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Successful B2B online retail based on scalability and innovative service processes

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Photo: Witron

Ennepetal, Germany. “Next day” delivery of more than 100 million parts to 140 countries from one central distribution center: Impressive figures for logistics experts from the online retail and parts distribution sector. A large group of supply chain experts accepted the invitation of the general contractor, WITRON Logistik + Informatik GmbH, to discover the highly dynamic logistics center of Ferdinand Bilstein GmbH + Co. KG, known as a manufacturer and supplier of automotive and commercial vehicle parts with the family brand bilstein group. True to the conference slogan “B2B - Online Retail: scalability and modularity as the foundation for successful logistics processes”, the two long-standing project partners bilstein group and WITRON impressively demonstrated how processes and volumes can flexibly be adapted to growth and market changes within one innovative and automated system by means of state-of-the-art solutions and service concepts. The highlight of the event was the two-hour tour of the logistics center in Ennepetal, which has a size of 50,000 square meters / 540,000 square feet. 

“The bilstein group has been successfully trading its brands febi, SWAG, and Blue Print on the international automotive aftermarket for many years. We assume the foundation for the continued positive business development is not only the high product quality through innovative services, but also the competitive advantages that we generate for our customers”, says Jan Siekermann, CEO of Ferdinand Bilstein GmbH + Co. KG in the course of his opening speech.  “An important element in the entire value chain is the logistics center in Ennepetal, which is perfectly suited to optimally realize the high demands in terms of parts diversity and availability.” True to the motto “Strong as an individual, unbeatable as a team”, it is the ambition of the family-owned company to advance together with its customers and suppliers. The bilstein group currently supplies customers in more than 140 countries from an assortment of over 55,000 different spare parts. 

Development of the past years marked by strong growth

“In 2004, Ferdinand Bilstein GmbH + Co. KG had to face exactly the same challenges that many companies and start-ups in the online retail and parts distribution have to manage today”, says Ulrich Schlosser, WITRON Sales Manager, remembering when he first met the responsible logistics experts of the parts supplier.  “The signs were pointing towards growth, without knowing exactly in what way and to what extent. Nevertheless, it was foreseeable that a conventionally operated warehouse would no longer be cost-efficient in the medium term.”

Based on the former business figures, WITRON designed and realized an automated small parts warehouse with 4 goods-to-person pick workstations and 38,400 tote locations. “Of course, with future expansion possibilities for the bilstein group to constantly grow with the business”, says WITRON’s authorized signatory Schlosser. Based on this initial situation, the key requirements for the logistics designers from WITRON were not only cost-efficiency and improved customer service, but more so parameters like modularity and scalability. 

Logistics center continuously expanded during ongoing operation

“Our state-of-the-art logistics center is proof that the requirements from the past projects have been successfully fulfilled by WITRON”, says Frank Boecker, Overall Manager for Logistics Processes of the bilstein group.  Over the past ten years, it has been adapted physically as well as functionally to future challenges in four construction stages.  The exactly planned integration took place during ongoing operation without affecting daily business. 

“More than 100 million parts stored in 227,000 tote locations and 72,000 pallet locations are ready to be shipped nationally and internationally. More than 32,000 customer order lines are picked on a peak day and picking performance has multiplied by the factor of 5 since 2004”, said Boecker, presenting impressive figures based on a successful business development. 

Order consolidation ensures optimal package size

Despite the inhomogeneity of the product range, most of the products are stored and picked in a mechanized manner.  The picking of toteable items is done by the Order Picking System (OPS). More than 90% of the throughput is handled here. In the OPS, the items are provided and picked in an order-related and sequential manner at ergonomic, multi-functional workstations and then packed into the dispatch unit. The optimal size of the dispatch unit is determined by means of a previous volume calculation.

Heavy and large-volume products are stored and picked with the pallet picking system MPS (Module Picking System) in a cost-effective and efficient manner. MPS is a goods-to-person system. The WITRON material flow computer controls all necessary pallet movements from the high bay warehouse and indicates the operator by pick-by-light displays the quantity he/she needs to pick. Walking distances and lifting movements of the operator are reduced to a minimum in the MPS while ensuring ergonomic work conditions. 

The order consolidation in the OPS and MPS, and between the two areas are constantly monitored by the warehouse management system. The goal is to supply every customer with the smallest possible number of packages in the optimal size. A fully automated and combined dispatch and replenishment warehouse with 10,000 storage locations generates additional optimization potential. It is used as a buffer for fully picked orders before providing them to the shippers “just-in-time” for dispatch.  

The packaging process as well as the re-boxing and kitting processes are also integrated into the overall process.  Individual components are packed ready for shipment and repair kits are created there. These are packed into totes or placed onto pallets and then stored in the OPS and MPS system. On a peak day, the system is able to pick up to 150,000 packages.

99% technical availability due to innovative maintenance processes

“State-of-the-art is not only the implemented storage and picking technology, but also the service concept”, explained Christian Dietl. The CEO of WITRON Services presented innovative and partially self-learning service and maintenance concepts in the era of Smart Logistics 4.0 and Smart Data to the guests of the logistics day. “In the logistics center of the bilstein group, we rely on a combination of reactive and proactive services in order to be able to react in a highly flexible manner.” An OnSite team of 14 WITRON service technicians ensures maximum system availability around the clock. Particular attention is given to the implemented WITRON and building technology, as well as to facility management. Leading-edge WITRON maintenance management tools support the entire service process – including error removal, maintenance, personnel and resource planning, spare parts management, as well as documentation. “Thanks to our long-standing experience, we know what matters and can offer our customer safety and benefits right from the start”, says Christian Dietl. 

Automated logistics center also in the UK

The bilstein group also will rely on automated processes in its new logistics center located in Markham Vale (UK), which will start productive use in 2018 in order to supply all regions in the UK with spare parts. WITRON’s proven logistics and service modules will also be implemented in this logistics center. 

“The spare parts market is a market that demands speed, flexibility, and reliability. Everything ordered today should usually be available in the repair shop within 24 hours.  Based on an optimal logistics infrastructure, the bilstein group is able to justify their customers’ trust”, says Frank Boecker, Logistics Manager who is very satisfied.