It is a supreme challenge in intralogistics: the replacement of a Warehouse Management System (WMS) during ongoing operations. Every error, no matter how small, every minute of downtime has an immediate impact on the customer. As a result, the volatility increases exponentially with the size and throughput of the company, which places its entire processes in the hands of a retrofit service provider. Accordingly, the managers at Bosch Automotive Aftermarket (Bosch AA) had high expectations of the intralogistics specialists at TUP when the switch to the modernized logistics system was imminent.

And they were not disappointed – already on the first day after the system changeover, the warehouse was operating at its usual output rate.

A worldwide network

The Automotive Aftermarket division of Bosch is responsible worldwide for the provision, sale and logistics of automotive parts for servicing vehicles. One of the tasks of the logistics center in Karlsruhe is to supply Bosch customers – i.e. the headquarters of the car manufacturers, wholesalers and workshops – with a wide range of spare parts, which are shipped from Karlsruhe to 140 countries. The division also controls 24 other warehouse locations worldwide.

The logistics center in Karlsruhe guarantees that missing parts are available within 24 hours within Europe and 96 hours anywhere in the world. Interfering with these ongoing processes is similar to open-heart surgery, since a supply chain failure would have worldwide consequences.

A tricky intervention in a closely interwoven system landscape

The task was highly sensitive: replacing a 12-year-old, extremely complex warehouse management system with a connection to a higher-level SAP host system and many subordinate systems such as process computers and data concentrators. “Imagine that you have the task of swapping the patty on a finished cheeseburger without anyone noticing and without it tasting at least as good as before in the end,” says Jörg Behrend, one of the two project managers of the Bosch AA project, with a wink, abstracting the scenario and thus illustrating the challenge of such a large-scale retrofit project in a very clear way. Systems and processes that had grown and merged together over the years first had to be identified, then de-composed and finally adapted or replaced with the highest precision.

But that was not all – the requirement was to replace the WMS during ongoing operations. This meant for all those involved in the project: There was a weekend to flip the switches and clear all obstacles that arose during the changeover, so that at the start of the shift, the system could be run at full capacity again.

Thus, in addition to exact planning and development, an extraordinarily fine-grained test management was required in the run-up to the project. In close cooperation with Bosch employees, who formed their own testing team especially for this purpose, countless test scenarios were developed and run through over months, the interfaces to the various third-party systems were tested and improved, and actual live operation was simulated. “Ultimately, you have to draw up a separate cost-benefit calculation for each project to determine how finely granulated the testing should be. In this case, however, it was on the one hand a very clear requirement on the part of the customer to put all eventualities through their paces, and on the other hand it was also our insurance to immediately achieve the expected throughput of the warehouse,” explains Behrend.

The effort was worth it, because the changeover went without complications and the facility was able to deliver its usual performance the very next day.

The replacement of the Warehouse Management System was only the cornerstone

However, the modernization of the warehouse management software was only the beginning of a much more extensive overall project. “The retrofit of the WMS was, so to speak, the laying of the foundation stone and the starting signal for a complex modernization conversion at Bosch in Karlsruhe,” explains Günther Pfisterer, project manager and member of the TUP management board. “That’s why we also optimized the logistical processes in the course of the modernization and created new structures so that future expansions as well as new buildings and conversions can be integrated smoothly afterwards”.

So there was no time to rest. After the successful commissioning of the warehouse management system, the integration of the high-bay warehouse and its extension followed. This was another milestone and yet only one of many migration stages that were to be successfully implemented by 2018.

“In the next stages, the complete logistics axis of the site will be turned around step by step and new materials handling technology will be integrated. The complete process in the logistics center, including the entire material flow below the ERP system, will be controlled and monitored in future by the logistics systems of TUP. This extends to a shuttle warehouse, which we will control via our material flow computer (MFR)” Behrend outlines the next project steps.

Looking ahead: Control center dashboards and monitoring are becoming increasingly important in intralogistics

In the coming project phases, special attention will also be paid to the topics control center dashboards and monitoring. In order to be able to monitor and continuously improve the processes, a large number of key figures and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are recorded and graphically displayed by the facility. “The amount of data evaluated at Bosch AA already far exceeds what could be described as the industry standard in the WMS area,” explains Günther Pfisterer. This means that Bosch is also clearly setting the course: A highly transparent facility with access to the KPIs of the individual business processes is ideally positioned to meet the challenges of the emerging Industry 4.0 movement, which will cause an even greater stir in the coming years. Especially with regard to the international supply chain, this will set the course for the future.

The figures for the TUP system are also quite impressive and illustrate the dimensions of the order volume: over 3.5 million lines of code in the TUP software, almost 200 system dialogs and approximately 130,000 logged activities per day. “In this project, TUP has once again proven that a changeover can be carried out without any loss of performance, even under extremely demanding conditions,” concludes Behrend.