“The AS/RS has marked a before and after in our way of working”
An interview with Mikel Jaureguizar, Normagrup
Electrical equipment manufacturer Normagrup has turned to technology and automation to boost its growth. In Asturias, Spain, the company has a large production plant where it manufactures, stores, and distributes its products to customers in more than 50 countries. Most of Normagrup’s production and logistics processes are automated in order to improve throughput, speed, and safety. We spoke with Mikel Jaureguizar, General Manager of Normagrup, about how technology has sped up the logistics operations of this leading Spanish company in the emergency lighting market.
Mecalux interviews Mikel Jaureguizar, General Manager of Normagrup, who explains how technology has sped up the logistics operations of this leading Spanish company in the emergency lighting sector.
How would you describe Normagrup’s supply chain?
As manufacturers of electrical equipment, we produce four types of products: technical and architectural lighting, emergency lighting, fire detection systems, and technical units for hospitals. At our production plant, we cover all the manufacturing stages for these products, including the creation of plastic and aluminum injection molds, metal machining, coating, electronic circuit assembly lines, and automated assembly lines. This entire industrial process demands very complex logistics operations, which begin when our ERP system notifies us automatically of the raw materials required for manufacturing.
Once we receive the material we need, Easy WMS from Mecalux identifies the goods that arrive at the warehouse. After generating the identification labels, the material is put in standard-size plastic boxes to facilitate our internal logistics processes. These boxes are the ones stored in the automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) from Mecalux. The system consists of stacker cranes for boxes that automatically slot the coded boxes following instructions from the Easy WMS warehouse management software. In addition to being coded, the boxes are also weighed, which adds value to our business.
Why is the weight of each box so important for your day-to-day operations?
Knowing the weight of the boxes sent by our suppliers enables us to precisely calculate the internal consumption of each product. One of the problems we had before was that the stock information recorded was inaccurate; that is, the amounts entered into the system hadn’t been consumed as such. Since storing the boxes in the AS/RS, our ERP system — which also manages production — informs Easy WMS of the exact material it needs for each production batch. The Mecalux WMS is responsible for supplying the necessary material to the production lines and controlling product traceability in real time.
If they gave me my money back for returning the system, I’d never do it.
How are products dispatched from the AS/RS for boxes?
Before the production lines start running, the manufacturing order is sent to Easy WMS so that the miniload system dispatches the raw material we need for production. The software organizes dispatches following the FIFO (first in, first out) method. In each aisle of the AS/RS, stacker cranes remove boxes from their locations and place them on an outgoing conveyor. AIV (autonomous intelligent vehicle) robots then retrieve the products and bring them to the pick stations. There, the operators have everything they need to work and don’t have to concern themselves with going to get the materials — they always receive them systematically at their workstation. Nor do they have to worry about product traceability: the WMS controls this automatically.
How has the warehouse management software benefited your logistics operations?
The software has brought us a number of major advantages. First, logically, is automated management of our logistics processes, i.e., organizing the storage of all the boxes automatically. The second benefit is traceability — knowing where each box is, what material it contains, when it was purchased, whom it was bought from, and when it was used. The third benefit is stock management. Monitoring the exact weight of each box assures us that the units are there and that we won’t find an empty box. The fourth benefit is the order maintained throughout the facility. The software is configured to place each box in its location without error and as efficiently as possible.
What were Normagrup’s logistics operations like before?
They were a bit chaotic. We had four automated assembly lines, which would all request material at the same time. This resulted in many people looking for products in the warehouse. Although we tried to coordinate with production, there were errors and setbacks with stock. For example, the lines might receive less product than they requested. There was also disarray — products stored in the wrong locations — and consequently, it was difficult to control product traceability. All of this caused us a lot of problems. As our growth rate rose, we realized we were beginning to experience quite a few management limitations and inefficiencies.
What improvements have you seen with the implementation of technology in your logistics infrastructure?
Fewer operators looking for products and increased productivity are probably the two most evident improvements. I’d also stress order. The AS/RS has enabled us to organize our goods more effectively and has given us full product traceability. Plus, it’s eliminated errors. Automation means we don’t have to stop production due to a lack of materials. If that were to occur, it would have a very high cost for our business. On the one hand, we’d have to change the production line suddenly and look for an immediate solution. And on the other, we’d be forced to contact the customer to tell them that we couldn’t deliver the order. Fortunately, since we put the AS/RS into operation, these kinds of errors don’t happen anymore. Everything works as planned, and this improves our image, both internally, where we’re satisfied by the work we do, and in the eyes of our customers, because we can provide them with the service they deserve.
In short, the investment paid off.
Absolutely. Beyond the initial investment or the amortization of the AS/RS, I always said to myself, we need to forget about the numbers and analyze how it would work to our advantage: from the disorganized materials to the problems we’d have when stopping a production order because a box couldn’t be located. In the end, the intangibles become so tangible that they’re no longer questioned. If we hadn’t chosen this type of automated storage system, it would be impossible to work in this facility right now. Because of the space — since, evidently, a system such as this optimizes your storage volume — and also because of the speed and flexibility it gives you. I’m not going to deny it; I’m a huge fan of this solution. Going back would be madness. If they gave me my money back for returning the system, I’d never do it. The incorporation of the AS/RS has marked a before and after in our way of working.
What does the future hold for Normagrup?
It’s clear to us that we’ll continue to grow, as we have over the past 40 years. Our logistics needs will grow as well, so, in the short term, we’ll have to add more warehouses and install automated storage systems, since we know this will benefit us. In the long term, we plan to automate our internal logistics operations in our different facilities. That will be a future investment, but the wheels are already turning.