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“Logistics is a core competence for us”

Spare parts specialist Febi Bilstein automates its logistics processes with Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Image: Witron

Despite the tough economic climate, spare parts specialist Febi Bilstein has managed to maintain sales at a high level in its core market of trade in spare parts for cars and lorries. One of the reasons for this is the commissioning of a new, automated logistics centre provided by Parkstein general contractor Witron, which Febi anticipates will give the company a decisive edge over its competitors, particularly in terms of order fulfillment speed and delivery reliability.

By Thomas Wöhrle*

“Logistics is a core competence for us”, says Dieter Siekermann, Managing Director of Ferdinand Bilstein GmbH & Co. KG based in Ennepetal in North Rhine Westphalia. “For this reason, we also look upon the new logistics centre as a new start and a spur, and we aim to use it not only to extend our leadership of the market in the area of logistics but also to safeguard jobs at the Ennepetal site for the long term.” The aspects of speed and availability play a pivotal role for this spare parts specialist because Febi’s customers themselves are looking to reduce their storage capacities more and more, which means that the consignment sizes are becoming smaller all the time while the order frequency, on the other hand, is increasing daily. Compared with 2008, the company has seen a rise in small volume consignments of almost 20%. “We now have an entirely future-proof logistics system that combines maximum effectiveness, cost efficiency and flexibility”, boasts Siekermann. “This further strengthens our service and cost leadership ambitions within the industry and provides us with a sustainable competitive advantage.” 

“Before awarding the contract, we costed various manual and automated variants and then decided on Witron. We were aware that we were also choosing a general contractor able to offer a one-stop service with no interfaces”, remarked owner Dieter Siekermann as an explanation for the investment decision. “It was also important to us that Witron and Febi are both owner-run family businesses with similar structures”, added Siekermann.

Delivery reliability increased to more than 99 percent
Febi Bilstein has invested a total of around EUR 35 million in the new logistics centre, which was officially opened at the end of October 2008 and has been fully operational since March 2009. The investment for the deliverables and services provided by Witron came to EUR 19.5 million. After three and a half months of parallel operation, the new plant was linked up to an existing semi-automated pallet warehouse and a four-aisle OPS system with 38,000 tote spaces that had been realised by Witron back in 2004. At no point in the modernisation process was Febi’s delivery capability ever jeopardised. Since then, product availability has increased and delivery reliability in both forwarding and express delivery has improved significantly to more than 99 percent. With the new distribution centre, Febi is able to store more than 20,000 different articles with minimal space required. According to the plant output planned, it will be possible to process over 230,000 picks efficiently in the future, which corresponds to 27,000 order lines per day. 

“With the capacity of the new plant we are ideally equipped for the future – we assume that, despite the increasing throughput and positive business expectations, we will not have to expand the logistics centre again in the medium term”, says Frank Boecker, Head of Logistics at Febi. The old pallet and tote warehouses currently serve as replenishment stores and could easily be re-introduced into the total logistics concept as a further capacity reserve if necessary. 

Logistical flexibility enables special processing services
The requirements for Febi’s logistics are becoming increasingly complex. “For instance, there are country-specific legal requirements that dictate that we must affix special individual labels to our goods in several markets”, cites Febi’s Boecker as an example of the growing flexibility demands in logistics. “Without the possibilities that the Witron system offers us today, it would have been absolutely impossible for us to continue to supply these markets and to meet these individual requirements, or it would have entailed a disproportionately high amount of money and effort. With the new distribution centre, we can find the right answer for every requirement and conduct Value-Added Services tailored to each customer. This is a major prerequisite for breaking into new markets and being able to provide the best possible care and support”, says Boecker.

Witron system modules optimise tote and pallet picking
The warehouse and picking technology in the new ten-aisle automated small parts warehouse with 98,000 tote spaces is based on the Witron system module OPS (Order Picking System). The pallet picking system MPS (Module Picking System) is used in the new seven-aisle high bay warehouse with some 40,000 storing positions. The two systems combined cover the vast spectrum of Febi’s portfolio of spare parts. 

OPS integrates an automated small parts warehouse (ASW) with a distribution loop and upstream picking stations. It enables storage and order picking in one system and has proven in numerous applications worldwide that it is extremely cost-effective and efficient for the automated handling of a very broad spectrum of articles. The storage and retrieval processes are decoupled from the order picking process by integrated sequence buffers, making the system highly dynamic. OPS stages the articles for a given order at the picking workstations in the correct sequence according to the goods-to-man principle. They are then picked and packaged into the shipping carton. The optimal size of the shipping carton is determined using a prior volume calculation.

