Volume 10 | Issue 4 | Year 2007

The biggest drag on any distribution opera-tion is travel time; whether moving people to products or forklifts to pallets or transporting things to the shipping dock. Schaefer Systems International, Inc. specializes in eliminating distance and time in distribution operations by leveraging the benefits of technology. The Charlotte, N.C.-headquartered company – the North American subsidiary of the international SSI Schaefer group of companies – is a leading supplier of sophisticated storage, materials and logistics systems. Specifically, the company helps its customers to achieve efficiencies in three ways:
Product-to-Person systems: SSI Schaefer’s deep product portfolio coupled with European product-to-person (P2P) logistics concepts and technologies either automatically pick, or to bring the goods to the picker;

Order processing: Schaefer’s integrated software allows real-time operations and data flow resulting in a constant, stead-state work flow without running waves;
Eco-ergo friendly: Kind to both the environment as well as the operators.

In particular, the various automated storage and retrieval storage (ASRS) systems Schaefer offers help clients optimize their space and movement resulting in reduced labor and space costs. Schaefer indicates its product-to-person systems represent a crucial link in the cost-optimization chain. The combination of innovative technologies enables faster material retrieval and transport and shorter order cycle times. As the demand for smaller, more-frequent orders had continued to grow in recent years, the value and benefit of these automated systems has increased.

“There has been a substantial change over the past five years in automation,” reports Rob Schmit, Vice President of Schaefer System International’s Automation and Systems Division. “Now, companies are implementing automated storage and retrieval systems as a means to increase the efficiencies in conventional processes to eliminate labor and improve performance.”

“Indeed, a larger number of companies are directing greater investments toward more complex automation,” Schmit continues. “This runs counter to conventional wisdom that a 30-foot-clear building can solve all problems, as long as there is an available labor force,” he points out. “As the economy heats up, there is a lot of competition for any given labor pool and there often isn’t enough labor to do the work needing to be done to support a large conventional distribution center,” he says.
Schaefer Systems International can find an appropriate design to meet any specific need from picking a full pallet to picking a single eyeliner pencil. In addition to fully-automated storage & retrieval systems, Schaefer has a full range of automated and semi-automated picking systems to help leverage value out of every aspect of the distribution operation.

Schaefer is also expert at re-engineering manufacturing processes: whether a short-term sequencing buffer with a high throughput rate, a pure replenishment system, a stock buffer for raw materials or finished goods, or a manufacturing buffer between individual manufacturing processes.

Covering Five Divisions
Schaefer’s U.S. operations encompass five divisions, reports Schmit. These include waste-handling-technology, materials-handling, returnable-packaging, manufacturing, and automation & systems. “The automation and systems division, our intra-logistics business segment, more or less covers all of the other divisions, except for waste handling, which is a little bit different,” informs Schmit.
“Waste-handling focuses on waste containers, while the materials handling division manufactures and sells all elements within the conventional materials handling industry,” says Schmit. The returnable-packaging division offers steel racks and returnable packaging systems. The manufacturing division makes all of the products sold by other divisions. Along with ASRS systems, products offered include steel and conductive containers, automotive-industry-compatible containers, pallets, top caps and dunnage. The company also offers industrial shelving complemented by a variety of accessories such as cabinets, drawers, and shelf bins. Additional products include high-rise shelving, mezzanines, racking, online shelving, flow racks, shelving for automotive parts storage, and plant and shop equipment. Schaefer also provides container design and consulting services.

70-year Background
In North America, Schaefer Systems International is supported by 70 years of experience. Its parent company, SSI Schaefer, was founded in 1937 in Neunkirchen, located in the Siegerland region of central Germany, a steel smelting and processing hub. The business evolved from light metal fabrication to the production of steel storage containers to complete warehousing systems. Today, SSI Schaefer is one of the world’s leading suppliers of sophisticated storage, materials handling and logistics systems. It has subsidiaries in 53 countries and 7,500 employees.

