The road to the smart supply chain

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In 2015 German intralogistics companies had a combined production volume of more than 20 billion euros. That makes intralogistics a major economic force in Germany. And in the brewing, beverages and liquid food industry it is increasingly becoming an important competitive advantage. For two reasons: Firstly, it is an area in which there is real potential for rationalization. And secondly, “smart logistics” opens the way to completely new business models. The technology and solutions on offer will be showcased at drinktec 2017, the “World´s Leading Trade Fair for the Beverage and Liquid Food Industry”, which takes place from September 11 to 15, 2017 in Munich.

What precisely does the term intralogistics cover? Basically intralogistics, like logistics, is about the handling and flow of goods and materials. But with intralogistics, this takes place not on the roads, but instead within a company site. The processes include the packaging of goods in crates, wraparounds or baskets, sorting them onto pallets for the individual orders and then dispatching them. And also, the raw materials or new glass bottles have to be brought from the stores to the point of use.

Fast, flexible and down to batch size 1

Over the years this in-company flow of goods has changed from being a “necessary evil” into an important factor in the creation of added value in a company. Because only companies who can deliver the product fast and with flexibility, and without tying up or using capital unnecessarily, will win out against the competition. In terms of speed: Ordered today, delivered tomorrow? In many applications even this is no longer enough. “Same day delivery” is now almost a must, especially in online food retail. To achieve this, delivery chains have to be adaptable. Because the markets themselves are changing all the time. Also: The order quantities are getting ever smaller. Batch size 1 is a serious goal. For beverage or food manufacturers the number of different packagings will therefore continue to rise. And with it, so, too, will the need to package, palletize and transport the variety demanded by the customer more efficiently.

Packaging and labeling in logistics is a sensible choice

In this context, a shift from production into logistics is being seen, as Thomas Lehmann, Managing Partner of BMS Maschinenfabrik GmbH, explains: “Aiming to realize this tremendous variety inline is something for the really big companies. They can process such large-sized batches that it is worth switching over an entire filling or packaging line.” For small and medium-sized businesses—they make up around 60 percent of the trade visitors to drinktec—Lehmann suggests therefore another way: “In this case we place the filled product with the highest efficiency into the standard crates, then drive these to the logistics center where the products are repackaged as required for transport or final sale in a compact and highly flexible repackaging system.” The advantages of this solution include: optimized transport routes, greater efficiency and reduced handling processes in the bottling hall, improved planning security thanks to demand-oriented repackaging with the latest expiry date and no layer of dust on the packaging. Lehmann identifies another process step that could be shifted to the repackaging area: “Labeling could also be a job for logistics. In this case the repackaging system takes on the task of unpacking the bottles and then places for example the just-in-time labeled bottles destined for the export market into the dispatches packaging.”

In terms of beverages dispatch: Here, too, drinktec will be showcasing interesting solutions, in particular for returnables. These include on the one hand beverage crates that are compatible with lots of different returnable multipack variants. A second solution—which is already popular in Austria—is what´s known as “carrier trays”. These flat re-usable trays are filled with standard bottles or multipacks, then stacked and finally delivered to the sales floor for use as a kind of shelf replacement. Also, once the produce has been sold, these carriers can be used for returning the empties.

4.0 is bringing new impetus

But back to intralogistics: IT and automation solutions have long been a firm component here. Luigi Panzetti, Managing Director of the Italian System Group, for example, noted at drinktec 2013: “The beverage world is increasing its interest in automated systems for intralogistics, and the level of investment is growing. We believe this fair is the best opportunity to meet customers from the beverage industry, to discuss strategic issues related to their future developments, including automation to support growth and efficiency.”

Currently a theme with global impact is giving new impetus in this area. “On the user side, Industry 4.0 is coming ever more strongly into focus,” is how Sascha Schmel, Managing Director of the VDMA Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association, summed up the current developments. And that means essentially: The beverage and liquid food industry is increasingly prepared to take on integrated and automated solutions. Some of these 4.0 ideas have long been a reality in intralogistics, too: transport systems that organize their in-company routes autonomously, and palletizing robots that identify empty slots in real time and fill them up. These are just two examples of intralogistics solutions that, thanks to innovative IT, can become internal “full-service providers”—and organize their operations autonomously.

The “Internet of Things” as the missing link

So, what can we expect next? The future is certainly going to belong to continuous integration all along the “smart supply chain”, from raw material through to the final customer. This is being made possible by the “Internet of Things”: Worldwide already 20 billion items have their own IP address and are fitted with a chip or sensor and connected to the internet. These items can thus be localized and identified. But they can also interact autonomously with each other. For example, the fridge that when informed via a weather app that it will be a very hot night, independently orders beer and meat for the barbecue—the production and delivery of this order is then also organized and processed autonomously. This vision is not as far off as it seems. A few months ago in the US, the first self-driving truck delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer a distance of 120 miles. True, this is an example of external logistics, and not intralogistics. But in this field, too, the current trends and future developments will be on show at drinktec 2017. And that makes drinktec also very interesting to retail distributors. An attraction that is further enhanced by the leading trade fair for the entire German specialist retail trade in beverages and convenience products—PRO FachHandel. In 2017 this event is being held for the first time in parallel with drinktec in Munich. PRO FachHANDEL will be taking up Hall B0 and the foyer of the ICM—Internationales Congress Center München, which is adjacent to the Messe München exhibition center. Alexander Berger, the CEO of GES (the organizing company) and responsible for PRO FachHANDEL: “The trade fair platform is becoming even more attractive for visitors and exhibitors from the entire retail industry with the collaboration. PRO FachHANDEL with its special areas of Newcomer Market and Beer Live fits perfectly in the supporting program of drinktec.”