Shoe warehouse management gets straight to the i-POINT - Case Study

Automatic engineering delivers for Knapp at Clarks

When Cyrus Clarks established a small sheepskin shop in Street, Somerset, UK, in 1825, it became the foundation for one of the most successful companies in the UK. Today, Clarks produces 41 million pairs of shoes each year, employs 13,000 people and turns over of EUR 1.4 billion (GBP 1 billion).

Because of increased demand and the company expanding its territories, Clarks has built a new distribution centre at its Somerset HQ. This is housed in a building of gigantic dimensions: 188m long by 152m wide and up to 18.5m high. It covers an area equivalent to six football pitches and Clarks says the building has room enough to squeeze in the entire population of south-west England. The warehouse has the capacity for six million pairs of shoes and is designed for a daily throughput of 200,000 pairs.

In order to run such a distribution centre successfully a powerful logistics and SCADA package is required. Clarks found the ideal supplier in International logisitics specialist and system integrator KNAPP. Logistik Automation GmbH. KNAPP has a track record in logistics over the past 50 years including experience of more than 700 projects across widely differing industries. Besides the mechanics and electronics of a KNAPP installation, the visualisation of the process in question is also a core component. To achieve the optimum presentation of data, Knapp relies on i-POINT, its innovative supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software package.

i-POINT offers a consistent user interface for all tasks in a warehouse premises such as Clarks. As well as the visualisation of data and warehouse status, it enables monitoring and control functions and the configuration of individual components in the warehouse system. Thus the entire storage and distribution facility can be operated and monitored from a centralised workstation.

Information Management: zenOn powered

The i-POINT information system is based on the zenOn automation software package from international software company COPA-DATA. KNAPP made the decision to base i-POINT on zenOn in 2001 and since then the i-POINT system has always employed zenOn software.

Dr Rupert Temel, Head of Quality Management at KNAPP Logistik Automation says, "At the moment we have 92 installations of the i-POINT system world-wide. Depending of the size of the warehouse we can save up to 50% of the required engineering work using the zenOn wizards."

Copa-Data says KNAPP continues to use its zenOn software because of the combination of excellent support, its Visual Basic (VB) interface, which makes zenOn easy to integrate with other systems and its VB wizard feature, which eliminates repetitive work and cuts both delays and the scope for human error.

Even during the planning stages of the Clarks automated warehouse system it was clear that i-POINT would play a central role. Clarks had demanded a control centre software to act as a distribution centre for the entire warehouse in the control room. Consequently KNAPP developed the following core capabilities for this i-POINT installation: Visualisation and status display of the entire warehouse system; integration of all associated systems; high reliability and security of the system; and customer satisfaction.

To have a clear overview of a warehouse premises of this size, the use of multiple monitors is necessary. Therefore the project team decided to use an eight monitor system in the central control room, each monitor displaying a seperate area or subsystem of the warehouse. Conveniently, multi-monitor administration is a built-in function of the zenOn software.

However each monitor can be configured to display any one of the subsystems simultaneously, the user could switch between any one of these views using a strip menu down the left hand side.  KNAPP wanted to save space on each screen, therefore it was necessary to develop a new navigation concept for the operator. After much consideration and with the support of Copa-Data, KNAPP found an elegant solution. On each view there is a button at the top left, with a drop-down menu that shows all executable functions. On each of these eight monitors an overall view of Clarks' activities may be displayed simultaneously if required, also the funtions from other screens can be accessed regardless of which view is selected.

The project requires that accessing the control and management system of the warehouse facility could also be possible from any workstation via the intra-/internet and that the data be displayed on a single screen.  The same drop down interface is used on the web interface for someone dialling in. The zenOn Web server publishes production data throughout Clarks without the need for any project adaptations. All of the pictures, users, password administration, information, etc. are available online. The Web client offers the same "Look & Feel" as the zenOn Runtime. If the system changes (i.e. a new picture) the project changes are also carried out on the WEB client. That means, that all the information is available to all participants whether authorised KNAPP support staff dialling in from another site or the Clarks plant manager checking from home.

The new i-POINT system at Clarks is the central monitoring station, where all information is gathered. It is here that any problems in the warehouse system are identified, often before even the shopfloor staff have noticed them.

The i-POINT is not only used for monitoring the warehouse system, but also for job management. The i-POINT displays the status of all 600 sorter ramps in the facility. From the control room the employees are directed by radio communication to any point where manual intervention is needed. The result is a solution with which Clarks professes itself "completely satisfied".

"Even during commissioning of this system the i-POINT was an important  tool," says KNAPP Head of Quality Management Dr. Rupert Temel. "By using it our technicians checked the status of the system. For example, at the beginning of the project some motors were either defective or incorrectly connected. The i-POINT system enabled us to print out the alarm list to pass on to the electrician, who could quickly fix the problem. For a warehouse system involving around 1,000 motors  this troubleshooting would have taken much longer without the i-POINT. So we have considerably increased overall efficiency of the warehouse system."

