Innovative strength, a down-to-earth culture and strong commitment are the values that have made WITRON the company that it is today: worldwide one of the market leaders in the planning and realisation of highly dynamic warehouse and order picking systems in the field of intralogistics. A case study by Leuze.
WITRON is constantly working on developing even better, even more cost-efficient logistics solutions for its customers, to make them even more successful. In the area of automation and further optimisation of warehouse logistics, the selection of suitable, competent and innovative partners also plays a decisive role for WITRON. WITRON relies on creative solutions from Leuze electronic not only in its own production and warehouse logistics. The company also realises efficient safety solutions for its customers together with optical sensor manufacturer Leuze electronic. This includes the use of “Smart Process Gating” (SPG), a process developed by Leuze electronic that enables access guarding with material transport to be designed more compactly, simpler and safer.
When man and machine meet in a technical environment, it must be possible to stop machine and system parts within a fraction of a second. “The safety of all persons who work in one of the many logistics centres of our customers around the world – whether in industry, retail or service – is the asset most worthy of protection,” explains Stephan Schmid, experienced project engineer in the area of development and control technology at WITRON. This means: appropriate areas are equipped by WITRON with safety devices or fencing that meets the applicable standards and norms so as to eliminate accident risk before it can even occur.
But because it is not possible to completely fence in all areas in which man and machine meet in a networked, mechanised system, WITRON is working on, eg: conveyor lines with safety light curtains. These must reliably distinguish between people and merchandise.
The Classic Safety Solution
Especially in intralogistics and in the automotive and packaging industries, affected areas must be safeguarded by optical safety sensors. To unambiguously recognize transported goods as they approach a protective field and to bridge this for passage of the goods at the proper time, muting processes with signal-emitting muting sensors were used across the industry in the past. These sensors were installed in addition to the safety light curtains and enabled pallets and transported goods to move in and out without interruption. In front of and behind the safety light curtain, however, quarters are usually a bit tight.
The additional use of bridging sensors often required more space, leading to an even less-compact system design. The installation and service effort for the additional set-up, alignment and re-alignment of these sensors also resulted in additional work. “This led WITRON to search for a solution that combines process reliability, system availability and easier operation with one another,” explains Schmid.
At that time, Leuze electronic did not yet have a practical answer to this requirement, but did already have a project idea: “Smart Process Gating” – based on its MLC safety light curtains. Leuze electronic presented this to its key customer WITRON in a very early development phase. WITRON was quickly convinced of this idea and accompanied the creative Leuze development in numerous practical tests. “Smart Process Gating” was then put through its paces at and by WITRON on its test tracks in its company headquarters in Parkstein in the Upper Palatinate region where it was optimized together in detail. “The result is impressive: a clever solution was created that combines the requirements for safety at work with high process reliability and system availability,” explains Josef Apfelbeck, key account manager and specialist for intralogistics at Leuze electronic.
With “Smart Process Gating” a new process was created that enables muting processes to be executed more easily, more compactly and more stably. With the SPG principle developed on the basis of its MLC safety light curtains, it is possible to completely forego the previously necessary signal-emitting sensors. Conveyor systems can thus be made more compact. During the operating phase, the risk of misalignment or damage to the sensors is also eliminated as are the costs for their maintenance and servicing. The availability of the entire safety device is thereby increased and other practically oriented risks reduced.
With SPG, the first muting signal comes from the process control (PLC), while the second muting signal is generated by the protective field itself. Smart Process Gating requires a controlled material flow so that the necessary PLC control signals are made available in the expected time window. The MLC 530 safety light curtain variant with Smart Process Gating is TÜV-certified for safety.
In combination with a standard control, a performance level PL d can be achieved, which is sufficient for many applications in intralogistics. With a safety control, performance level PL e is also achievable.
Nothing Is Possible Without
Leuze electronic and WITRON are linked by a long-standing customer-supplier relationship that goes back to the early 90s and is based on a trustworthy collaboration with mutual respect. “Many hours of hard development work, joint project planning, discussions, testing on the material locks of test conveyor lines with WITRON as a strong partner at our side have led to an impressive result,” says Apfelbeck proudly. Schmid explains: “Attractive for WITRON are, above all, the stability and high availability of the safety device – all with less work. This is confirmed by our on-site teams and by our customers alike.” Since the fall of 2016, WITRON has used Smart Process Gating and this new technology as a standard solution in all of its projects worldwide – in both the retail sector as well as in industry and the service field. Systems designed by WITRON with SPG as safety devices can now be found in France as well as in Norway or the USA.
Like everything that leaves the factory in the Upper Palatinate destined for end customers, the safety modules were tested on the test track in Parkstein by WITRON. WITRON also uses “Smart Process Gating” for its own internal training purposes as well as other sensor solutions from Leuze electronic: whether AMS measuring sensors in WITRON’s high-bay warehouse or the BCL 300 bar code reader for identifying codes. A recent addition in the area of high-bay storage devices at WITRON is the Leuze DDLS 500 data transmission photoelectric sensor with EtherCAT interface.
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