All Stories
6 min

Bespoke logistics for hazardous operating environments

Safety is always the number one priority in the warehouse. But there are some situations where protecting the workers and the stored goods presents particular challenges for intralogistics. The brand companies of the KION Group offer solutions for extraordinary situations around the world, from earthquake-proof high-bay storage racks in seismically active regions to explosion-protected trucks for the chemical industry.


It was 4.35 a.m. on September 4, 2010 when Christchurch was rocked by an earthquake. Measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, the quake was so strong that the shockwaves were felt across the whole of New Zealand’s South Island. In the city the ground shook, countless buildings and roads were severely damaged, and power and mobile communications networks went down. But mercifully, not a single one of the 400,000 or so residents – many of whom fled their homes or workplaces – lost their lives that morning.

What seems almost like a miracle is in fact the result of strict precautionary measures. Ever since 1855, when the capital city of Wellington was flattened by a powerful earthquake, New Zealand has had quake-proof building regulations in place. So although many buildings were damaged by the earthquake in 2010, none collapsed completely. This was a key reason why the lives of a great many people were saved that day. But these highly effective preventive measures are not just restricted to residential buildings. They also apply to the planning of warehouses and distribution centers, which present their own particular challenges.

Experienced partner for disaster-proof intralogistics

When New Zealand’s biggest food and liquor retailer, Foodstuffs, was planning a new distribution center near Christchurch in 2012, it relied on the expertise of KION subsidiary Dematic. To ensure seamless supply to the most important supermarket chains on the South Island, the supply-chain specialists designed and built an automated order fulfillment system in the 46,000m² warehouse – including the earthquake-proof Dematic Colby Protect-a-RACK pallet racking system. “As well as supplying our new racking, Dematic also provided us with invaluable advice about how the location of pallets of different weights throughout the racking can affect the performance of storage systems during a seismic event,” says Kris Lancaster, Logistics Operations Manager at Foodstuffs South Island Ltd. An intelligent strategy for weight distribution across the various levels significantly reduced rocking, and the distribution center’s internal processes have been on a solid footing – literally – thanks to Dematic ever since.

It is not only Foodstuffs that has benefited from Dematic’s expertise: Less than two kilometers away is the central warehouse of supermarket chain Countdown. The powerful quake in 2010 brought more than a third of its racking down. “You can’t begin to imagine the mess the DCs were in afterwards, especially our liquor DC, which had a veritable river of grog streaming out of the receiving and dispatch docks,” says Denva Galloway, Logistics Manager at the Countdown Regional Distribution Center. The Dematic ColbyRACK pallet racking system proved to be the perfect solution here, too: “We’ve experienced literally thousands of aftershocks since Dematic installed our new pallet racking, and the ColbyRACK system has withstood them all efficiently.” Galloway says it is interesting to see how the racking system sways back and forth in a controlled way when an aftershock hits, adding that since the new system was introduced, not one single box has fallen from the racking – at least not during an earthquake.

The earthquake-proof Dematic Colby Protect-a-RACK pallet racking system in the central warehouse of supermarket chain Countdown

Playing it safe with automation

New Zealand is not the only place where the preventive ‘anti-disaster expertise’ of the KION brand companies is in demand. In the district of Offanengo in northern Italy, COIM SpA, a manufacturer of specialty chemicals, was also facing particular challenges. These were partly due to the seismic activity that the region experiences from time to time, and partly to the nature of the goods stored in its warehouses. Safety is paramount when storing chemicals. “COIM is a highly successful company that makes sure safety is the number one priority both for its employees and in its technologically advanced production facilities,” says Massimo Tonani, COIM plant manager. The chemical company made the decision to entrust KION subsidiaries Dematic and STILL with the development of its new distribution center. Together, they provided the infrastructure for disruption-proof, accident-free, and highly efficient warehouse processes: from earthquake-proof racking and automated guided vehicle (AGV) systems to conveyor belts for pallets and the necessary software.

The Dematic automation package transforms each of the two MX-X VNA trucks from STILL into a hybrid AGV, also known as a dual-use AGV. These AGVs, which can be controlled manually if required, are used to independently transport pallets in and out of the Dematic conveyor system: 24 hours a day, six days a week – fully automatic and guaranteed injury-free.

Another KION brand company – Linde Material Handling – has implemented an automated solution for another chemicals manufacturer, also in northern Italy. BASF Italia makes additives for plastics at its plant in the Bologna region, and the nature of these substances mean that stringent safety measures are required for their handling. For example, they are subject to the EU Seveso III Directive on the prevention of major industrial accidents involving hazardous substances. And this is where Linde Material Handling came in. At a vital hub in the production process, the intralogistics expert installed an AGV system that operates independently – without any interaction with the worker – and thereby ensures compliance with the strict safety protocol. Lasers built into the automated trucks monitor the environment and any potential obstacles, and control the activity of the trucks and the loads they are carrying. The AGVs are also equipped with a dual emergency stop button and acoustic and optical warning devices. The automated guided vehicle system has increased efficiency and safety – to the benefit of the entire plant and its workers.

The Dematic automation package transforms MX-X VNA trucks from STILL into a hybrid AGV.

Seamless intralogistics – even in a potentially explosive atmosphere

The safety standards are even more stringent in parts of the chemical industry where potentially explosive gas mixtures, vapors, mist, or dust clouds may be generated. The warehouse operated by Chemion in CHEMPARK Leverkusen is an example of one such area. The hazardous materials store of this logistics company contains a number of flammable substances that pose an especially high risk. If a conventional truck were to bump its forks against a racking unit while moving goods around the store – something that happens countless times a day in ‘normal’ warehouses – it could create a spark and trigger a devastating explosion. To protect the driver and other workers, Chemion uses the MX-X order-picker truck from STILL – in a special explosion-protected version. From the engines, control units, sensors, switches, displays, forks, and brakes through to the floor mats and seat covers, every last detail of the special, explosion-proof trucks from STILL has been cleverly designed to ensure that they are fully compliant with ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU. All vehicle components that could trigger explosions through sparks or voltage flows are capped or covered – including the forks, which are stainless-steel coated to prevent sparks from being generated through impact or friction. The surface temperature of the vehicle components also has to be kept below a certain limit, depending on the ignition temperature of the gases or powders concerned. And, last but not least, even plastic components that are prone to electrostatic charge – such as floor mats, tires, tanks, and seat covers – are specially protected.

But the demands on intralogistics providers go even further. “In addition to the transport processes in the warehouse, there are also production processes – especially in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries – where a potentially explosive atmosphere can be created, for example when working with hazardous substances or transferring them from one container to another,” explains Elke Karnarski, Product Manager Ex-Proof Trucks & Retrofit Solutions at Linde Material Handling. The company has extensive expertise in the area of explosion-protected industrial trucks for ATEX zones 1/21 and can provide the right vehicle for special production requirements – including all attachments. The drum tipper, for example, enables liquids such as isopropyl alcohol to be handled safely and precisely. “A remote control enables the operator to control the tilting operation from a safe distance, such as on a bridge, while maintaining a full view of the drum. Quantities are measured by the integrated scales,” explains Karnarski. These examples show that when it comes to safety, the experts at Linde Material Handling and STILL think through every individual process step for the customer and every last detail of the truck. Even down to the horn, which is pneumatic rather than electric on explosion-proof trucks – one final precaution to make sure that in this special environment, sparks never fly.