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Case Study: Opening the Door to the Warehouse of the Future

ASSA Abloy-owned Portsystem has equipped several of Sweden's retail chains and distribution companies with industrial door and docking solutions, which, thanks to the graphical HMI solution iX, are now even smarter and easier to use.

Carefully trimmed logistics solutions are decisive for both industry and commerce. The terminals where goods are stored and transferred between different means of transportation and destinations are the hubs in the continuously ongoing process of distributing goods to factories, construction sites and stores.

Portsystem has equipped a larger number of distribution facilities with the doors that all the goods pass through. The company's customers include distribution firms such as Bring, DSV and Schenker. Among the retail chains are Elgiganten and ICA.

"We're agile," says Portsystem sales manager Leif Åman. "Our strength is that we can customize the docking systems based on our customers' wishes."

Equally important that the doors are easy to open and close is that they can keep out thieves. There are products of substantial value in the warehouses of the major consumer electronics firms.

Besides the actual doors, the docking system includes loading shelters and docks. Portsystem's unique weather-sealing – with inflatable rubber sections that seal tightly against trailers – saves energy and at the same time contributes to improved indoor environment.

"Our back-up light system, that helps drivers back into position, is another money-saver," says Leif Åman, who tells of reduced damage both to vehicles and loading docks.

New opportunities with HMI

The docking system's motors, compressors, transducers, sensors and other components are controlled by a PLC with decentralized I/O units from Beijer Electronics. Operation has previously been via buttons on a control cabinet.

The buttons are now being replaced by pressure-sensitive operator panels from Beijer Electronics' new HMI line of products based on iX. Portsystem has standardized on iX Panel T4A in the 4.3-inch format. This combination of hardware and software is Beijer Electronics' "dream team" when it comes to development of modern graphical human-machine interfaces.

"It can hardly be simpler to use than this," says Leif Åman and explains that the drivers don't even have to take off their work gloves to use the screen.

There is no doubt that he appreciates the design of the bright TFT panel. Its robust construction means long service life even in tough environments.

Technical advance provides strength

The benefits of this technical advance are numerous: "We are not tying our customers to today's technology but are instead offering a platform for growth. It's easy to add or remove functions and adapt dialog boxes on the graphical, wide-screen display."

The transportation industry has become very international. Foreign drivers can receive information in their own languages on the operator panel. This is just one example of the embedded flexibility in iX Panel T4A.

"On this operator panel, personnel receive instructions and information about what is going on now and what will be happening later. The colors and imagery displayed by iX strengthen the message."

Good collaboration

According to Leif Åman, the iX user interface was decisive in the selection of Beijer Electronics as the supplier – and for the collaborative agreement that was signed.

"No one else offers equally intelligent operator panels," he says and mentions that support and Beijer Electronics' wide range of products – which besides HMI products, also includes PLC and frequency converters, for example – was also an important factor.

Even if Portsystem is now a part of the global ASSA Abloy Group, the company is still operated in the same way as when it was family owned. The main office and production facilities are located in Habo – in a part of Sweden where cost control and getting your money's worth are strongly rooted traditions.

"At the same time as our systems have to be functional and feature-rich, the price must naturally be right," Leif Åman points out.

Substantial potential for savings

The shift to iX Panel T4A does not just entail benefits for users and developers. Peter Hasselqvist, who heads the six-member development team at Portsystem's automation and IT partner M2M Solutions, anticipates future savings by being able to phase out the PLC units in the control cabinets.

"Besides the operator panel now providing correct graphical information, the processor capacities are sufficiently good that we also have the option of controlling the docking system with C# script logic."

This means that only the decentralized I/O units would remain in the cabinets. Because the largest facilities can have up to a few hundred doors, the potential for savings is substantial.

At the same time as work is facilitated for drivers and warehouse staff, there are also major efficiency gains to be made with an all- embracing plan. The capability to use RFID tags or bar code technology in tracing goods make the door opening the outermost strategic point in the entire logistics chain.

Leif Åman enthusiastically describes the company's IT platform DockNet as a business intelligence tool. And he is also thankful for the contributions of his customers:

"Wishes from our customers are what led to this intelligent door system with the capacity to monitor, register, direct, communicate and analyze everything that happens in and around the door openings."

All information on hand

Included in the information generated are arrival times, how long doors have been open and which suppliers have used them. The information about the duration of various processes is important for increasing the flow – and consequently streamlining operations at the entire facility.

"Take a look at this," says Peter Hasselqvist and starts a visualization program on his computer that shows in detail everything that is happening at a door in real time.

DockNet also reduces the risk of door problems.

"Instead of dispatching service technicians to check all the doors twice a year, we see how they are used and can then adapt maintenance measures to actual needs."

Modular system for all

Scalable DockNet has been created according to the open SOA model and works superbly in cloud environments. Expansion in the form of fixed and customer-adapted modules around the DockNet API means that customers need not pay for functions that are not presently needed.

"This also facilitates development of add-in modules such as the one we developed for communications with hand-held computers."

The integration between the module DockNet Checkpoint and iX Panel T4A gives drivers all relevant information, and in this way handles trucks from check-in, via docking and unloading, to check-out. The central information that was more difficult to access is now easy to retrieve locally, out at the docks. The module handles for example, door bookings and the provision of information to drivers entirely automatically.

Data exchange between DockNet and other applications is naturally provided. Connections can be made to building and alarm systems from companies such as Regin, Schneider and Niscayah. Integration with systems for logistics planning is also an alternative.

"The new opportunities with iX enable us to create scaled-back solutions for smaller customers and then connect these to various cloud computing services. Using iX as a light version of DockNet in the future is being considered."

Leif Åman sees strongly growing interest in yard management.

"Before our doors were a matter for the companies that built the terminals. Now we conduct our talks with IT administrators, security heads and management groups."

Clear customer benefits

The shift to a modern HMI solution in the form of iX makes winners of everyone. Leif Åman sees the capability to offer more functions – without skyrocketing costs – as unbeatable.

"This technology shift gives Portsystem a solution that both now and in the future can be adapted to various customer companies' sizes and needs. For our customers, easily served systems entail both time savings and fewer problems, which together with an improved overview, contribute to increased competitiveness.

Written by Per Eriksson — Photography by Per Eriksson

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