The energy and automation technology group ABB employs around 135,000 employees worldwide, more than 6,500 of which in Switzerland. The Schaffhausen location, with around 320 employees, originated from the family business founded in 1909, Carl Maier & Cie. It merged with the ABB Group in 1992, In Schaffhausen, ABB combines the development, production, logistics and sale of low-voltage, personal and building protective devices, as well as switches and outlets. The most renowned product is the FI switch terminal. In a clean room in Schaffhausen, the core sensor and switch elements were created. ABB Schaffhausen produces very big amounts per year. Among the range of customers are control engineers, functional and residential construction and manufacturers of “critical power applications,” such as solar panels or data centers.
ABB has recently combined two logistic centers at the Schaffhausen location. The large benefit for the customers: From now on, all items can be sent in only one shipment and even on the same day. A major challenge was creating enough storage area at the existing space. The project team ultimately decided to construct an automatic small parts warehouse. The most pressing question was how thousands of products could be stored and retrieved quickly and efficiently. The goals were set high: The current small load carriers had to be gripped reliably and sensitively and positioned quickly and just as precisely during storage and retrieval. Moreover, ABB was looking for an ergonomic solution that would protect the health of employees. The packed boxes can carry a weight of up to 33 kg.
The company management took a considerate amount of time selecting appropriate partners during project implementation. “That paid for itself during this challenging undertaking,” says Herbert Fichthaler, Production Engineer at ABB Schaffhausen. Soon, the Swiss company had the vacuum specialist Schmalz from Glatten in the Black Forest on their radar. Internet research followed visits at several trade shows, and first contacts were created. ABB made inquiries with other providers, as well. It was soon made apparent that they could not fulfill these needs. “We looked for a partner that was geographically close and equally technically savvy and innovative,” Fichthaler describes. At the first detailed appointment with the responsible parties of the Schmalz subsidiary in Switzerland, the problem was debated, solution attempts were discussed and interfaces were defined. Schmalz ultimately recommended using the JumboFlex 50 vacuum tube lifter.
With this tube lifter, goods up to 50 kilograms can be moved at a high cycle frequency and is easier on the back. The control handle is ergonomically designed, fits comfortably in the hand and allows the operator to work for a long period of time without getting tired. You can lift, lower and release loads effortlessly with a one-finger control. If necessary, the quick-change system easily changes the suction cup. This reduces downtime.
ABB is installing two JumboFlex 50s with box grippers to load and retrieve the automatic small parts warehouse. The vacuum specialist additionally delivered aluminum wall-mounted jib cranes. They are very responsive, run quietly and increase tube lifter gripping areas significantly. Their low-friction operation provides for a quick process and requires little force during operation. Thanks to high-value and low-wear aluminum and plastic components, the system requires hardly any maintenance.
The tube lifter’s gripping mechanics, according to ABB specifications, cannot damage boxes and contents. Together, the project partners developed a mechanical box gripper for protective transport. It operates on only four points on the box frame and is secured and unlocked using a “ballpoint mechanism.” “One-hand operation is having a positive impact. Boxes are gently lifted and put down as well as precisely aligned. “My team is very experienced working with the lifting aids,” Herbert Fichthaler describes. The system possesses a scale and sensitive sensors. “That’s why it’s important that we can move the small load carriers well and easily.”
“We have high expectations for our suppliers and business partners,” says Fichthaler, spelling out ABB’s demands. “Despite a few setbacks, Schmalz has swiftly planned and executed the project.” The Schmalz system has been operating since May 2015 and the Swiss partners are completely satisfied with it. For two-shift operations at ABB, around 1,000 boxes are moved per day, five days a week. The employees took some time getting used to the new form of handling at the start. However, the advantages of the Schmalz solution have made themselves evident. “Nowadays, team members are teaching each other, and after 15 minutes of help to get started, they’re working independently. Without the lifting aids, we would no longer be efficient in our logistics center,” praises Herbert Fichthaler. A potential tube lifter failure could only be offset by considerably more staff and more stress for the employees. Meanwhile, the logistics expert remains calm. “The Schmalz solution runs reliably and with little need for maintenance.”
The investment in the vacuum tube lifter was worth it from ABB Schaffhausen’s perspective. In combination with the automatic small parts warehouse, the company sees itself as well prepared for the near future. What about future cooperation with Schmalz? Fichthaler has this to say about that: “The challenges are overcome, the systems function flawlessly. For me, results count, and together with Schmalz, we have reached our goal.”