Industrie 4.0 Digitisation of Sheet-Metal Logistics

Author / Editor: Sabine Welp / M.A. Frauke Finus

Sheet-metal processing firms are facing competitive pressure and increasingly customer-specific mass production. Industry 4.0 is an obvious means of optimising processes, but is no cure-all. Medium-sized businesses should be taking steps to become familiar with this topic. Fast and proven results can be achieved by, for example, digitisation in the logistics of B- and C-parts.

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With Arims mobile, users in production and assembly as well as in purchase and management have an immediate overview of all articles and deliveries in their Bossard logistics systems.
With Arims mobile, users in production and assembly as well as in purchase and management have an immediate overview of all articles and deliveries in their Bossard logistics systems.
(Bild: Bossard)

Although many firms know the purchase price of their connecting elements, they do not know the entire operating costs. In fact, around half of the individual parts of a product consist of these B- and C-parts. According to surveys by the Bossard Group, the price of these mass articles amounts to around only 15 % of the connecting costs. The remaining 85 % is used for development, purchasing, testing, inventory rising, production and logistics. If, however, a component cannot be installed during production because it is either missing, of inadequate quality or is faulty, there is a risk of delays or even a production stoppage. An article with a value of only a few cents then unleashes an exponential multiplication of the costs. On top of that, there is the possible negative bonus of loss of reputation due to a missed deadline.

It is a platitude that only those are successful, and remain so, who can fulfil the expectations of the customers and of the market while offering the best quality for the lowest price and the shortest delivery time. But harmonising these requirements with highly efficient manufacturing production is as unsolvable as squaring the circle. The first step towards Industry 4.0 can therefore begin with a detailed analysis of small component supply, starting with purchasing and going on to storage and production and the delivery of parts to the direct production environment.

C-parts – the more you have in store, the better?

Stocking up with C-parts purely on the basis of the cheapest purchase price in each case and without taking into consideration current and future requirements? With today’s short-lived trends, this is a pointless procedure. For as soon as the pattern of orders changes, not only is the invested capital frozen, but warehouse resources which could, under certain circumstances, be urgently required are tied up. In contrast, a new kind of factory, the so-called Smart Factory, is distinguished by start-to-finish optimised production environments. In these flexible production lines, cost-effective mass production of even the most complex individual products to individual customers’ specifications is possible.

This depends on intelligent logistics supported by IT systems. Such logistics ensure agility at every phase of production and with a fraction of the setting-up work previously acquired. For many manufacturing firms continue to spend much time on putting their own efforts into ordering B- and C-parts, filling up their warehouses, and organising the procurement processes with the various suppliers. A reduction of the overall costs and an increase in productivity are urgently required in these areas – but this is only possible if production operations are lean and, above all, “smart”.


The “Smart-Factory” approach used by Bossard and KVT-Fastening consisted initially of a comprehensive examination of the entire logistics management – starting with supply, going on to the consolidation of suppliers, and finally reaching the operation and maintenance of the systems. Personnel-intensive working steps were generally automated. If production information for a product is available in machine-readable form, this can be integrated, which enables path optimisation through the production installation and better control. In the warehouse and directly on the production line, intelligent C-part containers provide more transparency and security of supply.

The “Smart Bins”, already developed by Bossard in the 1990s, are based on the idea that each connecting element has a certain weight. Incorporated weight sensors detect the status of the small components in storage and transmit the information constantly. Each removal is detected and the information passed on to the Bossard analysis software “Arims” and evaluated. If the stock falls below a certain predetermined level, replacement supplies are ordered automatically. The containers can furthermore be fitted with a “Smart” electronic label which contains information on replacement orders, supply status and date. Even when stocks are low, this eliminates the need for constant enquiries concerning the purchase which are otherwise needed. ARIMS takes into account both current and future production orders.

