Ergonomic Handling in dm's Textile Distribution Centre

Children’s clothing has formed part of dm-drogerie markt’s range of products since 1986. Among other things, the textile distribution center in Karlsruhe makes sure deliveries arrive on time at each of the dm stores. The constantly growing throughput made it necessary to redesign the hall, including the loading area. The vacuum specialist Schmalz developed an ergonomic, efficient overall concept that meets dm’s increased requirements.

The JumboFlex High-Stack lets users pick up packages with an upright posture.
With the High-Stack, loading the second roller conveyor in an ergonomic posture is also no problem.
The JumboFlex High-Stack makes it possible to optimally use the storage space.
Thanks to the long operator handle, employees can reach every storage place on the pallet from the top to the bottom while retaining an ergonomic posture.
The employees stand on a pedestal that is about 40 centimeters high, which improves accessibility.

The shelves in dm stores contain more than shampoos, toothbrushes, and deodorant. The extensive assortment at dm also includes items from the product areas health, nutrition, photograhpy, and clothing for babies and children. The dm markets (now more than 3,600 stores in 13 European countries) are supplied by various distribution centers. The employees put together the incoming goods for each of the dm stores at these centers. By doing so, they make sure that the wide range of over 12,500 products is always available for customers.

Approximately 160 employees currently work in the textile distribution center in Karlsruhe. Textiles for children, bathroom accessories, and toiletry bags for all the stores in Germany, as well as for selected dm stores in Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia, are distributed on almost 11,000 square meters of space. Approximately 480,000 packages in four different sizes and weighing up to 30 kilograms are packed and delivered here every year.

Tripling shipments

“At the beginning, approximately 800 packages left our storage facility every day. Now there are 1,850 shipments on average,” reports Alexander Fiedler, head of the textile logistics department in Karlsruhe. That is an enormous increase, one the original hall layout could no longer accommodate. “To load the large cardboard boxes, we used the JumboFlex 35 vacuum lifter from Schmalz from the very beginning in combination with a column-mounted jib crane,” the logistician recalls. However, after the loading area was remodeled, the existing system was no longer optimally suited to the new layout: the length of the column-mounted jib crane was no longer sufficient for the redesigned packaging line, and the stack height was limited by the universal vacuum lifter as a result of the system.

A new system was intended to solve these challenges. The goal was to optimize processes on the one hand and, on the other, continue making work easier for employees. The goal was to further optimize use of the loading volume of the trucks, minimize transport costs, and further improve the carbon footprint. Additionally, the previous combination demonstrated ergonomic weaknesses when used by the storage employees. Instead of being loaded onto pallets, packages were loaded onto rolling carts. This had a negative impact on the work process, as the head of logistics describes: “The employees virtually had to climb into the rolling carts to reach the packages in the back rows.”

Flexibility wins

On the search for a solution that was both ergonomic and efficient, the logistics planners initially also considered partially and completely automated solutions. “They were neither economic nor practical, since we constantly have to load different kinds of cardboard boxes, for instance,” Fiedler explains and adds, “A manual handling solution gives us the flexibility we need here and is also less expensive and quicker to implement.” With the logistical goal and the requirement that the solution had to be entirely acceptable to employees, the responsible parties of the trading company approached J. Schmalz GmbH again. The company had already had contact with the vacuum expert for several years, which meant the people from Karlsruhe trusted in the constructive and solution-oriented cooperation this time as well.

Schmalz had a clear answer to the question of how the transport space, including higher space, could be optimally used: the JumboFlex High-Stack is especially designed for handling tasks above head height. At the same time, the tube lifter can pick up loads that are close to the floor, such as the lowest layers on pallets, while going easy on employees’ backs. “In our design, we combined the JumboFlex High-Stack with a responsive crane system,” explains Michael Schlaich, Head of Business Development Processes at Schmalz. The concept achieves the required flexibility by using an adjustable vacuum gripper, which makes it possible to easily grip different cardboard box sizes. Schmalz achieves more comfort, and thus an important component of employee acceptance of the system solution in the distribution center, by using a silencer box that reduces the sound pressure level of the vacuum generator. Additionally, the vacuum lifter is equipped with a radio remote control SRC that users can utilize to turn the vacuum generator off and back on right at the operating element during breaks in work. “That reduces the noise level even further and also saves energy,” Schlaich explains. The optimally coordinated overall concept convinced more than the decision makers. “We involved the employees on site early on and were able to test the functionality of the JumboFlex High-Stack in a field test,” Alexander Fiedler explains.

Ergonomic & safe

Today, the cardboard boxes are loaded onto three parallel roller conveyors in the loading area. “This layout is possible because the new lifting aid makes it possible to reach the middle belt without our employees performing contortions,” adds the logistician. The employees stand on a pedestal that is about 40 centimeters high, which improves accessibility in comparison to the previous situation. They stack the packages onto pallets up to a height of 215 centimeters using the JumboFlex High-Stack. “Thanks to the long, swivel-mounted operator handle, employees can reach every storage place on the pallet from the top to the bottom while retaining ergonomic posture,” Schlaich emphasizes. The continuous rotation unit creates great freedom of movement and prevents the hose from twisting. That makes it possible to operate the device flexibly from all directions. To preclude the possibility of goods falling down prematurely, users can release them only in a lowered position. The user must push the button to lower the load all the way down before a second lever can be actuated. This lever releases the vacuum. In addition, the ventilation of the gripper takes place so fast that no additional effort is required to release the tube lifter.

“We have been operating the new solution since November 2018, and it has completely met our expectations,” Alexander Fiedler summarizes. Due to the increased stack height, the trucks’ loading volumes can be much better utilized, enabling the number of daily transport trips to be reduced. The employees’ feedback is equally positive: “They have accepted the lifting aids very well and praise the crane system’s responsiveness,” Fiedler remarks, passing on his impressions from the shipping area.

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