Corporate Update: Buhler builds warehouse of tomorrow to serve today's customers

by Teresa Acklin
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   To better serve its international clientele, Buhler Ltd., Uzwil, Switzer- land, is constructing a high-tech warehouse and receiving-shipping facility that will create greater efficiencies and expedite filling orders.

   Currently, equipment manufactured in house or purchased from outside vendors is stored in warehouses at several locations in the Uzwil area. Rail shipments arrive at various merchandise receiving points and must be transferred by truck to the appropriate warehouses. The Buhler factory often is overwhelmed with trucks seeking to load equipment to be stored in the different storage facilities or to unload parts from the various warehouses for assembly at the plant.

   Computer controlled. The cumbersome warehousing network will be simplified by concentrating storage in a large facility in Uzwil organized and monitored by a state-of-the-art computer inventory system. The new storage facility will be put into operation in stages and will be completed by June 1993.

   The new storage facility will be built by expanding an existing high-shelf storage unit. Eased access to parts will enable more exact work planning and shorter periods for processing orders. Warehouse inventories will be retrievable at any moment. For urgent orders, such as those requiring spare parts, an express service will be created.

   The storage facility will include an automatic high-shelf storage area with 6,500 pallet and 7,600 container locations comprising five shelf aisles, each of which is equipped with a robot-like vehicle (called shelf server, or R.B.G.). Via a transport track, pallets and containers are automatically conveyed to the R.B.G.s, which take them over and place them in the assigned shelf space. In retrieving goods, the operator automatically receives the correct warehousing bins in the correct order at his work place in the transfer and order handling zone. For frequently needed small parts, nine continuous elevators (revolving shelves) are used.

   The new storage facility #01 is controlled by a warehouse administration system (L.V.S.) that communicates with the main Buhler information systems via a standard interface. The L.V.S. optimizes shipping and receiving orders and controls the shelf service devices and the conveying equipment. Moreover, the system maintains very detailed warehousing accounts for some 1,700 storage locations. System communication with warehouse employes is handled on a computer terminal screen. In addition to automated storage types (pallet, container and continuous elevator storage), manually controlled storage areas can still be administered with the L.V.S.

   Economy. By reducing personnel, eliminating costs for external warehousing and lowering warehouse inventories, substantial savings will be achieved. These factors more than compensate for the additional expenses that result from the maintenance of the warehousing computer and software, maintenance of the technical facilities and the capital costs of this significant investment.

   Benefits that are difficult to express in monetary terms result from more up-to-date and more detailed data. Among these benefits are enhanced quality of the deliveries (number of pieces, orderliness, markings, etc.) as well as improved response ability and speed.