Easy to network, flexible and open

"The demands and functions of such a visualisation scheme are very diverse in this industrial sector alone," adds Temel. "Even if other warehouse systems have a similar structure, each customer would have its own specific requirements. But the principle and techniques are easily transferable to other product sectors such as CDs, pharmaceuticals or tobacco products.

"Generally, in a warehouse facility, a management system has to integrate many different variables: levels of control and interface points, such as machines, programmable logic controllers and warehouse management systems. This versatility is one of the main reasons why Knapp decided in favour of the zenOn software. It is an open system, which offers more than 250 I/O drivers, allowing every system to be interlinked."

Engineer Stefan Reuther from Copa-Data says, "Proprietary systems are out. Nowadays the practice of control and management is based on networking and a solution must be able to react in a flexible manner and communicate openly. A suitable HMI/SCADA system should run on all makes of hardware and communicate seamlessly with each. By this means, users remain flexible while securing their investment. Above all the customer can react quickly. And zenOn is designed for exactly these purposes."

Reduced engineering time

Prior to the installation, KNAPP established that suitable drivers were already available, upon which to overlay the new data management system. In the Clarks case, the SNMP (simple network management protocol) driver was adapted slightly for KNAPP by Copa-Data, in a good example of support and cooperation between the suppliers. To this end, the i-POINT wizards also save a lot of time, eliminating human error by duplicating tasks considering the complexity of the warehouse. At Clarks following facilities are integrated into the i-POINT:  25 robots controlled by 13 PLC's, a sorter with two levels and 600 ramps controlled by 2 PLC's, the conveyor lanes with a length of 60 m controlled by 6 PLC's, the warehouse control software controlled by SNMP, the Middleware Software controlled from SNMP, the power management software controlled with SNMP. In addition some spezial machines are also integrated: The shrink wrapper, the weight stations, the boom conveyors, etc.

KNAPP undertakes logistics projects across a wide range of industries from tobacco to pharmaceutical products.  The systems also vary in complexity, but using the new wizard function of zenOn 6.2 (see later) KNAPP reduced their i-POINT visualisation design time typcially by an average of 50%. As a future development, KNAPP plans to import entire interactive process images from Vectorworks, including process variables and the object implementation. This would mean that nearly the entire project for the i-POINT could be created by running a re-usable VB wizard in the zenOn package.

The value of zenOn for a system integrator such as KNAPP is its open philosophy, which allows the customer to select their preferred hardware. There are several other practical advantages. Its more than 250 drivers are ready to use, eliminating the engineering time usually required for interfacing new machines and modules. Event-driven data transfer means the load of the communication channel is considerably reduced. And, at the same time, storing time stamps from the PLC, including status values, gaurantees valid data with no loss of information.

Typical operating conditions for zenOn software are parallel operations and heterogeneous hardware environments. Any number of drivers - even identical models - can be used in parallel so it is easy to connect them directly to several PLCs of the same type. Besides the many direct PLC connections there are also drivers, which communicate with many standard interfaces including OPC, SQL, DDE, SNMP or Modbus.

Automated engineering is a new trend

"An important trend we observe is the standardisation of modules and the automated creation of process images," says KNAPP's Rupert Temel. "To cope with this trend, zenOn's inbuilt wizards offer a powerful tool. For automation purposes the zenOn Editor has an extensive Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) interface that allows it to solve recurring tasks neatly. All process images, functions, menu entries, alarm messages, etc. can be created automatically. The wizards, written by KNAPP, are a major bonus for system integrators. In conjunction with assistance from Copa-Data, the wizards allow automation of the creation of customer projects.

The VBA development environment integrated in zenOn helps particularly when creating the programming scripts. Apart from saving time, this approach has another advantage: complete accuracy. An error-free script produces error-free results. The scripts can then be reused in any project at any time.

zenOn 6.20 Editor: distributed project writing

The recently-launched zenOn 6.20 Editor supports multi-user operation. This does not imply simultaneous operation in runtime mode, rather simultaneous project engineering. It is possible to store projects on a central station and simultaneously edit them from different workstations. By this means a team of development engineers can distribute project tasks to maximum effect. For example, while one engineer is dealing with the variable definition, the second team member can be drafting process images, while yet another works on the function definitions.

This distributed arrangement includes an intelligent administration system, which ensures that there are no clashes or overlaps in the collaborative engineering process. Every element (variable, image, etc.) being edited at a given time is marked, so that no other team member can edit it at the same time.

Another useful feature is the package's offline mode, which allows entire projects to be decoupled from the central PC during development and to be edited offline. One example of where this is advantageous is at the start-up or change of a manufacturing facility. The start-up or maintenance engineer takes with him the current project status from the central project database. During the start-up parts of the project can still be adapted or finished based on the demands of the customer. Back in the office the engineer synchronizes the new project status with the central database automatically with the help of the integrated synchronization mechanism and therefore makes sure no relevant information is lost to the company. The zenOn multi-user functionality saves time and keeps engineering costs low because of parallel workflows.

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