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German Beverage Wholesaler Raises Efficiency With RFID

A. Kempf Getränkegrosshandel is using the technology to identify each pallet of product that forklift drivers deliver to its warehouse's automated conveying system.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 17, 2014

A. Kempf Getränkegrosshandel, a wholesale distributor of beer, wine, bottled water, soft drinks and other beverages, has implemented a radio frequency identification system at its warehouse in Balingen, Germany. The technology is being used to identify pallets loaded with customer-ordered goods as they are delivered to conveyors controlled by an automated warehouse system. The RFID solution was built into the company's automation technology in November 2013, according to Dominik Kampf, head of contracting customer service and support at SSI Schäfer, the firm that provided A. Kempf's automation system and installed the RFID technology. The solution was taken live last December.

A. Kempf operates two distribution centers, one in Balingen and another in Offenburg. At the Balingen site, the company ships beverage products to 125 of its 600 customers daily. Each afternoon, the trucks are loaded for the next day's delivery, and afternoons and evening are thus a busy time at the warehouse. During peak season, 174,000 or more crates and boxes of beverages leave the Balingen warehouse each day. Between 3 PM and 8 PM, the company's peak shipping time, employees load up to 60 trucks at five shipping docks.

When a forklift driver delivers a pallet to the conveyor system, an RFID reader identifies that pallet by means of the driver's RFID card, placed in a holder attached to the vehicle.
By June 2012, the company had automated many of its processes at the warehouse, in order to keep up with order volume. The automation includes conveyors that move the pallets stacked with beverages through two "buffer" zones before they are taken to the dock doors and are loaded onto trucks.

With the automation system in place, warehouse workers pick the products required to fill a particular order and load them onto pallets, which are covered with stretch wrap. Forklift drivers then deliver the pallets to a receiving station that conveys them to the order buffer, where software determines routes for the delivery of each customer's order. Once the route schedule is completed, a conveyor system transfers the pallets to what is called the tour (route) buffer, where they then await loading onto the appropriate truck.

SSI Schäfer's Dominik Kampf
The automation makes it possible to sort and move a large number of loaded pallets, the company reports, and to prepare them for loading onto the appropriate vehicles. However, several manual processes were necessary prior to the RFID system's installation. Each time a warehouse operator brought a loaded pallet to a receiving station, he needed to scan a bar-code ID number on every pallet to update the software regarding which product was being moved. The system could then decide where the pallet needed to be directed in order for it to reach the proper vehicle at the correct dock door.

"Our goal was to decrease the feed-in time" in which the pallets were passed off from drivers to the automated conveyor system, Kampf explains.

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