The smart automatic vending machine has everything under control: valuable tools or equipment are securely stored in separate drawer partitions. Electromechanically locked metal covers allow access only to the authorised persons identified by an ID card or a PIN code. The machine knows exactly who is allowed to receive a measuring device and when it must be calibrated. It logs the number of times when a milling cutter was taken out and knows when the stock is running out. When the minimum stock level is reached, the system independently places a restocking order, notifies the accounting department about the upcoming cost and sends the delivery service a bar code to assign the replacement item accurately and with minimum processing steps to the correct storage drawer.
The TSM (Tool Server Modular) described here is an intelligent system for storing and dispensing small consumables and tools developed and manufactured by the workplace equipment specialist Bedrunka + Hirth in Bräunlingen, in the southwest of Germany. Thanks to the progress of industrial automation, the system is enjoying growing popularity in the storage applications of medium-sized suppliers to the automotive industry as well as in larger aerospace companies. The benefits are clearly measurable. “According to customer testimonies, the precise access control alone decreases the consumption figures by 20 to 30 per cent,” says Thomas Dicks, head of e-business & marketing at Lerbs AG. The trading house based in Stuhr, close to Bremen in northern Germany, offers a product portfolio of around 150,000 items to roughly 13,000 customers across the globe. E-commerce and shop systems are marketed under the Supplix brand, and this includes the automatic vending machine that is made in the Black Forest region, where Bedrunka + Hirth is based.
Lerbs had several reasons to rely solely on Bedrunka + Hirth as the hardware supplier for its procurement system. The hardware must meet high customer expectations and enable individually tailored solutions, including a colour scheme in compliance with the customer’s corporate design manual. A Windows user interface offered the most convincing software solution thanks to many interfaces with external systems such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), materials management systems and SQL databases. Lerbs wanted to respond to customers’ requests for advanced multi-supplier capability, and with TSM that was no problem. Customers are entirely free to purchase not only from Lerbs but also other vendors. TSM can work with servers, is upgradable and can also manage external storages. “All the components of the system communicate with one another,” Dicks says. This means that the automatic vending machine controls the entire storage, not just the milling cutters in a drawer but also working gloves or washers located in the next room or in a more remote storage. For such cases, the system can be configured to only give out the exact key required.
The Lerbs approach is to offer Supplix customers a full-service e-commerce system. This makes close and seamless co-operation with Bedrunka + Hirth even more important. Bedrunka + Hirth installs the TSM systems and, during the initial walk-through with the customer, also hooks up the automatic vending machine with the customer’s ERP. Lerbs provides training for the customer’s personnel as required. Thomas Dicks is convinced: “The Bedrunka + Hirth automatic vending machine is a system that takes us into the future.” Modern interface technologies, scalability and modularity provide leeway for a wide range of new ideas and further developments.