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Product News: Swisslog & Beckhoff get smart to meet e-commerce demands

May 6, 2020
CycloneCarrier delivers a data-driven distribution center solution that cuts hardware costs 25%.

“E-commerce is the fastest growing segment of the US economy,” says Tom Rentschler, head of marketing for Swisslog warehouse and distribution solutions–Americas. “Intralogistics operations need much more flexible, scalable, adaptable and user-friendly solutions. These technologies can augment, rather than replace, human beings, helping workers increase throughput in the distribution center while no longer requiring them to walk 15 miles each day to pick items.”

Swisslog claims to accomplish this with a broad portfolio of logistics solutions, including SynQ Warehouse Management System (WMS) software, ItemPiQ robot-based item picking, ACPaQ case palletizing, CarryPick mobile robots that move shelves to picking stations and many others. The company also claims to be the leading integrator of the AutoStore bot system. 

“What differentiates Swisslog from others in the market is how we integrate our solutions and use information systems and software to improve efficiencies,” explains Paul Douglas, senior vice president of operations–Americas. “Furthermore, the world is talking about the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. Our latest development efforts push Swisslog’s capabilities into that space.”

Intralogistics applications move toward PC control

“The CycloneCarrier is a high-throughput storage and delivery solution,” Douglas says. “The system takes in cartons and totes, stores them briefly and then rapidly removes them in sequence or groupings to pick stations or palletizing robots.” The vehicles’ load-handling arms extend to either side and can adjust the space between arms to safely handle items of varying widths. The shuttles unload items onto transfer conveyors that serve as buffers to dynamic single- or double-deck vertical lifts. Depending on the shelving size and number of shuttles, the system can achieve a throughput of tens of thousands of items per hour.“It must react quickly if, for example, an order changes or there is a change in the SKU sequencing requirements,” Douglas adds.

For networking, the CycloneCarrier uses the EtherCAT industrial Ethernet system. As the fastest protocol available, EtherCAT provides flexibility in topologies and supports up to 65,535 devices on a single network. Cross-vendor communication is another hallmark of EtherCAT and the Beckhoff I/O system, allowing Swisslog to connect to third-party PROFINET or EtherNet/IP devices as needed. In terms of hardware, the CycloneCarrier uses compact yet expandable EL series EtherCAT I/O modules, which connect directly to the CX5120 via a shared backplane and can be widely distributed across applications via EtherCAT Couplers and junction terminals.

Control cycle times and costs keep pace with e-commerce

By leveraging automation technologies from Beckhoff, Swisslog created a flexible, scalable and adaptable shuttle system for today’s distribution centers. A recent project for a major US retailer, for example, involved 65 shuttles working round-the-clock to process 650,000 SKUs per day. Implementing the CycloneCarrier system boosted throughput for the company while saving workers significant physical exertion. According to Rentschler, this showcases the great potential of automation technology to aid, rather than replace, human labor: “The adoption of goods-to-person technology with reliable automation technology is really important to our customers, since they can no longer scale up their labor force seasonally, for example.”

By consolidating machine control and communication on a single embedded PC and using compact EtherCAT I/O, Swisslog also experienced significant savings. “Overall hardware costs are roughly 25% lower by using the Beckhoff solutions compared to what would be required to accomplish the same tasks with another vendor’s components,” Douglas explains.

While traditional palletizing equipment usually remains in the same location, new e-

A dynamic double-deck lift transfers cartons and totes pulled by CycloneCarrier shuttles to pick stations or palletizing robots. (© Swisslog)

commerce solutions need to offer greater flexibility to meet changing consumer or corporate requirements. The modular-controls platform Swisslog implemented enables customization to shelf and shuttle setups, whether to modify slightly or completely disassemble and rebuild the system in a different configuration, in an entirely different warehouse.

“Through our standard platform based on Beckhoff PC-based control, we could use a CycloneCarrier shuttle in a small system targeted to a specific application and then use the same machine in a much bigger facility doing a completely different job,” Douglas says. “To accomplish these feats, all of that flexibility must be built into the automation system from the beginning.”