How Artificial Intelligence in Intralogistics is Advancing Processes
Permanent availability on the one hand, major imponderables on the other: logistics in the fashion industry faces major challenges. The Keller Group is considered one of the pioneers when it comes to warehouse planning. The family-owned company based in Baden-Württemberg has well-known customers in the fashion world.
Many companies in the fashion industry are increasingly relying on auto-store solutions. However, logistics still doesn’t work without people, and that is increasingly becoming a problem. For new locations, it is becoming ever more critical to find qualified employees, says Mathieu Meyer, Head of Consulting at Keller Group, in an interview with the dfv trade magazine Textilwirtschaft. A now published analysis by the Bertelsmann Foundation’s “Job Monitor”, for which around 45 million online job advertisements from 2019 to June 2023 were evaluated, does show a glimmer of hope: in 162 of 401 counties in Germany, warehouse logistics is the most sought-after profession. Nevertheless, companies see a need for action. The Keller Group relies on the following strategy: more IT support in warehouse processes and more standardization. “It must be made as easy as possible for people. That starts with making sure the barcode is always in the same place.”
In the future, things won’t be possible without artificial intelligence, says Managing Director Alexander Hewel, son of owner Stephan Hewel. In order to maintain Germany as a logistics location, as much as possible must be automated. AI can help with object and error recognition, but also with training new employees or temporary workers. Although artificial intelligence is not yet very relevant to Keller Group’s current projects, the company has been working with it for around five years. “Many systems are trained via AI in order to stabilize processes. The more automated and standardized the processes in logistics are, the more effective they are,” says Meyer. “We are just at the beginning and there are definitely things that are not so well received,” Hewel knows. Augmented reality is one such example.
RFID not Always Applicable
Many find the glasses simply “uncomfortable.” In addition, “they are expensive, and productivity is not increased as a result of using them.” He also takes a critical view of RFID. “It was a huge thing years ago, but this technology is not always applicable.” RFID can cover the entire supply chain all the way to the consumer, he says, but it requires keeping the chain very rigid and investing a lot of money. “We need things that are conducive to practice.”
In recent years, collections in the textile industry have become much more complex, and IT infrastructures have grown. For this, warehouses are often too small, processes inefficient and therefore speeds too slow. Another economic factor is the issue of sustainability. Apart from the issue of returns, this also requires reducing shipments in general. For example, Hewel doesn’t think much of same-day deliveries – with the exception of medical or nutritional products. “We all have to ask ourselves how much of a burden we are on the environment.”
Breuninger, for example, bundles orders and usually ships only one package. The logistics center has to be planned accordingly. At Olymp, on the other hand, these considerations have led to the automated small parts warehouse being combined with pocket sorters for the first time in order to be able to deliver the articles to the stores already pre-sorted.
And yet, they say, it’s the rule rather than the exception that when customers order several items, they receive three or more packages, most of which are completely oversized given the contents. Shipping air, the two managers say, is a real problem. But there is a background to all this: “If you take the range from the smallest to the largest product as a basis, it takes about 40 different carton sizes to be kept on hand,” Mayer says.
On top of that: all packaging stations have to be equipped with these 40 different cartons. “However, the automatic box erectors can usually only handle two sizes.” The consequence: often air is shipped to be on the safe side. In addition, many providers would have concluded contracts with their service providers on the number of packages to be shipped and not on the volume. Size therefore makes no difference to price.
If changes in carton sizes are difficult, then at least the packaging could be used multiple times. “Reprocessing old cartons is extremely costly,” says Hewel. But the fashion industry, at least in the B2B sector, has an advantage here.