to modernize an aisle,« states Hemme. »But viastore was able to hand them over after only four days.«

Modernization aisle by aisle

The retrofit team proceeded aisle by aisle – although this was not quite so easy, as Frank Hemme reports: »Usually, one control cabinet powers two to three AS/RS. And these cabinets also had to be replaced, of course.« Benedikt Bußmann adds: »From a logistical and commercial point of view, however, we could not shut down more than one aisle at the same time.« A temporary setup was the solution: The old control computer was removed, placed on a table next to the control cabinet and reconnected. In this way, all aisles could continue to be controlled – except for the one which was taken out of operation, modernized and connected to the newly built up control cabinet.

In addition to the AS/RS, the viastore experts modernized the lateral shuttle car. Its function is to connect the retrieval aisles of the pallet warehouse with the pick stations and it was also equipped with a discontinued frequency converter.

Higher energy efficiency as an added benefit

The retrofit not only secures warehouse availability, but also brings further advantages. »With the new frequency converters, we can now recover the braking energy of the AS/RS, for example,« Hemme notes. »Theoretically, we can save up to 20 percent energy – I can only definitely confirm how much we are actually saving when all the AS/RS have been upgraded.« Five AS/RS were modernized as part of the first retrofit project, the remaining ones will be equipped with the latest technology in the near future.

Modernization improves occupational safety

Using the new visualization system, which runs under the viadat warehouse management system, the intralogistics professionals not only improved energy efficiency, but also the capabilities with regard to error detection and localization. »Thanks to this modern visualization tool, our employees can now identify errors much faster than before,« explains Hemme. »With the new industrial PCs and hand-held terminals, servicing is also much faster now. Many errors can be corrected via the control cabinet.« This is also advantageous in terms of occupational safety, as Niklas Muckermann, Sales Manager Retrofit at viastore, points out: »In the past, maintenance technicians often had to walk into the aisle and control the AS/RS with their handheld. Today, that’s often not necessary – this alone makes their work much safer.« In addition, the new Soft PLC S7 installed on the industrial PCs guarantees that safety functions comply with the latest standards and requirements. »This minimizes many dangers – operating errors or excessive speed, for example,« says Frank Hemme.

»Implementation of the retrofit went extraordinarily well« – that is Olaf Korbanek’s conclusion. »There were hardly any notable failures.« The KTR maintenance team is currently preparing for the modernization of the remaining AS/RS with outdated technology, as Bußmann reports: »We are distributing parts with high and normal turnover frequency from the aisles to be modernized to other areas in order to maintain access security. This means we can modernize two aisles at the same time.« In case you are wondering how KTR is ensuring the reliability of the devices equipped with old technology until the start of the next retrofit phase: Frank Hemme and his team are keeping the old AS/RS frequency converters from the first retrofit phase in stock.

New maintenance contract tailored to KTR

The same viastore team will take care of this second retrofit – an essential aspect for Benedikt Bußmann: »It is of enormous importance for us to have the same strong team here, both internally and externally. It is simply imperative to have a good relationship. We can talk openly and honestly to our contacts at viastore.« One result of this open communication is a new, more comprehensive maintenance contract: »Even before the retrofit began, we agreed to this contract with viastore,« states Olaf Korbanek. »We contemplated reaction times and windows and adjusted the service times to our operations – unlike in the past. Today the hotline is available from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., even on Saturdays. »Saturday is an optional day for us in busy periods. In this way we can act very flexibly,« adds Bußmann. Olaf Korbanek is happy to pass on a very important tip, »When setting up a maintenance contract, you should think very carefully about when you will really need support – do clarify operating times, define the scope of services and maintain continuous, appreciative communication with your partner!«

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