International roll-outs with pre-made FlexGuide templates
The automotive supplier Brose, which operates globally, can control all industrial trucks in 24 countries across all time zones and language borders centrally from Bamberg, while optimizing transport routes. This is possible with the SAP integrated FlexGuide Material Guidance System from Flexus.
“Flexus has developed its open system further according to our wishes and integrated our requirements into the product standard.”
Team Leader Material Flow
Europe, Asia, America: What seems far away on a map is getting closer and closer at the Brose headquarters in Bamberg (GER). The SAP system installed here controls the data streams of all 65 locations operated by the automotive supplier across 24 countries. At Brose, the worldwide SAP rollout is based on the so-called template approach: A template is a blueprint for the uniform flow of processes with a corresponding range of functions.
With the global template at Brose, processes and functions can be copied quickly and transferred to new locations in the desired combination based on the modular principle, saving an enormous amount of time: “We only need a few days to set up the information technology at a new assembly plant,” reports Michael Müller, Team Leader Material Flow, Information Systems, Brose Group.
More and more valuable
Over the years, the template has been developed further in a number of steps. “In 2015, we still lacked a function for the central optimization and control of intralogistics,” recalls Müller. This involved planning the use of industrial trucks in incoming goods as well as in production supply and disposal. Transport of empties and special tours had to be controlled with the new central solution also, while objects not managed in SAP such as waste containers or empties had to be taken into account as well. The search for a suitable partner led to Flexus AG, which is based in Würzburg, being selected to provide an SAP-integrated solution. “References from the automotive industry as well as the versatile functions of the Material Guidance System FlexGuide were factors in favor of Flexus”, states Müller. Thanks to the ideas and project progress of Brose and all other users, the “FlexGuide becomes more and more valuable and versa- tile with each upgrade”.
ithin the Brose Group, the system was used for the first time at the site in Würzburg, resulting in a significantly shorter training period for new forklift drivers since 2016, and thus greater efficiency in the processing of transports. The employees now receive clear instructions on their forklift terminals. Furthermore it is possible to have the routes visualized as a digital map of the plant premises. In addition, the FlexGuide provides documentation of each transfer point of the pallets and containers, which are often transported in multiple stages, so that irregularities and errors can be quickly detected even afterwards. It can be determined individually at which stages of the process the drivers must scan and confirm. “In areas with experienced drivers, we can avoid having to scan the transported goods multiple times when picking them up and setting them down, which increases productivity,” explains Müller.
In the beginning of 2017, Brose deployed the second stage of the FlexGuide, which can now also control tugger trains in various scenarios. As an example, transports of large or small load carriers (GLT and KLT), fixed timetables or shuttle trains are being differentiated and integrated. When loading the tugger trains, the driver receives concrete suggestions regarding the loading spaces for the respective containers.
Integrated connector: control over AGVS and narrow-aisle forklifts
The TLS also makes life a lot easier for drivers at Brose’s US site in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The narrow- aisle trucks used there are connected to the TLS via an interface. This means that every driving command is transmitted directly to the forklifts and then automatically implemented at the push of a button. The Flexus solution functions as an integrated connector, which means we can do without an additional external warehouse management system at this point,” explains Müller. This significantly reduces the complexity of the system.
As a “neutral instance,” any form of hardware can be controlled with the FlexGuide. At Brose’s UK location in Coventry, the solution even controls the automated guided vehicles (AGVs), though any combination of AGVs and conventional forklifts is possible.
Time zones without scare
Meanwhile, Müller and his team have introduced the solution at seventeen Brose locations in Germany, the UK, the US, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico and Slovakia. “We were even able to solve the time zone problems when executing the worldwide tugger train timetables together with Flexus,” highlights Müller. In this context, international rollouts can also be carried out without any problems. Only in exceptional cases Brose requires help from Flexus, since the system con- sists of precisely defined modules. According to Müller, they can be centrally configured in a “familiar SAP environment.” The same applies to the support that Brose provides with its own employees at all locations, completely independent of Flexus. The automotive supplier is also completely independent when selecting forklift terminals.
“The solution works independently of devices, so that existing equipment can still be used without any problems,” reports Müller. Additionally, the user interfaces with large and easy-to-understand buttons, designed by Flexus, can be operated effortlessly and intuitively via touchscreen.
The software is also available in Chinese, Spanish, Slovak, Czech, German and English for the currently existing locations.
More than 50 million transport tasks
Conclusion: With the FlexGuide by Flexus, Brose has achieved a standardized basis for the control of all industrial trucks that can be rolled out globally with little effort. So far, more than 50 million transport tasks have been generated with the FlexGuide. Roll-outs to other locations have already been initiated.
Brose is the 4th largest family-owned automotive supplier in the world. The company develops and builds mechatronic systems for vehicle doors and seats as well as electric motors and electronics, such as steering, brakes, transmissions and engine cooling. Around 25,000 employees at 65 locations in 24 countries generate sales of €5.1bn. Every second new car in the world is equipped with at least one Brose product.