Digitisation all the way to the assembly workplace: milk runner 4.0

Depending on the depth of digitisation desired, the commissioning by the tugger train bringing the small parts from the central warehouse can be optimised and represented digitally from start to finish on an app. Embedded in the Smart Factory logistics concept, “Last Mile Management” is used to manage all material consumption synchronously, with all stock orders distributed by mobile end devices. Optimised tugger train routing eliminates unnecessary trips and provides more efficiency, with real-time consumption data raising the transparency. Shorter times for order and delivery give the firm more flexibility in planning. In practice, an in-house logistics specialist, often also known as the “milkrunner”, is in charge of the delivery of B- and C-parts to the workplace and is given paperless instructions for current tooling and filling as well as a path-optimised trip list.

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An example from practice:

The Blasi GmbH from Mahlberg in Baden-Württemberg is part of the global Record Group, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of automatic door systems and solutions. Almost every door is unique, which results in highly complex planning production. To ensure that the supply of small parts nevertheless runs smoothly, which in turn keeps the firm working without interruption, Blasi puts its trust in stationary and mobile Smart Bins solutions from Bossard.

Avoid production interruptions: Fastening material must never run out

From under-floor drives to complex revolving and circular sliding doors, Blasi has for over 40 years now been meeting the most varied needs in design and technology for architects, metal construction firms and owner-builders throughout the world from this basic stock of building-entrance components. Project planning sometimes presents the firm with challenges, as Marco Bank, purchasing and materials manager, tells us: “The body of a revolving door consists of standard components, while other elements – especially the visible ones – are individualised to customer specifications. For this, we need reliable suppliers so that we can take on projects even at short notice and meet the sometimes very tight deadlines.“ The connecting elements – mostly invisible – play a large part in enabling all doors to be manufactured within the promised period of seven to twelve weeks and to provide reliable service, often over decades. These suppliers are greatly appreciated by Blasi, as Managing Director Dr. Frank Völker emphasises: “For us, fixing material must never run out or be missing – precisely because the articles involved usually cost pennies. An interruption of production for this reason alone would be extremely annoying, not to speak of the high costs of rapid re-ordering. Our stock lists are correspondingly detailed.”


To ensure continuous supplies of small parts, Blasi is currently relying on 509 intelligent Smart Bin containers with a total of 490 different articles. Some products are kept in duplicate at up to eight different points of production, with the minimum level set individually for each part, since material construction varies according to the stock list for the relevant project. In the manufacture of revolving or circular doors, additional mobile storage units are brought into service. Völker explains the background: “Our revolving doors consist of a welded metal construction with a diameter of up to 8 m. It is on this that all further peripherals – such as motors, sensors, lamps or turning sashes – are mounted.“ In order to save assembly workers from long walks and inefficient working sequences, we put the “Smart Bin mobile” system into service here. “With its greater mobility, this offers us the advantage that we can load the connecting elements required for the current project in advance.” In this case again, the removal of every part is detected reliably. For this purpose, the “Smart Bin mobile” is equipped with a battery unit and an integrated modem. Inventory checks are made periodically on a special radio frequency.

Trouble-free supply guaranteed simply

The importance attached to automated supply of small parts at Blasi is explained by Marco Bank: “Every year, around 270 orders are generated by the system. Once stock lists have been produced for planned projects, these numbers are included in the calculation automatically so that additionally required products are in stock in time for the start of production.” In 99 % of the cases, no other manual intervention by Blasi is needed except in those rare cases where a new start is necessary because of updates. As soon as a replacement order triggered by the system arrives and is stored, the new stock levels are detected automatically.

The system is managed by a warehouse worker, other business areas can obtain information about current stocks and open orders at any time via the connected laptops. All in all, Blasi is very satisfied with the Smart Bin technology and considers itself ideally equipped for the future. MM

* Sabine Welp is Product Marketing Coordinator at the KVT-Fastening GmbH in D-89186 Illerrieden, Tel. (00 49-73 06) 7 82-3 38,