Case Study: Automatic Sheet Metal Storage Ensures Efficiency

Gebr. Blum GmbH, which specializes in sheet metal working and switch cabinet production, has used the KASTO UNLINE in-line storage system to streamline its material flow.

Gebr. Blum GmbH, a company that specializes in sheet metal working and switch cabinet production, decided to build a new plant in the German town of Hettenleidelheim in order to create space for future growth. For this purpose it invested in modern storage technology. The company now stores sheet metal and finished parts in a UNILINE in-line storage system from KASTO, saving valuable space. The system ensures safe and reliable material handling and efficient provisioning of the connected stamping and laser cutting machinery.

Hettenleidelheim is located in an idyllic rural setting in the Palatinate region, just a few miles from the German Wine Route. Vineyards and castles dominate the scenery. The town has only about 3,200 inhabitants, but economically it is very well positioned. One reason is its direct access to the A6 autobahn. Another is the fact that it is home to a number of long-established, successful companies. One of these is Gebr. Blum GmbH., founded in the 1960s, which specializes in sheet metal working and construction of switch cabinets. Its reputation has spread throughout the region and beyond. Today, Blum supplies a large number of prestigious customers in areas such as mechanical engineering, systems engineering, and robotics. Its portfolio includes individual parts, small batches, large batches, and complete assemblies.

However, the company's continuing success created a problem: As time went by, its existing location no longer offered enough space. "When the company was founded, our premises were on the edge of town, but over the years they were increasingly surrounded by residential areas," says managing director Jörg Neu, who took over the company in 2003. "We were completely encircled. Large trucks were finding it harder and harder to enter and leave. What's more, the buildings were showing their age and weren't high enough inside for new and larger machines." Thus, Blum decided to move to a new location in order to gain additional capacity for its increasing production.

New location with state-of-the-art storage technology

In 2016, an opportunity arose in the form of a commercial zone on the northern edge of Hettenleidelheim. Together with its partner company WS&M, Blum erected two buildings in an area of 25,000 square meters. The buildings provided a total of 4,000 square meters of production space, enough for laser machining, folding, bending, manual and robot welding, assembly of component groups, and production of switch cabinets. The company also planned to expand its storage capacity, but size wasn't the only consideration. "For us it was clear from the start that we had to make use of new technologies," says Neu.

At the old location, raw materials - sheet steel, stainless steel, and aluminum - were stored in a warehouse served by forklifts. Workers moved the sheet metal to the machining equipment by hand - a time-consuming and laborious process. "To cut costs, we wanted to streamline and automate this work," says Neu. The manager had already learned from a partner company about the storage systems offered by KASTO Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG. KASTO, a family-owned company based in Achern, Germany, is a global leader in the storage of bar stock and sheet metal. "We described our requirements to KASTO and to other manufacturers," recalls Neu. "For us it was not only important to have high quality and good value for money, we also wanted to be independent of our supplier for metalworking machinery. KASTO took all of our needs into account and found a solution that was perfect for us. That was decisive."

Storage and retrieval of sheets at the press of a button

KASTO implemented an automatic UNILINE in-line storage system for Gebr. Blum. With a height of eight meters, it has space for up to 686 pallets that can hold sheets measuring up to 3,000 x 1,500 millimeters. The sheets are placed in storage at a station with a longitudinal carriage at the front of the warehouse. When stacks are delivered, employees use forklifts to move them to the system pallets. A storage and retrieval machine (SRM) then automatically takes them to a free storage location. The integrated KASTOlogic warehouse management system allows users to see the location of the pallets and materials at all times. "Employees enter the material data at the operating panel when the material is stored, and only once," explains KASTO project manager Markus Füller. "The intuitive graphical interface makes this very easy."

Inside, at the front of the warehouse there are seven other stations with lateral transport carriages for removing and returning material. There are also two metalworking machines. The older of the two, a laser-cutting machine made by TRUMPF, was already in use at the previous location and is fed by a manually operated overhead crane. However, when new material is needed, employees can request it just by pressing a button. The pallet arrives automatically in a matter of seconds. A newly purchased stamping and laser cutting machine, which can run fully unattended, is also connected to the storage system. Vacuum suction units remove sheets that have been taken from storage and convey them automatically to the facility. "That saves time, reduces the burden on our workers and protects them from injury," says Neu. Parts that have been cut by the machine are then automatically put back onto a system pallet.

Warehouse software is connected to the ERP system and machine controller

The UNILINE storage system is specially designed for effective delivery of material to metalworking machines. The flexible KASTOlogic software can connect the machines to the system regardless of manufacturer. The storage facility makes optimum use of the available room height. Thanks to its slim design and the small approach dimensions of the SRM, it takes up very little space. The SRM is equipped with extremely dynamic drives for fast, direct access to the material. The modular design of the storage system allows it to be perfectly adapted to the user's needs. For example, several different types of carriage are available for storage and retrieval, and there are additional conveyor and order-picking units. "We've also designed our software to integrate our solutions into a uniform material flow," says Füller. KASTO has also connected the warehouse to Blum's ABAS ERP system and to the control unit of the stamping and laser cutting machine to ensure easy use and permit unmanned operation.

The warehouse went into operation in April 2017. The employees of Gebr. Blum were thoroughly trained by KASTO's experts to make them familiar with the new system. Since then, the system has run without any problems. "If there were ever a malfunction, we could go online and quickly rectify it by means of remote maintenance," explains Füller. Managing director Jörg Neu is fully satisfied: "KASTO did a great job here - the warehouse runs perfectly and has given us significant gains in speed, efficiency, transparency and safety." At present the company is in two-shift operation. When the combined stamping and laser cutting machine is connected, it will be able to run after working hours without staffing.

Capacity for future growth

About 250 of the 700 storage compartments at Gebr. Blum are currently filled, so plenty of space is still available. There are two reasons for this, Neu explains: "First, we're also planning to store finished parts here, with different dimensions. The UNILINE storage system makes this possible thanks to its dynamic shelf height management." The other reason is that the company is looking forward to strong growth and has already created the necessary capacity. "After all, we don't want to move again very soon," says the managing director with a smile.

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