Schaefer Systems International in Charlotte was established in 1989 and subsequently underwent tremendous growth. The original North Carolina facilities expanded to four buildings, and the manufacturing plant in Charlotte is today equipped with 20 hot stamping machines and injection-molding machines rated from 850 to 3,300 tons. All phases of production are computer controlled by 33 different information screens 24 hours a day. The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are supplied by the plant, which manufactures 100,000 roll-out waste containers and 1.2 million returnable shipping containers annually.
An additional injection-molding plant is located in Lodi, California. The 38,000-square-foot facility manufactures 500,000 units.

Eco-Ergo Friendly Designs and Equipment
SSI Schaefer excels at the design-build process for new distribution centers. With so much emphasis today on conserving our natural resources and eliminating greenhouse gases, SSI SCHAEFER is able to use its technologies to compress the footprint of a building by as much as 60%, thereby conserving 60% of our greenspace. As an additional benefit, the building cost plus the greatly reduced land cost saves significant money. As an example, the table below outlines actual savings from a recent customer analysis. In addition to conserving land, SSI SCHAEFER creates systems that use substantially less power to operate. For example, SSI SCHAEFER conveyor systems automatically turn off when they are not in use to conserve power. The SSI SCHAEFER Carousel System ASRS uses motors that only draw about 5KW – the amount of power used by an residential electric oven. Ergonomics are a key to high productivity and efficiency; working around noisy equipment can reduce performance over an eight-hour shift. SSI SCHAEFER is careful to design its equipment – even high-speed conveyor systems – that operate below 62 dB. Ergonomic design of workstation to maximize worker comfort and performance is critical to success as a world-class leader like SSI SCHAEFER.

P2P Integration
As far as systems integration, Schaefer plans highly-evolved and economical logistics solutions, from material flow concepts through an entire order-picking process. The company contributes research and analysis, concept development, design, review, implementation and support.

One of its premier solutions is the Schaefer Carousel System (SCS), a high-performance order-picking system that combines the advantages of compact carousel systems with conventional storage and retrieval machines. A scalable and modular system, the SCS has pioneered and established a new niche in the distribution industry. The SCS couples unparalleled performance – 750-1000 order lines per hour, over twice that of pick-to-light – with extremely high accuracy using electronic sensors to verify the picker’s actions. The system is founded upon the P2P (or product-to-person) principle where the technology brings the products to the picker to service orders. The P2P ergonomic workstation eliminates non-productive labor tasks such as human movement to find products, tote and paper handling, scanning, button pushing, etc. Further, it dramatically reduces order cycle-time, generates a 50-percent increase in storage density regardless of product shape, provides precise location and stock management as well as stock reduction through accurate data management.

Compared to conventional ASRS systems on the market, the SCS doubles the performance associated with conventional lift storage cycles. In addition, the replenishment processes can be seamlessly integrated into the order-picking operations without any deterioration in performance. The SCS has amply demonstrated its utility in the pharmaceutical, retail, mail order and media industries.

The company also offers the Schaefer Quad System (SQS), a dynamic aisle-bound automatic storage and retrieval system used for order-picking (e.g., pick by light, pick by voice, P2P, etc.). Providing maximum dynamics in confined spaces, the SQS works as a production buffer in manufacturing or as buffer to decouple two different order processing methods so they needn’t be dependent on one another.

The SQS runs on a rail and bus bar system that’s mounted inside a rack structure. It can pick up to four totes at one time and can deploy up to five shuttle units in one aisle, arranged above each other. It features maintenance platforms between every two SQS levels, so that the system is accessible to maintenance personnel or for the manual handling of bins in case an emergency arises. It is also capable of 230 double cycles per hour. Other benefits include its dense storage, flexibility, dynamic order picking, and automatic replenishment of pick faces. The system is easily maintained and requires minimal staff for operation.

“You compare us to established material handling providers in the United States, those that offer the more conventional solutions, and you’ll see that we are a little bit further out there,” says Schmit.