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DGS Poland, part of the international William Demant group, manufactures hearing aids, bone implants and devices supporting hearing-related medicine. Precise products and their components require equally precise care when moving goods through the warehouse.

DGS has been operating in Poland for several years. The plant near Szczecin manufactures digital hearing aids for brands such as Oticon, Bernafon and Sonic, as well as diagnostic equipment for GSI, Interacoustics and Maico.  

One of the key areas in the supply chain of DGS Poland is warehousing. The task is not as easy as the company’s products are very small and fragile.

Some years ago an automated distribution hub was added to the company’s production facility in Mierzyn. From there, finished products are shipped to over 130 countries around the world. The facility also serves as a production warehouse.

Packline especially for DGS

Replacing a manual warehouse with paper material lists with an automated solution and increasing productivity several times with a future reserve is the key objective of the changes. 

The main functionality is to track material with StUnits and to extract material from the manual warehouse in combination with automation and Logimats. Among the most interesting features is packline (assembly station). This is a pre-shipment packaging module developed specifically for DGS.

On 4,400 sq.m. of the distribution hub, almost 2,900 pallet spaces, 22,000 mini-load containers and 600 carousel containers are available for 110,000 warehouse indices. 

Every day about 13,500 lines for sale and 1,200 lines for production are picked, manually and with the use of pick-by-light and pick-to-tote systems. 

A large number of operations, the small size of the handled components and the need to label all the material before it is released for production are the challenges faced by the distribution hub staff. The basis for the functioning of the warehouse is 3,000 containers, which leave their shelves every day.

Distribution hub controlled by a modified WMS

Varying order volumes, from individual items to tens of thousands of finished products, is a major problem. Support is provided by the WMS system.

Before implementation and visual analysis were performed and the processes and predicted warehouse operation were mapped. On the basis of the information gathered, solutions and changes were developed to meet all the requirements of the future user. For example, the WMS provider has significantly modified the system.

First of all, it has been adapted to support a variety of picking and packaging methods, depending on who the final customer of the product is. The order picking can be done automatically or manually. It may be necessary to assemble all components in one set or to ship the individual components of the set individually. Sometimes it is necessary to get data such as serial numbers while at other times retrieved products do not require this. The number of combinations of available goods release options has resulted in the system being partly tailor-made to meet specific needs.

Reduced pick-error rates

One of the most interesting examples of modifications is the adaptation of the process of optimizing the filling of picking containers to the characteristic requirements of the industry. Hearing aid sets are picked as separate components and then assembled. Throughout the entire picking process, both the components themselves and the assembled sets are transported by means of conveyors in standard-sized plastic containers. And the challenge here was because the volume of the sets is different after assembly than before and the logistics process forces a certain number of finished products to fit into the same picking containers in which the individual components were delivered to the assembly station.

The individual components, such as the hearing aid itself, accessories, instructions in the selected language, outer packaging, etc., are delivered in containers to the assembly station by means of conveyors. This is where the individual elements are assembled into sets, serial numbers or batch numbers are taken from key products by barcode scanning, and labels are printed for the finished products.

Assembling individual sets requires step-by-step assembly instructions to be displayed on the computer screen, and often also a picture of the finished product. All team leaders have access to Astro M2 (M2 is an Astro WMS user interface), which e.g. allows determining who is working on which package, what is its processing status, location etc. Paper lists were replaced with work on terminals. The operator does not need to search for material, as the system indicates where the material is located. The number of errors and mistaken materials has decreased.

Thanks to the implementation of the WMS system, the OTIF (on time and in full) ratio is on average 99.47%. The pick-error rate is 0.5%, i.e. statistically, one picking error per 200 orders.

Image: Mecalux

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