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    Twin project at Adelholzener – Not afraid to tackle challenges
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    High-bay warehouse, new bottling line for returnable glass: How Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH has been getting ready to meet the steadily rising demand.
    • Satisfied with how the project was handled (from the left): Jan Furk from the line-planning and optimisation team, Erwin Hächl (head of line planning and optimisation) and Alexander Schiroky (head of the high-bay-warehouse control centre).
    • The former monastery of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul is located right opposite the plant.

    Drinking for a good cause: with its St. Primus medicinal water, mineral water with different carbonation levels and soft drinks, Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH does something for charity. This is because the company is owned by the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, which operates hospitals and nursing homes, for example, and uses the revenues from beverage sales to finance its social projects.

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    It is a place of contrasts: viewed from outside, the Adelholzener plant blends almost inconspicuously into the surrounding landscape. Against the imposing backdrop of the Bavarian Alps, its white-grey buildings seem like brightly polished, carefully positioned toy blocks. But as you take your first step into the bottling hall, this impression is abruptly changed: an intricate network of stainless steel extends over two levels. You can only guess where the beginning and end of the convoluted line construction might be. The path between the machines includes numerous flights of steps, crossovers and platforms. Quite obviously, all of this follows a sophisticated logic, well thought-out down to the tiniest detail. Any outsider trying to understand it will feel helplessly out of his depth – both at first and second glance. “Only he who knows his tracks knows where he comes from”: this sentence taken from Adelholzener’s current advertising spot can in this context also be applied quite literally. 

    Image 24105
    The new line extends over two levels.

    600 million fills a year

    People standing in wide-eyed wonder – that is a familiar sight for the approximately 580 employees working in the facility. Because the visitor centre, dubbed “Water World”, hosts about 15,000 people in a coronavirus-free year. Whether it’s school children, tourists or trade visitors: all of them are keenly interested. That’s hardly surprising since there is more than enough to discover in the Adelholzener plant. Far beyond its surrounding region, the company is renowned for its commitment to innovation – both in regard to its own products and the associated technology.

    The tight layout of the present-day lines is attributable to the facility’s rapid growth. When the plant was set up in the foothills of the Alps in 1972, nobody could possibly foresee that in a time to come approximately 600 million fills a year were to leave the premises. But this is exactly what happened almost forty years later. Since Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH has been purposefully expanding its product portfolio with a steady stream of innovations, its sales have continuously risen. The consequence: production capacities were hardly able to keep pace with the increase in demand. No sooner had a new line been commissioned than the next one was already being planned. The facility kept on growing until at long last the limits of what was possible in the space available had been reached. 

    Returnable-glass line from Krones

    Today, Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH operates a total of eight bottling lines, producing a portfolio of 190 different articles: three lines each for returnable glass and returnable PET, plus two more for non-returnable PET. With one exception, they were all supplied by Krones. Thanks to this large spectrum of container types, Adelholzener is largely impervious to fluctuations on the market, as Erwin Hächl, head of line planning and optimisation, explains: “In response to seasonal demand, we sometimes fill more of our products in returnable PET, and at other times more in returnable glass.” At present, the glass bottle is quite definitely out in front, with 280 million fills a year. Since Adelholzener launched its own customised returnable glass bottle in 2011, sales of this container type have just kept on rising – even though this market was for quite a long time considered to be in decline.

    The third and most recent glass line started operation in early 2020. Planning work on this line started way back in 2015 but since a returnable-PET line was more urgently needed Adelholzener abruptly decided to postpone the glass line’s implementation. With the project on hold, the team at Adelholzen spent the time thus gained to fundamentally revise the original line layout that had already been negotiated with Krones. “In the course of this revamp, we decided to take yet another step forward in terms of output and hygiene,” explains Erwin Hächl. “It was for this reason that we supplemented the layout with a rinser and additional buffering sections.” To make room for the line, now significantly bigger than in the original layout, a store for raw materials and supplies was cleared and a platform installed in the hall as a second level in 2019. “All in all, we had a surface of around 3,000 square metres at our disposal – and Krones lost no time in filling it up completely,” says Jan Furk from the line-planning and optimisation team, laughing. 

