All storage areas at a glance with a single click
Manage and operate automatic and manual storage areas with a single system – at SchwarzwaldEisen, located in Lahr, Baden, this is reality. Two KASTO solutions make this possible: The warehouse management system, KASTOlogic, and the intelligent app, KASTOlogic mobile. These two solutions allow the steel distributor to simplify and accelerate its processes, minimise the error rate and track all batches seamlessly.
"We love steel": With this motto, Schwarzwald-Eisenhandel GmbH & Co.KG – abbreviated as SchwarzwaldEisen – has evolved into the leading steel distributor in Baden, Germany. The roots of the fourth-generation family-operated company date back to 1870. Since 1966, the headquarters is located in Lahr; SchwarzwaldEisen has other facilities in Freiburg in Breisgau, Bad Säckingen and Karlsruhe. With subsidiaries in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Switzerland, the specialist is active at a cross-regional level and continues to expand with new locations. The group turns over approx. 120,000 tonnes of material per year.
"We focus firmly on organic growth and a decentralised organisation," explains Dr Steffen Marco Auer, who manages the activities of SchwarzwaldEisen together with his brother Ingo Auer and Alexander Hatt as the Managing Directors. "Instead of operating one major facility, we have several regionally active sites that are close to the customer, enabling fast and flexible deliveries." Efficient communication between the individual regional locations and well-organised logistics are essential requirements for the operation of such a network. "That is why we try to structure all subsidiaries according to a similar principle to utilise proven processes, to use technologies across all sites, and to standardise interfaces while keeping them at a minimum," continues Auer.
Preferred partner for storage technology
This approach is also evident in the storage technology. SchwarzwaldEisen puts its trust in KASTO Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG as the preferred partner in this area. For about eight years at the headquarters in Lahr, an automatic bar stock storage system from the UNICOMPACT 3.0 series provides quick and efficient storage and removal of sections, tubes and solid materials, which are up to six metres in length. SchwarzwaldEisen offers its customers a range of goods consisting of around 10,000 products, mainly construction steel, stainless steel, and aluminium. "Approx. 70 to 80 per cent of the orders for sectional steel are semi-processed" reported Managing Director, Auer. It is prepared according to the customer specifications using in-house machinery in Freiburg and then dispatched. For bar stock with a length of up to 6 metres, the KASTO system supplies the product needed using an operating gantry crane (OGC) with short access times based on the principle "materials to operator" at one of two removal stations. However, the company stores metal sheets in a separate, manually operated storage area.
Steffen Auer outlines the challenges by stating, "Our customers expect us to provide fast, error-free and trackable deliveries". "To ensure this, we depend on a simple, clear and reliable control system for our entire material flow." SchwarzwaldEisen relies on the goods management system (GMS), eNVenta used across all of its sites. The storage system in Lahr is linked to it via an interface created specifically for this purpose – the same as two other automatic KASTO storage systems in the sites at Karlsruhe and Westerwald. "This ensures a standardised order management and a high level of inventory transparency," explains Auer. The GMS transfers the respective order data electronically to the warehouse management system, KASTOlogic, which then triggers the removal of the required products at the respective site. All processes can be tracked seamlessly, operational and assignment errors can be virtually eliminated.
Manual storage was prone to errors
In the past, the manually and paper-managed metal sheet warehouses looked quite different recalls Auer: "Due to the broad product range, mix-ups occurred, for example, employees removed the wrong sheets or incorrect quantities – and in the end, the customer did not always receive what was ordered." It was not always easy to locate the required goods in the long rows of shelves. Therefore, those responsible at SchwarzwaldEisen searched for a possibility to integrate these storage areas into the intelligent electronic control system. "To achieve this goal, we compared two competitors, and quickly selected KASTO," stated Auer. This decision was not based solely on the proximity to the specialists for sawing and storage technology with headquarters located just a few kilometres away from Achern. "Of course, it is an advantage to collaborate with partners in the region, who can be onsite quickly if needed," the Managing Director emphasised. "However, KASTO's extensive technical competence and willingness to provide a solution tailored to our particular situation was equally important to us."
Together with the steel distributor, the KASTO experts thoroughly assessed the conditions onsite and in the entire company and developed a solution to display all storage areas in a standardised and consistent control system. One of the tools used was KASTOlogic mobile, a platform-independent and mobile version of KASTOlogic. The software makes it possible to use the essential functions of the warehouse management system on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones – independent from permanently installed operator panels which are available in the automatic storage system, UNICOMPACT. "For instance, with this system, we can flexibly manage the bar stock storage system regardless of the location," Steffen Auer explains. "But more importantly: We are now able to manage our manually operated metal sheet storage with KASTOlogic."
Order and product data always within reach
Thanks to KASTOlogic mobile, the warehouse employees have access to the order and product data at any time. When removing the sheets, the system directs the user to the respective storage location and specifies the required quantity. The shelves are equipped with QR and barcodes. For instance, when the users scan them with the mobile device, they can confirm the removal or trigger a follow-up order if the inventory is getting low. All information is available both in the warehouse management and the goods management system – customised interfaces make this possible. Auer summarises by saying, "The result is a standardised, controllable, and seamless, transparent material flow." "We have fewer errors when picking the orders, we can work faster and more efficiently, and individual batches can be followed up and tracked seamlessly."
With the new warehouse management concept, KASTO proved itself to be both a machine supplier and a solutions provider. "KASTO provided us a customised, software-based system that works completely independently from the existing storage systems and can be scaled for other sites as needed – a remarkable achievement," Auer stated. The concept is impressive in every aspect – so impressive that SchwarzwaldEisen wants to implement it at its other sites as well. "As stated, we try wherever possible, to simplify and standardise processes and avoid unnecessary interfaces," Auer says. "It helps us to become even more efficient and transparent across all sites." If an ordered product is not in stock at a specific facility, it is found in the system quickly and can be delivered to another site when necessary. "Ultimately, we are not the only ones who benefit from this organisation; above all, our customers profit from it – that is the main thing for us," exclaims the Managing Director.
The service is also impressive
Another benefit of the KASTO system for those responsible at SchwarzwaldEisen is the high degree of availability. "Both the storage system and the control system can be serviced remotely. If needed, KASTO can access the software and clear malfunctions quickly and easily at any time." Thanks to the proximity, the service experts can be onsite at short notice – "an additional bonus that not every manufacturer can provide," Auer finds. In addition to the impressive technology and the attractive price-performance ratio, the excellent partnership with KASTO was a pivotal factor to continue along the path embarked on together. "We are extremely satisfied with the collaboration and certain that both companies will reap long-lasting benefits."