Everything has a limited lifespan, including intralogistics systems. While steel and iron are less susceptible to the ravages of time, control and IT systems are rather more exposed to the effects of advancing years. Even processes themselves grow long in the tooth and require an overhaul to bring them back to cutting-edge relevance. We call this "retrofitting" – in other words, turning old into new.
The first (fully) automatic logistics centers are now a good 40 years old. At that time, the manual, human-guided storage-retrieval machines were starting to become increasingly automated through the introduction of information technology. Several rounds of modernisation have been carried out on the motors, sensor systems, and control components in the intervening years. However, when it came to the IT, most people subscribed to the "never touch a running system" principle: partly for cost reasons, but also due to the massively customised processes that were usually "hardwired in" and meant that an update was not feasible.
IT systems that had been written in Fortran or Cobol, later followed by C++, have long since ceased to be state of the art, having been replaced by JAVA or SAP-based software systems. The latter solution is particularly popular among companies looking to establish a consistent IT landscape under their own IT strategy.
So what considerations are important for a company seeking to modernise an existing IT system? Introducing a warehouse management and control system as part of a new warehouse construction project is relatively easy. The problem arises with retrofits, as there is barely a company on the planet that can afford for its dispatch or production warehouse to be taken out of action for several days – or even weeks – to allow for the upgrade to take place. Intensive and comprehensive project management is the only solution.
As in the majority of cases the work to be undertaken extends beyond pure modernisation (1:1 migration), a functional specification is absolutely essential in order that new processes or additional functions (such as a labour and resource management solution) may be introduced. Provided it is still available, the documentation for the existing installation can be used as the basis for the current processes. If the operator also wants to replace the material flow control system, the existing interfaces to the subordinate systems (PLC) will have to be documented. To be on the safe side, the communication flows can be analysed during ongoing operation.
All the necessary migration steps should also be documented in a functional specification. Depending on the complexity of the installation, a "big bang" approach (implementation in a single step) is not advisable. It can easily take 3-5 migration steps to transition from the old system to the new IT landscape so that, in an emergency, it is always possible to roll one step back.
Clear emergency scenarios (prepicking, relocation into manual warehouse, etc.) should also be defined so that appropriate measures can be taken immediately to counteract any system failures. A sufficient timescale for the migration must also be granted in the necessary and extensive project plan as the migration will be carried out during normal working hours while the warehouse is in live operation. It is important to also plan for staff training on any new processes or dialogs that are introduced as part of the modernisation project.
A migration is a huge, resource-intensive undertaking that must not be underestimated. It is only with a dedicated team, a trustworthy partner (intralogistics and/or IT) and an appropriate timescale that it is possible to "turn old into new" without any significant risk.
SSI SCHAEFER is one of the largest IT service providers in the industry with more than 1100 highly trained IT experts. Using our proprietary logistics software WAMAS®, the SSI SCHAEFER specialists develop custom, made-to-measure IT solutions for small, medium, and large intralogistics systems in every sector. SSI SCHAEFER also provides SAP EWM solutions with a dedicated team. With experience and expertise from a broad range of industries, SSI SCHAEFER is the perfect partner for retrofit projects and delivers impeccable levels of service in implementation, optimisation, and training.
Andreas Hampe has been Vice President of SAP Solutions within SSI SCHAEFER for several years. As the area manager for logistics software solutions he manages the SAP team at several company locations. For more than 30 years Andreas Hampe has been working in the logistics sector focusing on supply chain management in sales and IT development.
Andreas Wimmer is the head of product management at SSI SCHAEFER IT Solutions GmbH. He gained his degree from Graz University of Technology and has been working in the intralogistics sector for almost 20 years.
He focuses on the combination of automated systems with the according IT solutions. Within SSI SCHAEFER IT Solutions he is in charge of the design and further development of the entire IT portfolio.