    Image 24117
    Aufgrund der hohen Hygiene-Ansprüche von Adelholzener wurde die neue Linie mit einem Rinser ausgestattet.

    Output targets exceeded

    By the end of 2019, the mechanical components of the line had been erected and most of the electric cables had been laid. “In our view, that was all completed at breakneck speed,” to quote Jan Furk. “After all, we’re talking more than 5,000 metres of piping and 110,000 metres of electric cables here, which had to be installed.” Right at the beginning of the new year, commissioning work proper started. Adelholzener set themselves and their supplier a very ambitious target: to obtain a ready-for-sale product from the new line in the very same month. And on 31 January 2020, the great day arrived: the first 31,000 bottles came off the conveyor belt. “That was a really brilliant performance by everyone involved,” says Jan Furk. “Neither did we have anything to complain about in regard to microbiology, nor had any other quality-related problems been encountered.”

    Mission accomplished! But this only fuelled Adelholzener’s ambitions even more. “After that, we stepped up everything once again and massively accelerated the timetable,” says Furk. “Thanks to purposeful optimisation work, we had in late April already reached the point where we could run the first acceptance tests for the 0.75-litre bottle – with results that were far better than what had been contractually agreed: in the acceptance test of three times eight hours, we achieved an efficiency of 98.5 per cent!” One month later, the acceptance test for the second container type was run, for the 0.5-litre bottle. “This time, we’d had a bit less time for optimisation because we’re running the half-litre container only every third week,” explains Furk. “But despite that, we likewise far exceeded the specified performance targets – though not quite with the astronomic figures we’d achieved with the 0.75-litre bottle.”

    Thanks to purposeful optimisation work, we had in late April already reached the point where we could run the first acceptance tests for the 0.75-litre bottle – with results that were far better than what had been contractually agreed. Erwin HächlJan FurkLine-planning and optimisation team

    Just in time for the coronavirus lockdown

    That the line was already operational when the first coronavirus lockdown started in Germany turned out to be an unforeseeable stroke of luck: “Because of the panic-buying attacks, in March 2020 glass bottle sales soared like never before,” explains Erwin Hächl. “Without our new line, it would have been downright impossible for us to meet demand.” And that the company had incorporated additional buffering sections in the new layout likewise turned out to be spot-on. “The line’s running significantly better now, with not so many interruptions, more smoothly than its predecessor which we had to build with little buffering capacities when space was at a premium,” explains the head of line planning and optimisation. 

    Because of the panic-buying attacks, in March 2020 glass bottle sales soared like never before. Without our new line, it would have been downright impossible for us to meet demand. Erwin HächlErwin HächlHead of line planning and optimisation

    Since the company sets great store not only by product safety for consumers but also by occupational safety for its staff, a safety platform each was installed in the dry end for the palletiser and depalletiser, for the packer and unpacker, and for the empty-crate magazine. “Krones displayed a great deal of flexibility here and meticulously translated our ideas into shop-floor reality,” says a gratified Erwin Hächl. This applies not only to the current project, but to numerous preceding jobs as well that Hächl had been a part of during his more than 30 years with the company. “Our long-standing loyalty to Krones is due not least to the fact that they’re giving us free rein in developing our innovative ideas,” he explains. “They do not just listen to them but if possible turn them into hands-on reality, too. Over all those years, we’ve built up a huge fund of expertise together and implemented a large number of new developments.”

    High-bay warehouse from System Logistics

    Despite the long-standing relationship between the two companies, it was not set in stone right from the start that Krones would be awarded the order for building the high-bay warehouse as well – quite on the contrary. “We kept an entirely open mind when deciding with whom to place the order,” says Hächl. “We thought to ourselves: conveyor and warehousing technology are nowhere near as critical as filling and packaging technology, so others are good at it, too.” Therefore, System Logistics GmbH – or to be precise the Intralogistics Division of Syskron GmbH at the time the job was put out to tender – was only one vendor among many for Adelholzener. Several rounds and a number of detailed plans later, however, the Krones subsidiary prevailed over the other competitors and won the order.

