October 07, 2016      

The market for logistics and supply chain automation is increasingly crowded, so any new company must swiftly adapt its solutions to meet end user demand. EffiMat Storage Technology A/S has found its competitive advantage as it gains international customers with its vertical robotic storage systems.

The first customer to acquire a storage system from Odense, Denmark-based EffiMat was the U.S. Air Force. JOrgen Flemming Ladefoged, EffiMat founder and CEO, knew that many competing systems were inflexible. This gave his company an advantage.

“The U.S. Air Force needed a machine to handle spare parts,” he said. “I listened to their needs in order to let them do their job the best way possible. It had to be a tailor-made solution which was flexible. We were able to meet their demands.”

“It is always fantastic to get the first order, and to get that first order from U.S. Air Force was a stamp of approval,” Flemming Ladefoged said. “Also, I think it matters [that] Denmark has a good reputation [with the] American defense industry.”

Increasing storage technology efficiency 12x

Compared with a traditional storage system, EffiMat Storage Technology said it can quadruple the speed of picking goods. In comparison with picking items manually from racks and shelves, EffiMat’s systems can increase the speed by a factor of 12 and save floor space.

The company takes advantage of the fact that most production centers and warehouses are 8 to 10 meters in height.

EffiMat compactly stores inventory in towers, so there is no need for extra space on top of a box. The storage system automatically brings the box to pick the goods from individually.

The machine can operate fully autonomously, with the robot picking things that conform in size. If the size of goods varies, the fastest solution is still manual picking. The orders for both U.S. Air Force and General Electric combined EffiMat’s systems with manual picking.

“Many production companies have a typical efficiency of 25 order-lines per person per hour,” Flemming Ladefoged said. “With the EffiMat solution, that’s around 300 to 400 order-lines per person per hour.”

Fewer errors, workforce injuries

“We take something that fills up a lot of place and make it compact,” explained Flemming Ladefoge. “For instance, with 800 boxes in three lines, around 350 square meters will fit into an 8 meter-high vertical lift with a footprint of approximately 10 square meters.”

EffiMat Storage Technology's vertical tower

EffiMat’s storage systems are designed to efficiently use vertical space.

“It clears space in a compact production center,” he added. “Our solution has a lower error rate in picking and gives good ergonomics for the employee, with no need of bending down to pick the goods in a box.”

Engineers at EffiMat Storage Technology have developed a system that combines electromechanical principles with a vertical gantry robot.

The goods are handled flexibly in standard totes instead of the heavy and wide trays of traditional vertical lifts.

Other EffiMat customers include Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Gulfstream Savannah, Jiffy-Tite, Tupperware, and GE.

One recent customer is San Jose, Calif.-based Sanmina Corp., which has production facilities in Malaysia. Here, the production is readjusted every day. Up until now, 50 men picked the components.

In the future, the work can be done with only four people and the EffiMat. In addition, the lower error rate of picking was essential.

Automotive industry can see the cost reduction

“Everything peaks when you supply for the automotive manufacturers. They are the first to find a way to save time,” said Flemming Ladefoged. “Audi did find us themselves, as employees of Volkswagen had seen our solution at a trade fair in Stuttgart.”

Audi wanted robots that take no more than 120 seconds to pick goods. EffiMat’s new storage system meets this demand and saves Audi approximately 600 square meters of space and a number of employees. The new system has boxes in two towers, which takes advantage of the height in the production area.

Flemming Ladefoged said he has gone through a range of emotions while starting EffiMat Storage Technology.

“When I saw the machine at Audi, I was so proud,” he said. “It was similar to seeing my 4-year-old daughter at a gymnastic performance. It was at this level, shedding a tear.”

Idea arose from a misunderstanding

JOrgen Flemming Ladefoged, EffiMat Storage Technology founder and CEO

EffiMat Storage Technology is based on making a robotic systems as clever as expected, according to CEO JOrgen Flemming Ladefoged.

Flemming Ladefoged had worked in the commercial storage industry for years before he founded EffiMat. In May 2011, he was CEO of SSI Schafer in Germany. Flemming Ladefoged invited friend Tommy Langhoff to see the storage solution. He was very excited.

“Oh, this is clever — it is picking up the boxes individually,” Langhoff had said. “No, it doesn’t. It ought to.”

This dialogue gave birth to the idea of inventing a storage system that precisely picks only the box that is needed — and not moving 700 kilos to pick one item.

Danish design by choice

“We cooperated with the design studio of Jesper K. Thomsen because we wanted to signal that this machine is from Denmark,” Flemming Ladefoged said. “It is manufactured of galvanized steel, stainless steel, in gray, white, and black.”

“We can also deliver it in another color if the customer will pay for it,” he said. “We have already delivered a red machine in Germany.”

EffiMat Storage Technology’s systems were sold after only 13 months of product development, filing patent applications, recruitment, and all the other tasks that come with starting up a production company.

Flemming Ladefoged hired 12 former engineers from SSI Schafer, as it moved the production to the Czech Republic.

“We have just started selling our storage solution, which fits all lines of business with small parts which must be picked fast,” said Flemming Ladefoged. “The return on investment is quite fast — one-half to one year.”

He added that while the automotive and medical industries have already taken advantage of EffiMat’s speed, accuracy, and flexibility, “other lines of business will find us as time goes by.”

More on Logistics Automation and European Robotics:

EffiMat Storage Technology is part of the high-tech “ecosystem” in Odense, Denmark. The Danish city has become a world-class technology center, with a unique cluster of companies and research institutes specializing in robotics and automation. Together, they are fostering innovation from creative conception to industrial production.

Odense’s environment offers ambitious technology companies prime conditions for growth. With a robotic tradition that dates back more than 25 years, the robotics and automation sector in Odense has grown exponentially, including 80 companies and 2,200 jobs.

Reshoring production, government introductions

EffiMat has Danish customers such as Novo Nordisk, ComputerSalg, Nibe Industrier AB, Gram Equipment, and GRAS Sound and Vibration.

In fact, the most recent Danish customer Riegens Lampefabrik has reshores lamp production from the U.K. The company has ordered six towers.

“The next initiative is Fiat Chrystler Automobiles,” Flemming Ladefoged said. “In cooperation with the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we are going to present what we have to offer. We haven’t turned to the ministry, but we have accepted their offer and introduction to different potential customers.”

EffiMat Storage Technology also has distributors in Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the U.S.