The Industry 4.0 Logistics Enabler Chosen by Boeing and GE: Part 3

Can logistics automation enable Industry 4.0 transformation of the manufacturing sector? In the opinion of Franco Stefani, founding partner and president of the Emilian System group and its Modula subsidiary, the answer is a resounding yes. It's a market in which this medium-sized company, specialized in the construction of automated and intelligent vertical warehouses for components picking and storage, is expanding rapidly. In 2016 the company some shipped 1500 units, generating the turnover of 150 million euro (+20% year on year) with double-digit growth that shows no signs of slowing even during the years of economic recession. Modula aims to achieve 22% growth in terms of revenues in 2018.

In the era of the fourth industrial revolution, the manufacturing industry has to reinvent itself and its production models in terms of workflows rather than islands and departments. A Copernican revolution that can start from logistics or that is anyway unlikely to proceed without significant interventions in the area of logistics. Manufacturing production processes operate in a market that is today characterized by low volumes and a high level of personalization, with intermittent flows, complexity, and flexibility. In the drive to be fast and flexible, increasing stock levels is no longer an option and companies need to implement Just In Time logic, with their products reaching their destination only when they are needed, thereby removing the risk of obsolescence. But production on demand is impractical in a factory designed around the principles of Taylorism.

The Automated Factory and the Vertical Warehouse
The solution is an automated factory. And Modula offers a valid contribution with its vertical storage solutions, primarily based on the idea of using all the available height of the facility, thereby minimising footprints and maximising storage capacity. And that's not all. Picking is automated, so operators are relieved from having to perform unnecessary actions to reach the products. Here are some of those benefits:

  • All users have a graphic interface with touch-screen, color display and intuitive icons that simplify the learning process for operators.
  • Storage solutions include an internal bay that constitutes the ideal solution for companies that need to minimise their use of floor space.
  • The external bay offers an excellent ergonomic workspace for operators responsible for picking heavy products.
  • Vertical warehouses can be used as automatic dispensers that provide assembly areas with the materials to be supplied to a production line or can be used as storage solutions.
  • Vertical shelving is modular and infinitely expandable to accommodate emerging requirements.
  • The potential savings for a manufacturing industry using an intra-logistic system of this type are huge.

Modula for 500 Different Product Categories
With manual solutions, daily order lines could be 40, while today they are up to 500 with the Modula islands. But let's look at how these tools are changing the process: in the past, operators had to use a ladder to reach a component, hold on tight at a height of 3 meters, keep track of the event with picking slips and then ensure it was accurately recorded. A simple operation like this called for the presence of 4 people, while today twice the amount of work can be performed by just one operator. And that's not all. The warehouses are equipped with a device that provides us with warning signal inputs in the presence of possible faults so that customers can be informed in real time and adequate support can be provided for predictive maintenance activities.

Modula applications today are compatible with 500 product types of enormous variety, from fashion articles to hardware, pharmaceutical products, machine tools, and products in the oenology sector and parts made by world automakers, all of whom are already among the Emilian firm's customers. What's more, General Electric and Boeing are using the modular warehouses made by the Italian company, which effectively has just one world competitor in the form of Kardex in Switzerland, a company listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange.

The Italian plant in Salvaterra is an authentic “Automated in-line factory” designed to guarantee rapidity, flexibility and production capacity, from the raw materials delivered to the factory to the production of the finished components. The possibility of producing a flow of single parts, kits or batches, depends on the specific orders. The consequent enabling of information exchange becomes of vital importance for factories of the future.

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