Consumers who reach over to take an item from the supermarket shelf are often unaware that they would be grasping for thin air if it weren't for the services of a complex logistics chain. For produce in particular, it cannot be taken for granted that the desired item will always be available fresh. This is especially true of fruits and vegetables that have extreme requirements for transport, storage, quality assurance and distribution.
Fresh, fresher, freshest
Fresh Logistics System Mertz GmbH fulfils this challenging task with dedication while specialising in a fully certified portfolio of services from the manufacturer to the food retailer. Its brand new logistics centre in Achern, Baden, has recently become the company's new European headquarters. As an independent subsidiary of one of Europe's most successful groups of companies in the fruit retailing business, ‘Peter Vetter, The Fresh Company', Fresh Logistics operates according to the same strict principles of highest quality and reliability.
The Fresh Logistics approach is to unite the entire logistics operation in a one-stop process under a single roof. In this respect, the perfectly planned logistics centre in Achern, right next to the A5 highway, is setting new standards in the industry. Even in the initial stages, plant floorspace of 60,000 m², storage floorspace of 11,000 m², 44 docking stations for the loading and unloading of the refrigerated vehicles and a daily handling capacity of up to 10,000 pallets, make for comprehensive logistics in accordance with the stringent demands of this logistics specialist, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Trust is good - control is better
Fresh Logistics checks the quantity, temperature and quality of all the goods received. Every packaging unit is inspected closely and only goods in perfect condition are dispatched. But Fresh Logistics has ambitious goals, and a further expansion area measuring 50,000 m² is waiting to be built so that these goals can be achieved. The outlook is promising since customer demand for Fresh Logistics produce is growing strong and this is an extremely competitive market.
Fresh produce - fresh approach - fresh solutions
At Fresh Logistics, freshness is more than just a word. Freshness is the creed that pervades all divisions of the company and is expressed uncompromised throughout - from the architecture via the efficient logistics concepts all the way to administration, workflow control and monitoring. Architecturally, the attractive industrial building stands out by virtue of its clear design. ‘Form follows function' is the motto according to which architects Sami Hadi and Martin Brischle from Kehl's renowned architecture office Jürgen Grossmann have designed this functional, but aesthetically pleasing building, in which it is a pleasure to work.
This basic logistics concept has been drawn up by experienced planners in collaboration with the customer. The systems house Tectura boasts substantial experience in the logistics sector and has mapped all logistics workflows and processes for data processing, achieving a state-of-the-art software solution. The modular IT concept supports all aspects of the Fresh Logistics operation, from importing via wholesaling to processing. The latest technologies are used to support warehouse management, and Pick-by-Voice is an example of the workflow-optimised, voice-operated picking control. This relieves warehouse staff of almost all error-prone and time-consuming work steps, such as the filling out of forms, evaluation of picking lists, making of internal phone calls and other largely superfluous activities. The resulting improvements enhance the company's efficiency considerably and give it a more competitive edge.
Mobotix Secure Partner ‘SimplySolutions'
The Fresh Solutions management team chose Offenburg-based experts for networked and integrated building technology SimplySolutions as a competent partner for implementation of technical workflows in the logistics centre. SimplySolutions CEO Manfred Derr worked alongside Tectura and Fresh plant manager Kerstin Mastio to develop a control and monitoring concept unparalleled throughout Germany.
Only late in the building planning stage, it occurred to the technologically-minded CEO that the intended monitoring technology was still based on analogue PAL cameras. This could not be reconciled with demands in respect of image resolution and the integration of cameras in an IT-controlled building management system, and SimplySolutions was called on to come up with a better alternative.
Derr's concept study impressed the decision-makers so much that a decision in favour of a camera system using MOBOTIX HiRes IP video technology was taken literally at the last minute. SimpySolutions was now in a position to demonstrate what a fast and unproblematic business it is to plan, establish and commission a complex, network-based camera system. The experience of the Offenburg-based systems integrator in the field of building control and visualisation also allowed control and monitoring tasks to be interlinked, resulting in a considerable value added for Fresh Logistics at no increase in overall costs.
Manfred Derr says, "The integration of the two areas via a common user interface would not have been possible using analogue camera technology. But thanks to the superior MOBOTIX cameras with integrated image analysis and compression intelligence as well as an integrated ring buffer for the buffering of alarm images, open software interfaces and free administration and evaluation software, a solution was found to everyone's great satisfaction both in terms of price and function."
Controls and switches
In the control room high above the hall floor, control panels with flashing buttons, switches and instruments have been replaced by monitor, keyboard and mouse. All incoming information on temperature, lighting, stored goods, opening or closing of gates and so on is presented on shared user interfaces together with the camera signals. Only the camera wall comprising six flat screens, each with four split images that have a higher resolution than a conventional analogue camera, is used exclusively for monitoring purposes. This means that sixteen camera images provide constant surveillance of all areas of the building as well as selected areas in the grounds outside. SimplySolutions motto of ‘Always knowing what's going on' couldn't be implemented better.
But the really notable feature of the Fresh application is the network camera-supported loading area control by the control room manager. Because the cold storage halls are refrigerated to 8 °C, there is great interest that the loading bays can only be opened for truck loading and unloading. Open loading doors would increase the energy required for refrigeration immeasurably. The control room manager exerts control of the door with a mouse click, monitoring the process via camera images displayed, if the situation requires it. When he acknowledges the ready message, for example, the camera image of the respective loading area is displayed for approximately five seconds before the loading door is actually closed.
Nothing is lost
Knowing what is going on and enabling stored events to be loaded from one of the NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives with image, date and time and be evaluated is also a speedy and convenient process thanks to the new MOBOTIX MxControlCenter that MOBOTIX supplies free of charge as a control room solution and for video research purposes.
The work monitors provide an overview of the overall status of the logistics centre's control system either at a glance or at the click of a mouse: are the doors open, closed or locked? What is the hall temperature and humidity level? Is a missing driver in the canteen? Which refrigerated truck is at door 19? When an alarm goes off, a message box pops up automatically, reinforced by a beep and the image from the camera in which the problem has occurred. Since the entire premises are illuminated at night for security reasons, there is no need for a conventional alarm system either inside or outside the building. The cameras with their integrated image motion detection also act as a reliable alarm system.
Reserves for the future
The technology is indeed sophisticated. For security reasons, a separate Ethernet with two server cabinets and four mirrored storage units in the terabyte range is available for video monitoring purposes. In order to connect the cameras with an extension to the network in a best possible way, they are connected outdoors with two sub-distributors that are connected to the internal network using fibreglass. The enormous transmission bandwidths create a reassuring reserve capacity for future growth.
Provision has also been made for the subsequent deployment of RFID for product identification and tracking. The necessary software interfaces have already been created and are awaiting connection of the respective program module.