In Emmen, in central Switzerland, 5 p.m. operations are in full swing at the logistics center of the ICT distribution company ALSO. The employees are working on a total of 18 Kardex Remstar Shuttle XP Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) in the small parts storage section. They retrieve the goods from the storage equipment with speed and concentration, acknowledge the retrieval using a bar code scanner, pick the goods in accordance with the order and send them to the distribution point via conveyor. That's how tablet computers, digital cameras, digital picture frames, ink cartridges and charging units begin their journey to electrical retailers throughout Switzerland. The ordered goods have to be on the retailers' shelves by 2 p.m. the following day. Since trucks are not allowed on the roads after 10 p.m., the window of opportunity is tight. Everything has to run like clockwork. If an error occurs in the logistics chain, ALSO's customers are entitled to claim compensation. This practice is unique in Switzerland. For this reason, and because the quality has to be right, the principle of zero defects applies in Emmen. As such, the delivery accuracy rate is 99.94%. "We only make promises to our customers that we are able to keep," says Edwin Duss, long-standing head of logistics at ALSO Schweiz AG, talking about his company's approach.
The link between manufacturer and retailer
ALSO Schweiz AG is part of the ALSO Group, which was founded in 2011 following a merger between the Swiss-based ALSO Holding AG and the German company Actebis GmbH. As a wholesale company and logistics service provider for information technology, entertainment electronics, and telecommunications, the group operates in twelve European countries and is ranked third in its sector in Europe. ALSO Schweiz is the market leader in Switzerland, where it works with all notable manufacturers of hardware and software and delivers added-value services in the areas of high-end servers, storage, security, and networks. Individual services along the entire value added chain complete the company's range of services.
Compact small parts storage system over three floors
Suppliers and manufacturers in the ICT sector are among the customers of ALSO Schweiz. Around 600,000 orders are picked at the logistics center in Emmen every year. On an area covering a total of 26,000 square meters, spread across three floors and linked by means of conveying technology, products featuring a wide range of geometries are stored: from large-format screens to washing machines and USB sticks. There are several storage zones for these products: some for pallet storage, others for small parts storage. Altogether, there are approximately 45,000 articles in the product range of ALSO Schweiz. Around 8,000 of these are kept in 18 Shuttle XP 250 storage lifts supplied by Kardex Remstar. The storage lifts stand more than 19 meters high and are integrated in the building over three floors. There are access openings on two levels: the goods are stored on the first floor; retrieval and order picking take place on the second floor. In view of the discerning quality requirements and just-in-time delivery to the customer, high availability is an absolute must at ALSO.
Avoiding cost drivers
Duss made a conscious decision not to go for a fully automated storage system in 2010: "We are simply more flexible with the semi-automatic solution." When devising the logistical processes, Duss's primary focus was on cost-efficiency: "Two main cost drivers had to be reduced: dispatch costs and transit times within the storage facility." The former was achieved by bundling articles for dispatch wherever possible. ALSO reduced transit times within the storage facility by using the Shuttle XP Vertical Lift Modules from Kardex Remstar, which are designed in line with the "goods to person" principle. Productivity at ALSO receives an extra boost thanks to various order picking strategies, which are intelligently linked with each other. For instance, three Shuttles have been assigned to each picking zone, which means that the picker can process different orders at the same time and avoid idle times. Further support comes in the form of redundant storage: the same article is kept in various storage lifts and is therefore available more quickly in the right place.
A special feature is the double access function for articles. While only one tray with the stored articles is normally available to the picker, at ALSO two trays slide into the access opening in quick succession and both of them wait there for a moment. Making a parallel operation out of a process that usually runs in series saves an incredible amount of time. The strategies for increasing productivity are supported by seamless integration of the machine control system in the company's warehouse management. The warehouse management system (WMS), material flow controller, and the programmable Logicontrol (PLC) are perfectly networked with each other at ALSO.
20 percent greater productivity
With efficient processes, ALSO boosts its customers' business. The ICT distribution company considers itself a partner rather than a competitor of electrical retailers and telecommunications suppliers. Although end customers are able to order goods from ALSO, they can only do so via one of our partners and not directly - a business model with a future. This also has an impact on the logistics center in Emmen. With the compact and highly efficient storage system from Kardex Remstar, and smart order picking strategies, it has been possible to increase productivity at the storage facility by around 20 percent. "At present, we are loading the rest of the trays that are still available, after which the small parts storage section will be full," says head of logistics Edwin Duss. However, there are already expansion plans in the pipeline.
Kardex Remstar, LLC, a company of the Kardex Group is a leading provider of automated storage and retrieval systems for manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, offices and institutions. For information about our dynamic storage solutions, call 800-639-5805, visit www.kardexremstar.com.
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