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An interview with Fritz Mayr on intralogistics trends - part 2

An interview with Fritz Mayr on intralogistics trends - part 2
In Part 1 of this interview we spoke to Fritz Mayr, founder and managing director of CIM, about the evolution of intralogistics systems and artificial intelligence as a game changer. In Part 2, we take a look at automation, dark warehouses and the carbon footprint in logistics.

The industry has faced some major challenges over the last few years, as has the entire German economy. These challenges continue to dominate today. How has your business been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and by the global energy and cost-of-living crisis? Has the sector changed, would you say?

The coronavirus showed us that it’s possible to work without actually being in the office. This would never have happened without the pandemic, at least not within such a short space of time. We had been trying unsuccessfully for years to install adequate video conferencing tools. Then the government announced one Friday that no-one would be allowed to go into work from Monday onwards. Our system was installed that weekend and up and running perfectly by the Monday.
The way we work has completely changed. Only 50 % of the workforce come into the office now – that includes our staff in our Munich, Dresden and Münster offices. The other half works from home. While working remotely has become totally normal, we still have mandatory attendance weeks where we encourage employees to come to the head office in Fürstenfeldbruck, if at all possible. Despite all the benefits of remote working, it’s important not to forget the human factor.

What developments have there been in intralogistics?

We’re noticing an increase in intralogistics projects. There’s been a sharp rise in automation, since automated systems can be operated with minimal human intervention. The result is fewer people in the warehouse. We’re also seeing an overall increase in automated systems. There’s a trend for combining automated solutions by different manufacturers and connecting them in a single WMS. I wouldn’t say it’s a rapidly expanding market but definitely one that’s steadily growing. Systems that operate online stores and can handle a large volume of small orders are still very much in demand. And there’s been a sharp rise in customers who operate internationally and have warehouses around the globe. Modern, browser-based intralogistics systems like PROLAG World allow customers to perform stock putaway and retrieval with just a few clicks, in a warehouse anywhere in the world. Our data centres in Munich manage locations around the globe. Automated warehouses are also run from two data centres which are fully compliant with European environmental and safety certification standards.

Is a WMS like PROLAG World in particularly high demand for intralogistics automation?

There are a number of vendors who can provide automated handling solutions and a warehouse management system. The WMS is specially tailored to the automation technology in this case, since it’s what the majority of the customers work with. It’s a different scenario at CIM. We don’t have any preferences in terms of manufacturer – our system can be connected to all the well-known warehouse systems. Self-driving vehicles, shuttle systems, palletiser robots, sorting systems or AutoStore systems: Everything’s already installed at the customer and is optimised in the material flow. We have our own standardised material flow computer with visualisation, which can optimise any number of control systems.

The energy crisis is a hot topic at the moment. How are you dealing with it at CIM? And how can a WMS help to save energy?

Around one percent of our revenue goes on energy costs. This doesn’t include the cloud systems. Our data centres, i.e. the cloud, are run on renewable energy which reduces dependencies as well as electricity costs. There’s been a noticeable increase in energy awareness. Virtual meetings with video conferencing software have significantly reduced the amount of business travel. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve switched to electric vehicles and downsized our fleet – despite an increase in project volume.

And how can a WMS help to save energy?

PROLAG World can definitely help save energy. Think of conveyor systems, for example, where the motors are running constantly. They can be switched off automatically. Our material flow computer knows when orders are dispatched and regulates the energy requirements of the motors accordingly. Stacker cranes can also be switched to eco mode during periods where the order volume is not particularly high. And significant savings can be made with regard to lighting – lights can be dimmed or switched off in aisles that are not in use. We currently have a project where the carbon footprint of a warehouse is being tracked and optimised as a KPI. This makes sense not only in view of current efforts to save energy – we take our part in environmental and climate protection very seriously as a company. There’s a strong commitment to sustainability across the entire team.

Switching off lights – are you talking about the 'dark warehouse' principle?

The dark warehouse project we’re involved in is based on the idea of allowing a warehouse to operate fully automatically for 24 hours without any staff. The benefits are obvious: warehouse shifts, staff absences or even crisis situations such as a pandemic can be managed far more effectively. It’s a research project and we’re conducting it in Switzerland together with a couple of partner companies. Complete darkness is maybe not such a good idea, though: the picking robots still need to be able to identify packages.

Should energy efficiency be a factor in opting for an automated warehouse?

Saving energy isn’t the crucial factor. The beauty of logistics is that cost savings inevitably lead to carbon savings as well. Order pooling, route optimisation and process simplification with ‘goods to person’ models. In this respect, the work we do is consistently environmentally friendly.
When considering warehouse automation, stock movements, order structures and article size all play a key role. The business analysts at CIM are familiar with a variety of different technologies and have a wealth of experience in implementing and working with automated solutions. Our vendor-independent consulting services are increasingly in demand, both by existing and prospective customers.

One last question: What does the future hold for CIM and PROLAG World?

We cover an extremely broad market and intend to expand even further. We currently have production companies and logistics service providers, we supply hazardous goods and materials distributors, plus our system manages a number of partially or fully automated warehouses. But there are still sectors where order picking is performed without a higher-level WMS like PROLAG World, or where automated systems are managed by inefficient software solutions: There’s definitely still a lot of potential.
Most importantly, we have a product that creates real benefits for the user. It streamlines the entire warehouse process, helps tackle the skilled labour shortage, reduces the ecological footprint, and supports customers in growing their businesses thanks to its flexibility in responding to constantly changing requirements. What’s more, we have an innovative team that’s always excited to try out new technologies. This start-up spirit, the sustainability of our product and the investment stability – these are all factors that point to a strong future for us.

We’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for CIM! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.

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