PLANMECA: Smooth operations and short payback time thanks to an automated warehouse

Planmeca is one of the world’s leading dental equipment manufacturers. The Finnish high-tech company has now been successfully using Rocla’s automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in its Helsinki warehouse for six years.

Rocla AGV at Planmeca

The AGV system used by Planmeca consists of two Rocla AWT-VNA (automated warehouse truck-very narrow aisle) AGVs supported by the Rocla MetRo warehouse management system (WMS). Rocla has tailored the AGVs to meet Planmeca’s needs, for example by applying advanced mast technology. The vehicles are equipped with design covers matching Planmeca’s brand identity. The Planmeca warehouse in which the AGVs operate shares the same space with the tooling and painting units. The environment is quite challenging. The aisles between the shelves are narrow and shelves are quite tall: the maximum lift height is 10 metres. The warehouse has 1,800 pallet places and Planmeca uses a number of different pallet types and sizes. “When the AGVs pick up the incoming pallets from the conveyor the system already has information about the size of the pallet, the weight of the product, the FIFO date, and it also knows how many units are on the pallet. Based on this information the system makes a decision about the optimal shelf space allocation”, Teemu Silander, development engineer at Planmeca Oy, explains.

Smooth operations

On a busy day the AGVs are moving between the conveyor, shelves and the tooling and painting units almost all the time.

“They usually move the pallets about 50–70 times a day. The MetRo WMS automatically allocates the jobs for the AGVs, but of course the system also allows the priority of the jobs to be manually altered if needed”, Silander says. For navigation inside the warehouse the AGVs use laser triangulation, with the aid of reflectors installed on the shelves and walls. Most of the transfers are handled automatically by the AGVs but the vehicles can also be controlled manually by using a remote controller attached to the vehicle.

“In the warehouse we have one shelf where we store the products, which are not part of manufacturing process, and when lifting materials on that shelf we control the AGVs manually. Manual control can also be used when the truck identifies an obstacle on its route and stops to wait for the route to be cleared”, Teemu Silander explains.

Intelligent warehouse management

Planmeca uses Rocla’s MetRo warehouse management system to control, monitor and optimize the movement and storage of the materials within the warehouse and production. Job orders to the AGVs are sent from the MetRo workstations wirelessly.

“Metro works seamlessly with our ERP system and it is easy to check the stock balance as we have two systems to compare,” Silander says.

Very short payback time

Both Silander and Tomi Mikkola, the production and purchasing manager at Planmeca, consider the AGV system to have brought several benefits to the company. When people working at the tooling and painting units feed an order into the MetRo system, it hands the job out to one of the AGVs. The AGV then picks up the pallet from the shelf and delivers the materials to the processing unit in a few minutes: “no need to call around to get a forklift driver to do the work,” Silander says with a smile on his face. The AGV system is easy to operate and it does not require a lot of maintenance.

“Batteries need to be topped up with water regularly – in addition to that you only have to wipe the dust off every now and then. Rocla does a scheduled on-site maintenance visit three times a year, and that’s all,” Silander explains.

The main reasons for the investment in the AGV system were lower staff costs and improvements in logistics efficiency.

“There has been a significant reduction in both stock count discrepancies and lost units. The payback time has been closer to two than three years, Tomi Mikkola,” who was involved in the acquisition process of the AGV system at Planmeca, adds.

Rocla’s warehouse management system at Planmeca