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More technology - or nothing works anymore

The old and the new world of shelving are very close together.

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More technology - or nothing works anymore

The old and the new world of shelving are very close together. In Kaltenkirchen north of Hamburg, the warehouse logistics manufacturer Jungheinrich operates its central warehouse for the global supply of spare parts. On the left in one of the halls is the "bulky goods store" for heavy, unwieldy parts such as driver's cabs or doors, which are moved individually by employees with lifting trucks. In the small parts warehouse to the right, however, with its 120,000 storage locations for gray plastic boxes, there is not a soul to be seen. The storage and retrieval of the parts is fully automatic, including with lifts that run along, up and down the huge shelves. "The automation of the storage system optimizes itself," says site manager Rainer Breitschädel. “For example, the technology positions the parts that are in particularly high demand in the most convenient places on the shelf for transport. This reduces transport distances and energy consumption.”

The replacement of men by machines in industry has long been the terror of workers and unions. Robots are ubiquitous in factories today, be it in the automotive, electronics or food industries. This automation is mainly driven by the global locational competition of the industry for the lowest production costs. But in many sectors of the economy, the use of technology instead of people now also serves a different purpose, for example in warehouse logistics, for example at Jungheinrich in Kaltenkirchen: There are no longer enough workers for the hoped-for growth in the coming years. "Here, too, we are having increasing problems finding specialists for warehousing, even for comparatively simple jobs," says Breitschädel. “In this region along the A7 motorway there are many logistics companies, including global corporations. They sweep the job market empty.”

The demographic change, the retirement of the baby boomer generation from working life, will exacerbate the problem. "The lack of workers and skilled workers is generally driven much more strongly by demographic change than by economic development," says Sönke Fock, CEO of the Hamburg Employment Agency. Sebastian Schulze, Managing Director of the North German business umbrella organization UV Nord, says: "If we run out of people for work, the technology has to help out."

In order to alleviate the shortage, Jungheinrich intends to train warehouse logistics specialists at its Kaltenkirchen site in the future: “Nowadays we are intensively looking for personnel, especially in social networks and at industry trade fairs. It can then sometimes take a few months to find the required specialist,” says Breitschädel. “It used to be very different. Several applicants responded to a job advertisement or a notice within a few days.” It will therefore probably not be possible in the future without even more automation.

The Hamburg family company Jungheinrich, founded in 1953, has adapted to this. Jungheinrich, which is best known for its yellow lift trucks, manufactures complete systems for warehouse automation - and also uses them itself. “We also use our highly automated logistics warehouse here and our experience with it as a blueprint when we design systems for our customers. And of course we can show here in real operation how something like this works,” says Lars Leiking, who is responsible for sales, key customers and the product portfolio for automatic systems, while walking through the spacious warehouse building. “Against the background of the pandemic and the Ukraine war, many companies are reorganizing their supply chains. For many, this has given their own warehousing a whole new relevance.”

On Wednesday, Jungheinrich completed the $375 million acquisition of US company Storage Solutions, a logistics warehouse automation specialist. For Jungheinrich it is the largest acquisition ever. "Automation is an essential core of Jungheinrich's future growth," says Sales Director Christian Erlach: "For us, the focus is primarily on technologies and solutions in the areas of automatic warehouse systems, mobile robots and software."

Jungheinrich has already developed and built hundreds of automated logistics warehouses for customers in Germany and other countries. Conversely, the company also uses the experience gained to further optimize its central warehouse in Kaltenkirchen. Jungheinrich supplies its service technicians worldwide with spare parts from here: "We centralized our entire international supply of spare parts here ten years ago," says Rainer Breitschädel. “Our service technicians in most parts of Europe get the spare parts directly from here or via regional interim storage facilities. Anyone who is connected to direct delivery here and orders by 4 p.m. will have the parts in their service vehicle by 7 a.m. the next morning.” This includes the work of the company's approximately 6,000 service technicians worldwide. Many of these field workers are stationed directly in the logistics warehouses of Jungheinrich customers – and there, too, they depend on the punctual delivery of spare parts.

Of the approximately 19,000 people internationally, 400 work for Jungheinrich at the Kaltenkirchen site, 110 of them directly in warehouse operations. In addition to the bulky goods warehouse, the warehouse for hazardous materials and the "fast-moving warehouse" for spare parts or materials that are particularly frequently requested are also accessed directly by employees. So far, automation has not paid off there. At the same time, there is a fully automatic, 32 meter high rack storage facility for pallets and lattice boxes weighing up to one ton. Its lifts glide into the darkness in pit lanes that are more than 90 meters long. Most of the goods in the entire warehouse run automatically via conveyor lines to the stations where the pickers pack and finish the packages for dispatch to the service technicians. "Previously, 70 percent of an order picker's working time was spent walking back and forth between the shelves and the packing station," says Lars Leiking. “Today, our solutions are generally used in such a way that the goods are automatically sent to the order picker. That saves a tremendous amount of time.”

Jungheinrich keeps around 100,000 items in its central warehouse. Just 15 to 20 years ago, there were perhaps more than 10,000 items in large logistics warehouses, says Leiking. "Basically, with automation, human activities are shifting from mechanical-manual functions to be controlled or controlled." Without people on site, a logistics warehouse like the one in Kaltenkirchen will not run in the future either, says Leiking, "because they act faster and more flexibly and change course than any machine when it becomes necessary in the processes".

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