Forward-looking logistics for German medical technology manufacturer ERBE Elektromedizin GmbH

In business since 1847, ERBE Elektromedizin GmbH now has over 560 employees developing, producing and distributing medical technology for electrosurgery and waterjet surgery as well as equipment and accessories for hemostasis, tumor removal and minimally invasive operations. ERBE has a global presence with sites in the United States, Brazil, China, France, the Benelux countries, Switzerland, Poland, the United Kingdom, India and Russia. Tbingen, Germany, is its sole production facility, however. For years, ERBE has achieved strong growth both at home and abroad. Exports currently account for some eighty percent of revenue. The structure that had evolved over the years was not equipped to fully meet these and other challenges. Therefore a new logistics centre was built and became operational in 2008.

The nearly 38,000 square meters of floor space in the new logistics center accommodate the following:

  • Automatic small-parts storage area featuring storage trays for nearly 15,000 boxes and with a capacity of 260 stock removals per hour
  • High-rack storage area with wire-guided narrow-aisle turret truck technology
  • Block storage
  • Quick-turnover zone
  • Dangerous goods storage
  • Sterile goods storage

IT support from ASSIST4 Warehouse Management
The entire intralogistical processfrom goods receipt to stock putaway, from picking and stock removal to packing, from complete freight document preparation to loadingis mapped by the transport and warehouse management software ASSIST4, developed by AEB.

Standardisation and automation were the benchmarks in planning and designing the IT architecture of the new logistics process. For ERBE Elektromedizin GmbH, automation means not only mechanised support but process support. This support is ensured by:

  • Consistent use of scanners with an online link to the warehouse management system
  • Generation of efficient transport chains within the warehouse
  • Interfaces to the ERP system, so inventory is continuously synchronised among the systems
  • Electronic processing of all documents needed for the shipping process
  • Online transmission of import and export declarations to the customs authorities

One innovation that facilitates stock putaway and removal in the automatic small-parts storage area is the inclusion of both a laser-guided display and a monitor display.

A laser beam points to the tray segment from which the goods are to be removed. A graphic display also indicates the right compartment on the monitor.

ASSIST4 also supports the picking process in the manual warehouses. The warehouse management software calculates the best route within the warehouse using transport chains and priorities stored in the master data. Employees receive route-optimised driving orders on the forklift control terminal in the high-rack storage area. In the other storage areas, handheld devices are used. Scanners support the removal of the goods in all storage areas.

The pull principle, already implemented in production processes as "kanban" control, is now applied to logisticsfor example, through the installation of "pulling" packing stations that are mapped in the warehouse management system.

While consolidating goods from the various storage areas at the packing stations, bottlenecks are avoided by triggering a picking order only after a line or location in the staging area shows the appropriate capacity.

Following the system-supported check for completeness, the consignment is released for packing. The packer receives a corresponding alert in the packing station application. The packing process is "qualified": Each article with a batch or serial number is scanned once more before being physically packed to make sure it is in the right consignment. This provides an extra layer of control against the errors of individuals in support of a system-wide zero-error strategy. It also enhances traceability based on batch and serial number.

The entire process is controlled and monitored by a system of indicators. All relevant process informationinvolved parties, lead times, consignment contents, consignment routes, track-and-trace informationis available for operational control, creating greater transparency in the process, enhancing the reliability and lowering the error rate. By consistently tracking the relevant indicators, ERBE Elektromedizin GmbH is able to continuously increase logistical performance.

The conscious selection of an integrated software packagein which warehouse, transport and export processes are mapped in a single environmenthas paid off by reducing the number of interfaces.

ERBE Elektromedizin GmbH has responded to legal requirements and internal targets by reorienting itself and completely reorganising its logistical processes within two years. The sales department has been relieved of organisational responsibilities and is now able to focus exclusively on customer contact, shipment releases and availability checks.

ERBE customers now benefit from faster and more reliable deliveries.


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