Efficient warehouse automation with SAP EWM and PLC

Supporting automated warehouses with the SAP EWM solution

Overview

Due to the dynamic development of e-commerce, the traffic to be managed by warehouses is also increasing strongly in the European Union. At the same time, lead times are getting shorter, typical order profiles are changing, and accuracy is becoming more and more important. The above factors have recently led to the spread of automated warehouses, and according to forecasts, this trend will strengthen.

SAP’s warehouse management solution, EWM (Extended Warehouse Management) can connect to the PLC systems of automatic material handling machines, such as loading cranes or automated packaging systems, standardly, using the MFS (Material Flow System) solution. This offers an opportunity to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the warehouse processes for all production and manufacturing companies that are currently using the SAP EWM solution and are planning to automate their existing or new, traditional or narrow-aisle high-bay warehouses. In addition, it is also worth discovering the advantages inherent in warehouse automation for those companies that do not yet use the SAP EWM solution.

Onespire Ltd. in cooperation with Modim Ltd. is capable of fully creating and implementing automated warehouse management solutions for various industries, including pharmaceutical, automotive and machinery or food companies, in order to manage raw materials and finished products more efficiently.

The main advantages of automated warehouses

Warehouse automation offers numerous advantages:

  • lower labor and operating costs
  • minimizing the possibility for human error
  • lowering the chance of accidents and incidents
  • increasing warehouse performance
  • minimizing delivery errors
  • lesser storage and labor-related space requirements
  • reducing inventory damage and loss
  • optimal use of resources
  • higher customer satisfaction
  • increased efficiency and productivity
  • better inventory control
  • more and more accurate data are available
  • more accurate operation.

What is a PLC?

PLC is an abbreviation of ‘Programmable Logic Controller’. A PLC is a small controller that regulates and controls electrical or electrically operated processes. Its central unit is a microprocessor, but it cannot be considered a computer.

The PLC can be programmed according to its name, and the logical connections stored in it can be rewritten. Programmable Logic Controllers have standardized inputs and outputs, are characterized by simple construction and reliable operation.

With the help of the PLC, different machines and equipment can be operated in a warehouse in a way that their management is supervised by the SAP EWM system. These machines can be various conveyor systems, loading machines, self-driving forklifts, picking devices or packaging devices and such.

Introduction to the SAP Material Flow System (MFS)

The Material Flow System (MFS) component built into SAP EWM is used for direct management of the material flow systems of automated warehouses. It allows the connection of an automated warehouse to the SAP warehouse management solution (EWM) without the need for additional warehouse management software. MFS can also be set up so that individual warehouse tasks are divided into smaller parts. These are transmitted step by step to the programmable logic controller (PLC) responsible for execution. The handling units (HU) can thus be placed and stored without the use of another software system.

SAP EWM MFS provides a modern and comprehensive solution for the automation and most efficient operation of warehouses, including the following capabilities:

  • Automatic recognition of control units, using scanners.
  • Automatic diversion of inappropriate control units (in case of contour error, overweight, recognizability).
  • Fully automated putaway, with any number of intermediate steps.
  • Processing errors reported by devices.
  • Considering the capacities of communication points, conveyor belt segments and resources.
  • Reduction of empty runs of stackers by combining tasks.
  • “Goods to people” picking principle.
  • Parallel, two-way telegram-based communication between SAP EWM and PLCs.

Connection options of SAP EWM and PLC systems

The two systems can be connected in two different ways, using a middleware, or directly. These solutions can provide different possibilities.

Using direct connection between the SAP EWM and PLC, the following advantages can be expected:

  • Lower license and operating costs.
  • More tightly integrated material flow system.
  • The use of SAP functions also in terms of material flow management.
  • Direct connection with PLC devices.

When connecting the SAP EWM and PLC using a middleware solution, the following benefits can be expected:

  • Increased security through isolated networks.
  • Minimization of PLC program errors.
  • Outsourcing the distribution of tasks.
  • Processing of SAP telegrams in higher-level languages.

Introducing Modim Ltd.

MODIM was founded in 2010, its main activities are related to various automation tasks.

