E-Commerce: First class logistics for fast growing pure player

Image: stacker cranes and conveyor systems; copyright: Witron

Stacker cranes and conveyor systems developed by WITRON’s subsidiary, FAS, ensure a highly dynamic material flow. © Witron

User example


ATP, Auto-Teile-Poellath GmbH, an online retailer for automotive parts, has implemented an innovative and modular E-Commerce solution with the general logistics contractor, WITRON Logistik + Informatik GmbH. The logistics center with a size of 12,200 square meters/131,300 square feet ships more than 10,000 packages per day. 


Image: ATP distribution center; copyright: Witron

The ATP distribution center supplies more than one million customers across Europe. © Witron

ATP is considered the fastest growing automotive online shop in Germany. The successful e-retailer currently supplies more than one million customers across Europe. Trend: upwards. The privately owned company provides an assortment of 700,000 different items including automotive spare parts and wear and tear parts, car care products, electronic parts, tuning elements, tools, and accessories. The E-Commerce distribution center located in Pressath stores some 30,000 different products.

Top priority in the online trade is to supply its customers with these items in the fastest way possible. “We benefit from the many advantages of the automated, high performance logistics technology from WITRON”, said Dr. Stefan Uebelacker, Director of Sales , Marketing & Customer Support at ATP, when visiting the E-Commerce logistics center in Pressath. 

Based on the flexibility of the system, it doesn’t matter whether it deals with small, medium, or large order volumes.  An efficient order consolidation is ensured, independent from the products contained in a customer order.

Delivery on the next day of the order

One of the major challenges for ATP is the permanently growing SKU range and the handling of a high number of flow items in a logistically optimal manner. “Today, we are able to supply our customers from this extremely broad and inhomogeneous product range in an error-free manner and as fast as possible”, according to Dr. Uebelacker. “A major part of the items is already assigned to an order, the flow items will be supplied directly by the system before dispatch.” All deliveries and packages must be timed for a daily supply.  So far, same-day delivery is not a top priority for ATP customers from Germany (85%) and the EU including Switzerland and Norway (15%). Today, it is absolutely sufficient to supply the customers in the course of the next day.  “The goal is to provide all customers with next day home delivery if they order by 3:00 PM”.

Image: workstation with employee; copyright: Witron

Small parts are picked at flexible, multi-functional pick and pack workstations directly into the shipping carton. © Witron

High scalability of the system

The approach with focus on high modularity, expandability, and flexibility has proven in practical use:  Based on the strong growth of ATP, the automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS) is currently being expanded by two additional aisles (14,400 additional tote locations) and the number of pick locations is being increased from eight to twelve. This expansion is part of construction phase II, which is done during ongoing operation.  The AS/RS capacity will therefore be increased from 50,000 to 65,000 storage locations.  And the system limits have still not been reached.  It is possible to double the current capacity by completely mirroring the AS/RS and the high bay warehouse.

Many WITRON customers from the online trade have devolved from a start-up company  to a successful medium-sized company. So did ATP. Revenue increased within eight years from 4.1 million Euros to 85 million Euros. The number of employees grew in the same period from 29 to 400. “We think, a highly dynamic industry as online retail, requires modular solutions with scalable system components to permanently create flexible logistics structures”, says WITRON Project Manager, Josef Gallersdoerfer. 

WITRON system solutions OPS and EPS

The automated picking system OPS includes the integration of an automated small parts warehouse (AS/RS), a distribution loop over conveyor system lines, and upstream picking workstations. The products handled at the stationary and multi-functional OPS picking workstations are provided for picking according to the goods-to-person principle - order-related and in the right sequence. The employees at ATP pick at eight workstations directly into the shipping carton based on the dialog-supported “pick & pack” principle  (an expansion to twelve workstations is currently being realized).  Eight different carton sizes are available. A system specifies the optimal carton size for every order.  The consequence: The elimination of transporting air” saves transportation costs. The delivery documents and the invoice will be added to the carton at these workstations. The pick performance amounts to 100 order lines per workstation per hour. 

The ergonomic picking of heavy and bulky items in EPS is done according to the “person-to-goods” principle, via the pick mobile directly into the pallet high bay warehouse, equipped with 12,200 storage locations. The EPS has a modular design and is easily expandable if needed. Pick mobiles are transported to the correct pick location and the pick container is always aligned to the correct storage shelf. The employee is guided by a screen dialog.

Image: workstation; copyright: Witron

Strict ergonomic workstation guidelines have been considered for the consolidation and packaging of heavy and bulky parts. © Witron

At the same time, the pick volume is shown in a display on the railing of the vehicle. Therefore, picking errors are practically eliminated. Three EPS picking mobiles and four fully automated replenishment mobiles are currently being used in the seven-aisle pallet warehouse - they are able to process up to 100 order lines per vehicle and hour. All items of the assortment will be provided in each aisle. All module aisles work independently from each other - orders will be completed in one aisle.

Order picking into flexible pick containers with up to six levels allows parallel picking of several orders according to the multi-order picking principle. The items picked in the EPS will be packed into shipping cartons at twelve packing stations, that are directly connected to the pallet conveyor system, and then equipped with an automatic carton transportation unit. Employees at these workstations are always given the right carton size for the respective order. 

Order Consolidation Buffer for maximum order density

During the currently realized second construction stage, a so-called Order Consolidation Buffer (OCB) with 420 storage locations will be installed directly in front of the dispatch area. In the future, it will buffer the completely picked totes from the OPS prior to the final consolidation to customer- and tour-related orders. This allows an even higher consolidation of orders when it comes to customers and tours.

All packages will receive their dispatch label and a maximum load securing at two packaging lines before they are transported to the trailer of the respective shipping provider via conveyor system, sorter, and telescopic loading stations. Expansion possibilities have already been considered for the packaging line and the dispatch area. 
Bild: man holding smartphone; copyright: Witron

Innovative system service: The service technicians at ATP communicate directly with the system using their smart phone. © Witron

E-Commerce production control and state-of-the-art logistics IT

In addition to WITRON's warehouse management solution, which is exactly adapted to the customer business, the so-called E-Commerce production control plays also a central role when it comes to the realization of flexible E-Commerce logistics concepts. These have been defined together with ATP to always optimally align the logistics processes to the requirements of the Multi- or Omni-Channel era.  “Thus, ATP is able to react fast and flexible to permanently changing customer requirements and business processes”, explains Josef Gallersdoerfer, Authorized Signatory and Member of the Management Board at WITRON. “The high business dynamics must be functionally implemented by state-of-the-art IT systems”. For a largely independent operation of the logistics system, a control software developed by WITRON prepares a huge amount of information from the warehouse management system, presents it in a transparent manner, and automatically deflects special offers and decision recommendations for ATP.

High-performance IT also in the service environment

A high-performance IT not only provides transparency in the operative business, but it also provides benefits for the system service and system availability. In case of problems, the ATP technicians can directly communicate with the system via smart phone (WiFi) and barcodes applied at the conveyor system lines to identify the elements and revert to all relevant information required to solve the problem. 

Direct sales integrated into the overall process

Another highlight of the distribution center is the integration of the direct sales business in Pressath.  “With the possibility of direct sales at a “counter” in the logistics center, we react to our customers’ request to be present not only as an online retailer, but also as a specialized retailer directly in the region”, says ATP Sales Director, Dr. Uebelacker. “Moreover, this is a good test for us to proof if or how stationary and online business can basically be connected.” The items to be picked up will be removed via the automated logistics systems and provided to the counter within a short time.
Author: Thomas Wöhrle, Journalist, Karlsruhe
First published at www.iXtenso.com