Laura Metaal processes steel coils into sheets. The coils, which weigh some 25 tons and are up to 25mm thick, are processed in the company’s Steel Service Center in Maastricht into steel plates of various sizes for use in the steel industry. The stock of coils and sheets can exceed 25,000 tons, so you can imagine how much storage space that requires. In Laura Metaal's current logistics, the amount of stock can sometimes cause congestion. The company therefore wanted to create a better logistics flow, especially given its ambitious growth plans. CQM was called in to help, and with success! Here Maurice Husson, Managing Partner at Laura Metaal, discusses the project.
Challenging logistics route through the warehouse
“Look at it like this” says Maurice. “We have steel about 2.5cm thick that’s rolled like rolls of paper into coils weighing some 25 tons. At Laura Metaal, we store these coils for our customers, the steel traders. At a client’s request, we unroll the coils to make plates to the client’s required length. We then make packages of these plates that we transfer to elsewhere within our warehouse.
“Because these packages vary widely in size, along with the stored coils, it’s a challenging logistical route through the warehouse. So CQM has in particular done a lot of analysis of how these packages move through our warehouse. Given our many customers, each with their own product mix and demand pattern, it requires a very particular system to manage all this well. Certainly in combination with the 100 trucks that arrive daily to collect the packages from the various loading ports once they’re ready."
Slowing machines down
“The working methods in our warehouse were less efficient before we brought in CQM,” explains Maurice. “If our stock of steel plates exceeded 25,000 tons, the warehouse was sometimes so full that the machines couldn't get rid of the materials they were producing, and as a result we had to slow machines down. So we wanted to get some insight into how we could improve this process and deal better with those flows in future. And we’ve managed to do that. We have big growth ambitions at Laura Metaal and may want to build additional warehouses. So it’s better to know in advance how you can best organize them in terms of Smart Warehousing.”
“Smart Warehousing is the smart design and management of your logistics process,” explains Stefan ten Eikelder, the CQM-er responsible for this project. “This allows you to significantly improve the productivity, capacity and efficiency of your logistics. Hardware such as robotization and Artificial Intelligence are part of this, but you can’t optimize without insight into how the processes are currently running. And absolutely not if you don’t have a structured dataset.
“So the first step in the process is to make analyses. At Laura Metaal, we have zoomed in on how long items remain in the warehouse. How long does material lie there, what’s the flow, which packages are there for a long time and which for a short time? We also looked at the various types of dimensions that are made from a coil and whether longer sheets remain longer or leave the warehouse quickly. All with a view to translating this into: what can we do with this data? So we can use the data analysis to begin our calculations.”
Upscaling Laura Metaal
“These analyses give you insights into what’s actually happening,” Stephan continues. “For example, we looked at the maximum time items remain in the warehouse, and performed a buffer and growth analysis. The proposal is now that packages are moved directly from the machine to temporary storage – the buffer – rather than being moved to other halls in the warehouse. If a lorry then arrives and packages can be put onto the truck straight from this buffer, it’s more efficient as it reduces the number of movements. We’ve also advised focusing more on maximum stay in the warehouse, by moving items from the buffer to other halls on the basis of this maximum time. And finally, we’ve also mapped out the growth process and how much space will be needed for the various different types of materials when Laura Metaal decides to scale up. In other words, how large must the halls be to optimize logistics flows and store stock efficiently? We have generated a comprehensive insight so that Laura Metaal can take their first steps towards Smart Warehousing.”
Calculating strategic choices
“Thanks to these scenario calculations by CQM, Laura Metaal can make the right strategic choices,” Maurice explains. “The analyses have generated a lot of insights. So we know which initial steps we need to take to make our warehouse smarter. We’ve created the conditions/requirements for setting up Smart Warehousing. The next step is to see how we can ensure we have insight into where each package is located. There is currently no real-time data, something that’s necessary to be able to build Smart Warehousing into your logistics process.”
Ammunition for the future
“This may have been a simple project for CQM, as it mainly involved calculations,” says Maurice. “But for Laura Metaal, calculating the scenarios is great ammunition and the basis for our future. We now know to a large extent what requirements our new warehouse must meet when we start growing. We get results faster, and longer-term plans are easier to make and substantiate with data. So I’m more than satisfied. The personal interaction with CQM staff, the project’s fast turnaround time, but also the linking of theory to practice, are all things that make CQM quite unlike other parties. Understanding numbers is one thing, but turning those numbers into results that can be used to adjust business operations is another story. Too often, half the message is lost amid complicated jargon; but not with CQM!”
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