Milestones and market innovations
516,668 square feet for the production of mechanics - this enormous surface was generated in only three years at the WITRON subsidiary FAS (Foerder Anlagen Systeme GmbH) in Parkstein (Upper Palatinate). After the opening of plant 3 in 2010, the new plant 4 - twice as large as the previously opened plant 3 - recently opened its doors. This marked a milestone in the more than 40-year history of the general contractor for logistics and order picking systems. Further milestones are to follow - and not only through expansions. In 2014, a product innovation for Multi-Channel logistics and Fulfillment is to turn over a new leaf in the successful company history.
Almost the entire mechanics for WITRON systems is now being designed and manufactured on a surface of some seven soccer fields within a state-of-the-art wooden structure environment. The corner stone for the opening goes back to a decision made in 2005. Company owner Walter Winkler decided to develop and produce the conveyor system elements for his highly dynamic picking systems on his own. "Our customers expect maximum performance from WITRON systems - up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week - and to realize all that successfully, reliably, and cost-efficiently, mechanics must comply to the highest quality requirements. We are able to guarantee our customers this top quality with our own production of conveyor systems, stacker cranes, special machines, and recently with the racking for tote and tray systems", explains Walter Winkler. That decision in 2005 substantially changed WITRON's company structure, but nobody in Parkstein regrets it. FAS (Foerder Anlagen Systeme GmbH) has experienced growth that even the boldest optimists would not have predicted. The production areas created with the building of plant 3 in 2010 were no longer sufficient due to the high workload. Based on that, the decision was made in 2012 to significantly expand these areas with the building of plant 4 to a total of 516,668 square feet. The revenue increase of FAS from 24 million (2010) to 85 million euros (2012) tells its own tale.
After a construction period of just under one year, production in the new manufacturing halls started in mid October 2013 and has been ramped-up stepwise to full operation by the beginning of 2014. WITRON's success - sales increases in the double-digit range, and the creation of additional workplaces - affirm the decision made in 2005. The fact that the mechanics for WITRON's systems comes from their own production, is developed to the individual need of the customer, and is optimally integrated into their own control systems, is an absolute success factor today.
The success of WITRON's subsidiary FAS was one of many things that helped guarantee the success of the entire company group in the past years. In its company history of more than 40 years, WITRON has successfully realized over 2,000 logistics projects, and the demand for WITRON systems remains very high. An important factor behind WITRON's robust development in recent years is the fact that the general contractor never runs after current trends, but creates innovations on its own that are based on proven, further developed own technologies. In addition, WITRON consequently remains true to crane technology - and with apparently great success. "We have gained the best experiences with the proven high availability, performance, and energy efficiency of stacker cranes - branch-overlapping and across the globe. Why should we give up our strengths?", says CEO Helmut Prieschenk.
For good reason, orders that require integrated solutions are awarded based on idea contests. The customer is not focused on individual elements, but interested in a working overall solution that provides them with permanent competitive advantages, according to Prieschenk. Like, for example, the largest individual project in the company history, the new food retail distribution center for INEX in Finland. In the course of an idea contest, WITRON prevailed over competing solutions with its storage and picking systems based on innovative crane technologies for the food retail business. The distribution center with a size of 1,614,587 square feet to be built in Sipoo, near Helsinki, will supply a total of 1,100 stores on a daily basis throughout Finland using its full assortment of almost 26,000 different articles starting in 2016. Supplies will be from a dry goods assortment, along with fresh products (+2 degrees C, +4 degrees C, +8 degrees C, +13 degrees C) and frozen goods (-26 degrees C) - a clear argument for the high flexibility of the crane technology that is commonly being discussed. In addition to INEX, different regional companies of EDEKA have been using WITRON's solutions for many years, and the food retailer REWE will supply 5,500 stores throughout Germany with technologies from Parkstein in the future.
