“Always start with the goal in mind”
Durability and flexibility of highly dynamic logistics centers
For many years, Thomas Kerkenhoff was responsible for logistics at EDEKA Rhein-Ruhr Stiftung & Co. KG, with its network including the two highly automated distribution centers in Hamm and Oberhausen - and he is a man of clear words: “In order to operate a facility successfully and economically in the long-term, you need a very good team, both at your logistics partner and on site that is constantly working on the enhancement of the mechanical components and the software. But this only works if you also have a partner who has already implemented a large number of systems in the industry worldwide, and thus has extensive experience, know-how, and references.” Kerkenhoff knows what and who he is talking about. He has been a WITRON customer for more than 15 years.
“If I invest money, then the system must be able to map my business model also in 25 years’ time – but at the same time it must also be able to adapt to new basic conditions and business processes. That’s what I expect as a customer.” WITRON CEO, Helmut Prieschenk, agrees: “Durability means a lot more than that the systems still work after many years. Durability means that our customers still generate economic benefits even after 25 years of operation.” In the past, he said, many suppliers advertised using the buzzword “modularity”. “But those who only think in terms of modularity only take small steps”, says the Upper Palatinate. “It becomes apparent that those in charge are thinking even more in terms of perspectives and not just in quarterly figures.” Kerkenhoff has never thought in the short-term. He relies on innovative technologies in his logistics centers designed and implemented by WITRON. “We have to invest in predictive systems and rely on proactive maintenance and service. Artificial intelligence is the keyword. The forecast must also adapt to the new post-Covid 19 situation, and the IT systems of EDEKA and WITRON have to network even more intensively via open interfaces. Holy Thursday before Easter has always been our peak day. This year it was Holy Saturday. The warehouse systems have to adapt to that situation.” The logistics center has to breath, they say at WITRON.
From the end customer’s view
Prieschenk knows the requirements of Kerkenhoff and other logistics managers worldwide. “Our systems grow with the customer. The challenge in a project is that we receive figures at the beginning of the project design phase that can already change again during the implementation phase. And because of the pandemic, the situation changed many times.” For example, efficient e-commerce processes had to be integrated within a very short time for customers in the UK and Scandinavia in logistics centers that were originally designed for pure store delivery. The number of items changes, the volume varies, the orderlines adapt, and more distribution channels are added. “We always have the goal in mind, see logistics from the end customer’s perspective in the store or at home, and analyze developments”, explains Prieschenk, who has the advantage that WITRON supplies markets worldwide with its solutions and recognizes developments on other continents faster than others.
Another decisive reason is that WITRON is currently responsible itself for the permanently high availability of the systems with 57 OnSite teams in 13 countries, and even takes over monitoring and control room tasks. The OnSite teams are an essential interface to the customer and are also closely networked with each other. “This means we can provide answers to many questions.” In the end, he says, it doesn’t matter to the customer whether the solution of the problem refers to mechanics, control, or IT. “We have to ask ourselves already in the design phase how the material flow must look like so that we can add a new conveyor or additional COM machines later on. Or how must the IT environment look like to implement new mechanical components, obtain sales figures from the stores, or efficiently integrate external route scheduling systems.”
Reference visits around the globe
Keyword technology: Many future WITRON customers visit existing facilities all over the world before they start discussions with the logistics experts in Parkstein. Australian customers travel to Spain, American customers to Scandinavia, and Swiss customers to France. Helmut Prieschenk and his team do not even notice many of the reference visits at first. They get to know of those only afterwards. “The retail world is small - people know each other. What’s exciting is that the interested parties do not necessarily visit the recently realized logistics centers. They believe us the fact that we can keep optimizing the technology and the functionalities of OPM. But they want to see on site what an OPM system will look like after 20 years”, says Prieschenk.
One of these customers that is in the focus of new, potential WITRON customers is the leading Spanish food retailer Mercadona who has been working with WITRON’s technology for a very long time. “For more than 16 years, we have had a trusting and successful partnership with WITRON that goes far beyond a usual customer-supplier relationship”, explains Rosa Aguado, General Director of Logistics at Mercadona. At the locations Madrid, Valencia, León, Barcelona, Alva, and Granada, WITRON has designed and implemented 13 highly automated systems to date. The technological heart is WITRON’s OPM solution, which Mercadona uses in the dry, fresh, and frozen goods area.
“With 185 installed COM machines, we are one of WITRON’s largest customers worldwide working with the OPM solution. During all this time, the COM machines have avoided the physical strain on our employees and have picked more than two billion cases in the dry, fresh, and frozen goods area”, says the manager. “In addition to ergonomics and cost-efficiency, two other factors were particularly important to us: flexibility and durability. Because change is a constant at Mercadona. Our declared aim is for our employees to spend their entire careers with the company and to continue to develop. And in the same way, we expect our logistics systems to adapt to permanently changing market requirements. We have been successfully using the flexibility of the OPM technology for 16 years”, explains Rosa Aguado. The reliability of the solution is also shown in Madrid, where our first OPM system has been running almost around the clock since 2006. Orders for our stores are picked without errors every day - with maximum service quality and exactly tailored to the needs of our stores.
Thomas Kerkenhoff has also had many visitors. “We trust in the durability of the systems, the expertise of the people, the references, and keep a close eye on how our partners develop in terms of business.” People often make the difference for him - as they do for Prieschenk. “I was lucky to get to know Walter Winkler personally. I was impressed by what he has achieved over the years together with his wife and his employees. He deserves my respect, every day.” Kerkenhoff would not have started another WITRON project with the warehouse in Oberhausen if it had not been a good fit with the people. “Not only in the service hotline, but also when it comes to finding constructive solutions with the top decision makers when things are not going well in the project.
“In the future, WITRON employees will have to understand the customer even better than they do now, get to know the customer’s business in even greater detail, be closely involved in the processes, analyze them, and then make the right recommendations for action”, says Prieschenk. “If retailers run their system in three shifts, then we might be able to offer them optimizations. The same applies to logistics discussions with our customers’ suppliers or discussions about cut-off times with the shipping department.” Prieschenk and his team are planning to offer optimization kits to customers in the future. “We have the data and can run through optimizations via digital twins of the warehouses, develop new ideas, and make them available to the retailer as additional services.” That sounds like WITRON consulting. “We have to pay even more attention to how the network, where the logistics center is an important element, behaves. We have to think holistically end-to-end and eliminate silos in the supply chain. We must identify changes on the market earlier than others. I don’t know whether this is called “consulting”. It’s a business model that we also cover with OCM (Omni-Channel Machinery). We have to integrate existing warehouses to make the best use of all assets. That delivers an economic advantage to the customer, even if the system is 15 years old.”
The OPM at Edeka in Hamm has also been running for almost 15 years, and the warehouse in Oberhausen was ramped up at the end of 2021. “The solutions are still unique on the market - regardless of the age. I think that WITRON’s technology is very far ahead in automated food retailing logistics”, says Kerkenhoff. There is no competitor solution on the market that can store and pick more than 10,000 different items fully automatically as efficiently as the WITRON OPM system.