The company deals with the application of the most modern technologies through continuous training and development.

Their services also include the design, instrumentation and implementation of various automation and control systems. Through our cooperation, we are able to provide comprehensive and professional services to our customers in Hungary and abroad in the field of planning, implementation and maintenance of SAP EWM PLC solutions.

For more information please visit Modim’s website!

Onespire Ltd.’s automated warehouse model

To demonstrate our automation capabilities of the SAP EWM solution, in January 2022 we built a functional, small-scale warehouse with Modim Ltd., serving both demonstration and testing purposes. With the help of the model, we can simulate the various processes executed in real warehouse situations (automatic in-warehouse putaway, retrieval and re-storage) by directly connecting our SAP EWM system to an industrial PLC, as well as by performing inbound and outbound and internal inventory movements.

Overview of the putaway and shipping processes

Let’s take a look at the main steps of the initial putaway and storage process in a warehouse model controlled by the SAP warehouse management solution, which would take place in the exact same way in a real, large-scale warehouse:

Creating handling units

The received quantity is packed into Handling Units to map the physical packages in the SAP EWM solution and enable movement.

Receiving goods, accounting, labeling and creating the warehouse task

After creating the handling units, they are imported into the system, with this step a stock is created in the SAP EWM module. Simultaneously, the label of the handling unit is also created, and the storage task to the transfer tray is automatically created. The identification barcode for the handling unit is read by a permanently installed scanner on the transfer tray, and at the same time the information flow between the PLC and SAP EWM systems begins.

SAP EWM PLC modell Onepsire

Communication between SAP EWM and PLC in further warehousing processes

The PLC sends a message to the SAP EWM system containing the handling unit identifier, and as a result the warehouse management module determines the ideal destination location, taking into account the characteristics of the product and the warehouse. In parallel, the EWM sends the task to the PLC for execution. As soon as the putaway has been completed, the PLC sends a confirmation message to the SAP warehouse management solution.

In case of picking, the process is repeated in the same way, only in the opposite direction. That is why it is so great and useful that the EWM system can communicate directly with the PLC.

So, in an automated warehouse managed and operated by an SAP EWM module, the PLC can be directly connected to the SAP ERP solution, so there is no need to install additional systems for the process. This has numerous advantages, no additional licenses are needed, operating costs can be reduced, and in case of new requirements, there is no need to modify or develop the middleware system.

Our company’s automated SAP warehouse management solution

Automated warehouses significantly ease the issues of businesses which can be connected to labor shortages. For example, it is a particularly difficult task to find experienced forklift drivers, and due to the large number of vacant positions, the performance of warehouses sometimes falls far below optimal. The roller tracks and automatic forklifts of the automated warehouses significantly reduce, or where appropriate, can completely eliminate such issues. The initial larger investment pays off in the longer term, which can be easily calculated based on the labor costs of the given warehouse and the loss of income caused by labor fluctuation and shortages.

Our company, Onespire Ltd., has succeeded in introducing this automated warehouse management solution for the first and so far the only time in Hungary.

Automation is an increasingly preferred solution in warehouse operation these days, why not operate it simply and efficiently from the SAP EWM system?

SAP EWM PLC modell Onepsire

Overview of our SAP EWM warehouse automation services

Our company, Onespire Ltd. in cooperation with Modim Ltd. is capable to implement the entire spectrum of warehouse automation, including the following activities:

1. EWM process survey

Determining the number, type and placement of physical PLCs.
Designing the architecture.
Mapping the integration points.
Planning the division of tasks between EWM and PLC.

2. Implementation of warehouse automation

Procurement of PLC devices.
Implementation of the EWM process.
Performing EWM MFS settings.
Designing the network architecture.
Executing PLC programming.
Completing the integration tasks.
Installing PLC devices.

3. Going live and support

Integrated operation of EWM MFS and PLC during live operation.
Long-term system support.

Do you have any questions about the SAP EWM PLC controlled warehouse automation solution? Send a message to our experts!

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Efficient warehouse automation with SAP EWM and PLC

Author: Péter Pásztor

SAP Warehouse and Transport Logistics Competence Centre

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