WITRON systems span a wide range of industries. The Germans received many orders not only from the food retail business, but also from the E-Commerce, electronics distribution, General Merchandise, and spare parts sectors. WITRON's distribution center for the automotive spare parts provider ATP Auto-Teile-Poellath in Pressath / Upper Palatinate is a great example. Opened in 2013, the DC for ATP supplies 600,000 customers across Europe out of an assortment of 50,000 stored items and 600,000 catalog items. Additional examples of WITRON's industry diversity include Future Electronics (electronic component distribution) and CVS Pharmacy and Alliance Boots (with up to three million picks per day both health and beauty distribution). All of these sites are equipped with WITRON's crane technology. This proven technology provides maximum dynamics also in the demanding business of technical retail. One of the best examples in that industry is Technische Unie in the Netherlands with its broad article spectrum and high throughput.
Especially in the E-Commerce area, WITRON sees itself as very well positioned. WITRON systems have a tremendous flexibility with regard to load carriers. Pallets, totes, trays, and cartons in different sizes and formats can all be handled without any problems. In many projects of trade or drugstore supplies, goods are picked ergonomically and store-friendly onto pallets, roll containers, into totes, or customer packages on a daily basis and sent to the stores - or with increasing sequence - to the end customer. Flexibility and dynamics par excellence. Moreover, WITRON plans to realize additional E-Commerce projects in the Benelux countries and Scandinavia very soon.
Innovations are almost traditional at WITRON. For good reason, WITRON is proud of its successful OPM technology, considered as the global standard and benchmark for automated case picking across the globe. Market-leading food retailers in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France, Scandinavia, and North America already rely on the cost-efficiency, flexibility, ergonomics, and sustainability of OPM - most at several locations. OPM - with the COM (Case Order Machine) as its centerpiece - caused a sensation among the experts shortly after its market launch and was awarded the VDI innovation award in 2005. So far, 574 COM machines have been implemented or ordered in 36 projects. More than 45 million load carriers have been packed free from any pick errors and store-friendly in optimal density to date. Currently, a total of five million cases per day are being picked with OPM worldwide. In addition to the OPM, additional pallet and case picking systems are patented concerning dynamics, ergonomics, and functionality.
Moreover, WITRON wouldn't be WITRON, if they would not permanently work on new innovations. "You need to permanently keep on it and push. We strike new paths especially in the E-Commerce business, and we face current customer demands from the Fulfillment sector with a creative and multi-functional approach", says company founder Walter Winkler. WITRON intends to continue the constant growth of more than 40 years with a product innovation that may "cause a stir in the market". "Especially in the E-Commerce and online business, conditions change every minute. And the retailer must be able to react on that". Initiating new innovations based on existing systems and implementing future-oriented changes is always the plan. "By doing so, we benefit from the extensive experiences of existing systems and use this know-how for new solutions required by the market". In 2014, WITRON is going to present additional innovative modules with new functions and processes that have never been seen before.
One particular promising approach will be the new FMC system, a solution especially aimed to the area of Multi-Channel logistics. With the FMC system, WITRON will allow its customers a highly efficient supply of stores and E-Commerce clients from the same distribution center - regardless of home delivery or store pick-up. It provides for e. g. retailers an even higher added value in terms of their store and online business. The tightly integrated set-up of stock, customer information, and product assortment creates additional profitable cross-selling effects. The FMC system may not only release synergy effects in the food-retailing sector, but of course in many other branches.
Moreover, significant savings can be obtained with the new WITRON system, too: For E-Commerce supplies, the costs per sales unit will drop down to one third compared to the store supply. Through the intelligent combination of different sales channels within a logistics center, massive saving potentials occur alone in the inventory. Added to this are cost savings within labor requirements, construction costs, intra-logistics, and the conveyor system network itself.
The required investment is extremely small: The interesting aspect is the flexible use of the logistics system. Without extensive changes of an existing distribution center, new E-Commerce functionalities can be integrated smoothly and gently, and can rapidly be used to their full extent. With the FMC system, WITRON has developed a new solution that offers Multi-Channel functionalities to customers at a low investment.
The new system will be presented in detail in the course of an E-Commerce logistics day.
So, Parkstein is prepared for further growth. However, always "step by step", just as company founder Walter Winkler likes to emphasize. Nevertheless, the people in the Upper Palatinate are looking forward to forthcoming milestones in terms of WITRON innovations. In addition to those innovations, the expansion of plant 2 is already being planned.