    Image 24146
    The new high-bay warehouse from System Logistics offers space for approximately 23,700 pallets.

    Bringing all the logistic operations to a single location

    Adelholzener took the decision to put its intralogistics on a new footing way back in 2015. The paramount wish was to synergise all its logistic operations, which were distributed among several external warehouses up to 25 kilometres away, at one single facility. And in view of the topographical situation at headquarters it was quite obvious that only a high-bay warehouse would be able to meet all requirements posed. During talks with an engineering consultancy office, the idea was born to build the new warehouse and relocate the associated processes without interrupting production. “For me, that was one of the most interesting jobs in my entire career,” says Erwin Hächl. “I mean what this comes down to is equivalent to open-heart surgery – over a period of twelve whole months. Such a thing will only work if you plan every single step down to the tiniest detail.” Adelholzener Alpenquellen got comprehensive support on site from Hanns-Peter Mösonef, who assisted the company’s own project managers as external coordinator, contributing his huge fund of expertise in building and commissioning large-scale logistics projects.

    As the general contractor for the entire logistics package, System Logistics was responsible not only for the fixtures and furnishings of the high-bay warehouse with its approximately 23,000 pallet slots; the project also included a fully automatic system for inspecting and exchanging pallets, plus an electric overhead conveyor linked up to the production hall and the warehouse. In regard to software, it likewise comprised the implementation of a new warehouse management system and a SCADA visualisation system, which can be used to observe and control the warehousing processes from mobile terminals.

    Image 24148
    In regard to software, it likewise comprised the implementation of a new warehouse management system and a SCADA visualisation system, which can be used to observe and control the warehousing processes from mobile terminals.

    A taxi system for the entire plant

    In the implementation schedule, the pallet exchange system came first. “To make sure the rest of the project proceeds smoothly, it was important to get this system up and running properly, before we started on the rest,” explains Erwin Hächl. “That’s why we commissioned this well in advance, in the autumn of 2018.” The route to get there required quite a lot of strategic planning, as Hächl points out: “We had to dismantle the old line while simultaneously installing the new one, and in this transitional period we had to keep up a smoothly running pallet exchange.”

    Image 24151
    Installed while production was in full swing: the fully automatic system for pallet inspection and exchange.

    The next major step turned out to be a bit more relaxed. While the high-bay warehouse, including side and rear loading, plus the electric overhead conveyor, were being erected and installed in 2019, production kept on running without any major impairments. But this phase likewise presented some challenges, chief among them the integration of the steel construction for the body of the electric overhead conveyor: since the conveyor runs across the existing roofs of the plant, 54 steel supports, together with their foundations, had to be erected – right in the middle of the production hall. To connect the two levels with each other, a total of ten elevators were installed, distributed throughout the factory hall. In Adelholzener’s fully automatic logistics concept, the electric overhead conveyor plays a key role. “Our target was to control all of the material flows in our plant automatically. This is not all that easy with conventional pallet conveyors, because these, you see, travel only in one direction,” explains Hächl. “The electric overhead conveyor now constitutes a taxi system serving the entire plant, routing material flows to and from the production lines – that’s really quite cool.” 

    Our target was to control all of the material flows in our plant automatically. Erwin HächlErwin HächlHead of line planning and optimisation

    Getting up to speed with the new processes

    New technology, new processes: the numerous changes in the logistics likewise posed a human-resources challenge for Adelholzener, as Alexander Schiroky, head of the high-bay-warehouse control centre, explains: “We were confronted with the momentous question: how can all of this possibly be organised in future?” So as to get fit for coping with the new processes, Adelholzener set up a team comprising existing and freshly hired staff and sent them to System Logistics – back then still Syskron – in Wackersdorf. An emulator was used there to train the future procedural sequences. “In the simulated Warehouse Control System, or WCS for short, all process dialogues had been imaged that had previously been defined in the specification,” says Schiroky. “This WCS test environment enabled our control-centre software staff to practice for the first time control and monitoring of the processes involved and intervention in the event of errors, and to simulate receipt and dispatch of goods.” 