Heavy, voluminous and bulky articles are stored and picked cost-effectively and efficiently at Febi with the pallet picking system MPS (Module Picking System). MPS is a goods-to-man system. The Witron material flow computer controls all necessary pallet movements from the high bay warehouse and signals the stock removal quantities to employees via pick-by-light displays. The dynamic picking front is generated for a given order by transfer cars. The order pallet is staged centrally at the picking front between the individual warehouse pallets. As a result, the paths that the employees have to take, as well as their lifting duties, are minimised and the work can be performed ergonomically despite an article range of many different sizes. 

The combining of orders in the OPS, in the MPS and between the OPS and MPS areas is monitored constantly by the warehouse management system. Consequently, the customer is always supplied with the ideal package size. “Now that we can consolidate the articles picked, our usage of the volume of the individual dispatch packages has improved quite considerably”, states Boecker. 

Holistic logistics concept integrates all operating areas
A crucial criteria for the efficiency of the entire plant is the integration of all warehouse areas into the total concept. For example, the operating areas that are extremely important to Febi, such as the product and set packing units, are optimised with the help of the Witron warehouse management system, and workstation feeding and out-feeding are largely automated. Even other mechanised components, including packing robots and bag machines, and the immensely varied manual zones, such as the bulky parts warehouse, the liquids warehouse or the dispatch area, are controlled by the Witron solution.

On-site team keeps plant availability permanently high
To ensure the maintenance, service and availability of the Febi plant even after the start of operation, Witron has established a so-called on-site team in Ennepetal within the framework of a service contract. “With the Witron on-site team we can offer our clients the best possible support during continuous operation. This team is responsible for any service, maintenance and repair work that arises. Even jobs relating to building services fall within its responsibilities”, is how Witron Associate Director Josef Gallersdörfer explains the concept. “Thanks to preventive maintenance the availability of the plant is kept high permanently. This also serves to improve effectiveness and productivity quite markedly.”

In any case, both project partners are completely satisfied with everything that has been achieved to date. “As a next step, we would like to optimise the processes for our subsidiaries abroad”, remarks Frank Boecker in reference to the tasks ahead. Here, too, the logistics centre in Ennepetal will be the decisive lever for the realisation of further efficiency gains.

*Thomas Wöhrle, journalist, Karlsruhe.


Three questions for Febi’s Head of Logistics Frank Boecker:
Logistik Heute: Mr Boecker, 2009 was an exceptionally difficult year for the entire automotive industry. To what extent does the same apply to your business involving spare parts?
Frank Boecker: It is evident that when economic times are bad customers generally hold off buying a new car – they drive their current cars longer, which means that they tend to need more spare parts. This trend was noticeable in 2009 as well, so we were able to keep our sales stable at a relatively high level.
Logistik Heute: Are there other market developments that have influenced your business?
Frank Boecker: Sales in Russia and many parts of Eastern Europe have plummeted, as has the provision of spare parts for lorries generally. However, we have managed to compensate for this with the increase in trade in Germany and Western Europe. 
Logistik Heute: What impact did this have on your logistics?
Frank Boecker: We had to respond to these developments with great speed and flexibility, since our ability to deliver to our customers had to be guaranteed at all times even with the change in circumstances. The new logistics centre will be key to ensuring that we can continue to react efficiently to market changes.

Key logistical figures for Febi Bilstein:
Total number of tote storing positions (OPS):136,000
Total number of pallet storing positions (MPS):40,000
Total number of stacker cranes:21
Total number of picking stations:26
Warehouse turnover frequency per year:6
Total usable area of warehouse:33,600 m²

About Febi Bilstein:
The Ferdinand Bilstein Group, headquartered in Ennepetal, is a leading manufacturer and supplier of spare parts for cars and lorries in the so-called automotive after-market. Annual sales stand at around EUR 260 million. Under the brand name Febi Bilstein, Ferdinand Bilstein GmbH & Co. KG delivers a wide range of spare parts for cars and commercial vehicles to wholesalers in more than 130 countries. These wholesalers act as partners to the independent garages that service and repair vehicles on the independent spare parts market.

About Witron:

Founded in 1971, Witron Logistik + Informatik GmbH, headquartered in Parkstein (Upper Palatinate/Eastern Bavaria), is a leading company in the planning and realisation of automated logistics solutions. Numerous national and international market leaders from trade and industry rely on the interdisciplinary and cross-sector expertise that Witron has amassed through the implementation of more than 2,000 specialist logistics projects. As general contractor, Witron is responsible for the budget, schedule and functions throughout all phases of the project: from conception and planning to assembly and full realisation of the logistics plant, and right through to the subsequent plant ramp-up phase.