Würzburg-based Flexus AG enables the use of digital labels (e-ink displays) in logistics by means of direct connection and control via the SAP system. For many, ESL (electronic shelf labelling) is probably not a familiar term at first. But the technology is better known than it seems at first glance: it is already widely used as a method of price labelling in supermarkets – now it is also finding its way into logistics.

How the electronic labels work

How can you imagine the use of ESL? The electronic labels are used instead of paper labels: if something needs to be changed in a label or a new label is required, with ESL no one has to run to the printer and laboriously stick on the trolleys or containers. Instead, the displays can be digitally controlled from SAP and supplied with content. The displays are operated using e-ink technology. As long as no new data is available for a display and the display remains unchanged, they consume almost no power.

The electronic labels can display different elements, such as images, text, numbers or barcodes. The design shown on the display can then be composed from these elements. There are fixed elements that do not change, as well as placeholder building blocks. The placeholders are then filled with concrete data as soon as the display goes into operation. The displays are available in different sizes.

This is where the connection with SAP comes into being thanks to Flexus: the data required for the display (for example, an order number, a barcode, …) can be transferred directly from SAP to the displays. Via a radio signal, the information can be displayed directly on the corresponding label in real time. The control of the labels and the content to be updated can be easily integrated into SAP via customising at relevant process points.

How ESL can be used in logistics

The technology offers a wide range of possible applications, especially in intralogistics:

  • Use as container identification: For circulating containers, the electronic displays can show the corresponding container ID, e.g. as a barcode. By scanning the unique container ID, it can always be ensured that the correct container has been picked up – the identification thus guarantees the tracking of a container. In addition to displaying the container ID, other elements such as the current status of the container, its next destination or a list of contents can be displayed. The information is updated in the respective process from SAP.
  • Use as identification of picking trolleys and their contents: With ESL, the current picking order can always be displayed directly on the picking trolley. The employee can immediately see which material is to be picked up next, where it is located and in which quantity it must be removed. It is also possible to display a picture of the corresponding material so that the picker can carry out an additional visual check.
    As soon as all materials have been loaded, the ESL acts as a digital label for the trolley incl. contents. The destination station including additional information (e.g. SAP WM transfer order or SAP EWM warehouse task) is displayed.
  • Use for Pick by Light: If the display (in the smaller size) is attached to the shelf, there is also the option for Pick by Light. The displays can show how much of this material needs to be picked for the current picking order. This indication can be visually enhanced by a flashing display or integrated lamps. Employees can thus pick the required material in the correct quantity as quickly as possible.

The advantages of using ESL

A big advantage of using ESL: Labelling with paper is no longer necessary. Classic label handling is completely eliminated, which means no more printing, sticking or attaching paper labels. In contrast to electronic labels, paper labels are quickly lost and of course cannot react to changes. With electronic labelling, the labels are always up to date.

Changes to the labelling are made directly – and thanks to the integration in SAP, changes made there are quickly and dynamically visible on the label. This saves a lot of time and by using the technology, resources can now be used elsewhere.

Electronic label for the digital representation of relevant information in the process flow.

Scannable barcodes/QR codes can be shown directly on the display and used for validation and identification. This means that mobile handhelds can also be integrated. The result is an interaction between SAP®, mobile devices with Flexus SAP-Fiori Apps and the electronic labels. Images of the materials can be visualised on the labels – visual inspection by the employee is thus possible quickly and the appropriate product can be found as quickly as possible.

In contrast to infrared systems, for example, the ESLs can also be used without visual contact to the station thanks to radio technology. The labels also boast a battery life of several years.

The use of electronic shelf labelling is an important step towards dynamic and flexible logistics processes.