    Image 24155
    Keeping an eye on everything: the logistics control centre

    An adrenalin-charged weekend

    Then, in October 2019, things got really serious: during a weekend, the entire stocks were transferred to the new system. A gigantic task since 45,000 pallets had to be entered manually, for example. “All of us ran on adrenalin that weekend,” says Alexander Schiroky, laughing. “No matter how well you’d prepared, you really notice many details only when you’re down there in the bottling hall: for instance, finding out the best angle at which to scan the pallets, or the ideal height for the label. You will notice all these things only when you’ve actually got to do them.” 

    The team at Adelholzen was not allowed to take a breather after this tour de force because the go-live followed immediately on Monday, putting everything and everyone to the test. “That then was a real effort,” says Schiroky, looking back. “It’s impossible to simulate everything in the preceding training sessions. Working under this time pressure when you see the lorries standing at the gate, waiting to be loaded, that alone makes everyone’s nervous tension grow rapidly.”

    Image 24157
    Pagers are used to guide the lorries through the entire loading process.

    And the clients staff, too – that is, the lorry drivers picking up the goods ordered – first had to get up to speed with the new processes. They are now guided through the entire loading process by means of an OAS lorry control system, using a pager. When they check in at the dispatch building, this triggers an inventory check in the Warehouse Management System. When the goods they want to pick up have been found, assigned and reserved for this client order in the WCS in the correct sequence and quantities, the lorry in question is called up for the respective loading bay, or for unloading its empties first guided to a free unloading station. The entire process is paperless. The lift-truck drivers tick off their orders in the WCS on their mobile MWA tablets (Manual Warehouse Application).

    Teamwork in a friendly atmosphere

    For the start-up phase, the logistics control centre was moved directly to where everything was happening. “We simply put up a desk in the loading hall at a place from where we had a good view of all that was going on,” says Schiroky. “So, together with the people from Syskron, we were able to react swiftly and responsively to all situations that emerged.”

    We were a smoothly functioning team, working in an invariably friendly atmosphere. The bottom line is: we can all be very proud of ourselves, of how we managed all of this successfully without any major hitches. Erwin HächlErwin HächlHead of line planning and optimisation

    Step by step, the team was gaining more experience, and there were fewer and fewer erroneous entries and malfunctions. By Christmas, the new sequences had finally been well coordinated, so that all processes ran smoothly at the speed required. Despite all the stress and excitement inevitably entailed by this project, Erwin Hächl’s verdict is positive: “Sure, we were on a rather bumpy road, primarily in the first four weeks after going live. But in view of the project’s sheer scope, a start-up phase of four weeks is very short indeed,” he says. “No matter whether it was our own staff or the colleagues from Syskron: everyone pulled their weight. We were a smoothly functioning team, working in an invariably friendly atmosphere. The bottom line is: we can all be very proud of ourselves, of how we managed all of this successfully without any major hitches.” 

    The System Logistics project at a glance

    • Fully automated, two-deep high-bay warehouse, 42 metres high, with six aisles and approximately 23,000 pallet slots
       
    • Six storage and retrieval units with double-depth load-handling attachment, energy recovery units and performance-dependent reduction
       
    • Fully automatic pallet inspection and exchange system, with five pallet exchange units and four pallet inspectors
       
    • Conveyor technology and travelling carriage for supplying empties to the directly connected sorting and filling systems and lines
       
    • Direct link-up to the production hall via electric overhead conveyor; ratings:
      • Material flows from the filling line: approx. 600 pallets per hour
      • Material flows to the block-type warehouse: approx. 300 pallets per hour
    • Direct link-up to the loading zone via electric overhead conveyor
       
    • 24 buffer lanes for rear loading, and conveyor link-up for side loading
       
    • Warehouse Control System (WCS)
       
    • SCADA line visualisation system

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