Finding a warehouse management system (WMS) capable of mapping the diverse processes used at SBB’s multilingual sites in a standard solution – this was the chief requirement and the biggest challenge in implementing a warehouse management system at SBB. PROLAG®World has surpassed all expectations with a significant streamlining of processes driven by a real-time cloud solution.
The starting point at SBB
The Passenger Transportation division at SBB has over 20 warehouse locations in Switzerland, the largest three in Olten in the German-speaking region with a capacity of approximately 55,000 storage slots, in French-speaking Yverdon with 50,000 slots and in Biel/Bienne with 37,000 slots. The company planned to implement PROLAG®World at these locations and at a further three external warehouses. SBB handles around 1,600,000 delivery items, 360,000 stock putaway transactions and 1,250,000 retrieval and relocation transactions annually across all their sites. There are over 195,000 different articles in storage at the various warehousing facilities. The central PROLAG®World instance for all sites is an SQL Server 2016 database with Windows Server 2016 as the operating system. Communication with the ERP system SAP® takes place over an asynchronous SAP Web interface configured using the PROLAG®World converter, CIM’s in-house interface tool. This means that purchase orders and delivery orders can be corrected synchronously. PROLAG®World was implemented in German, French and Italian to ensure easy handling in all three language territories.
Streamlining processes with a standard solution
“SBB had two key project criteria which presented us with major challenges in terms of implementing the warehouse management software”, explains Markus Proschmann, project manager at CIM. These were the diversity of processes within the company and the task of implementing a real-time cloud solution in a partially public WiFi network. SBB had previously worked with printed picking lists that were individually optimised for each site. Thanks to their many years of experience, the SBB team responsible for the specification phase was able to provide valuable support and input to create a standardised solution which could be used across all sites, according to Proschmann.
The aim of the project was to standardise and simplify processes so that all of SBB’s warehouses could be mapped in the PROLAG®World standard solution. A further requirement was for PROLAG®World to be available in German, French and Italian in order to comply with statutory requirements.
“Thanks to CIM’s excellent consultancy services and the broad spectrum covered by the PROLAG®World standard solution, we managed to map almost 100 percent of our processes in the standard without any need for individual programing”, says Christian Brombacher, project manager at SBB. Stock putaway, order picking, shipping, internal distribution and relocation processes were harmonised over the company’s various sites. “Because our processes are mapped in the standard, we can be confident that we have a fully upgradeable and future-proof system. This is not always the case with a custom solution”, continues Brombacher.
The switch from traditional printed lists to paperless working has additional benefits for SBB. Lists no longer have to be printed in several languages: instead, the system language can be adjusted to suit individual user needs. Using real-time data provides greater transparency in the warehouse. Pickers are required to scan each item during picking to confirm that they have retrieved the correct item and quantity. This considerably reduces picking errors and improves productivity.
Cloud solution in public WiFi network presents a major challenge
“The majority of SBB’s sites have direct connectivity to the 80 train stations where there is already an IT infrastructure in place with free public WiFi. The aim was to use this existing structure in order to save costs”, explains Markus Proschmann from CIM. Mobile devices and printers were configured to connect automatically to the ‘SBB-FREE’ network. Simplified security and management of the mobile devices is provided by SOTI MobiControl. Remote access through Citrix allows data to be accessed on any device, from any location – for the purpose of failure analysis, for example.
Staff at SBB’s warehouse carry mobile printers so that they can print labels on the go without having to walk back and forth to stationary printers. The printers use Zebra’s WebSocket function. The identification of the printers in a public WiFi network and assignment of printer to picker is carried out by scanning the serial number at log-in. Once the user has logged in, the barcode on the printer is scanned. The barcode is then allocated to the serial number of the relevant device so that the printer can be clearly identified and assigned to the picker.
Users enter their user name and password as usual at the mobile device to log in in German, French or Italian to CIM’s mobile app, PROLAG®Go. A barcode is scanned in order to assign the mobile device to the user. As well a host of functions specifically designed to meet SBB’s requirements, there is also an option for defining which users are authorised to work with which mobile devices.
In addition to the printers and mobile devices, PROLAG®World manages twelve Kardex shuttles at the pilot site in Biel/Bienne. Communication is complex since the shuttles vary considerably in age, with older shuttles in use alongside more state-of-the-art solutions. “There were a lot of different requirements to consider in terms of communication but we managed to juggle them all in the end – despite some initial scepticism”, explains Markus Proschmann smiling.
“Yes, to be honest, we were a little sceptical to start with as to whether the cloud solution could really work in real time”, says Christian Brombacher, “But our doubts were quickly dispelled by the team at CIM”. He cites the label printing process as the best example: PROLAG®World checks the content of the label, generates the data and transmits it over a VPN connection to the PROLAG®World server in Munich. The data is processed by the system and sent back via VPN to the printer where the label is then printed. The entire process takes just a few milliseconds with no delay to the workflow.
Results exceed expectations
“Thanks to the professional collaboration and flexible standard solution provided by CIM, we’ve been able to achieve the desired optimisations at all levels”. The introduction of batch management and expiry date management at all sites has been key, according to Brombacher: an automatic e-mail reminder is sent out by PROLAG®World 30 days before an article expires. The system always reserves the article with the earliest expiry date, and employees are prompted to scan the article to confirm that they have picked the right one. Simple functions like these lead to significant waste reduction and substantial cost savings.
The ability to select a logistics centre after logging in to a mobile device or workstation is another of the user-friendly features implemented at SBB. Previously, users were authorised for a single logistics centre or site. Administrators responsible for multiple sites required a separate log-in for each site. This meant logging in and out of the system when switching sites. Now each administrator has only one access account and can select the relevant logistics centre after logging in, saving time as well as notably enhancing usability.
“We’re delighted that SBB’s project management team are so happy with the outcome of the project and also with the high level of acceptance by staff”, concludes Markus Proschmann. “Thanks to PROLAG®World, we now have greater transparency in our logistics processes and are able to meet the high standards required for internal production processes in a professional manner” says Christof Spielmann, head of logistics Switzerland at SBB.
With PROLAG®World, SBB is now optimally equipped for future tasks and challenges such as integrating automated storage systems and LISTA lifts, not to mention going live in several other locations in the near future.
About Swiss Federal Railways (SBB)
Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is the national railway company of Switzerland and has its headquarters in Bern.