Jack Wolfskin prepares for the future with automation

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Outdoor equipment specialist Jack Wolfskin has upgraded its entire logistics organisation after implementing a TGW storage and picking system at its new distribution centre near Hamburg, Germany.

The company has been growing by more than 20 per cent each year and it’s warehousing and logistics systems were straining to keep up.

Plus, it was having to move to bigger premises every five to ten years, so rather than just moving to another new building it needed to find somewhere with more capacity and consistency on a permanent basis.

The company decided to invest in a new logistics centre in Neu Wulmstorf, which is near the Hamburg harbour as most goods come from the Far East. The move marked the largest individual investment in plants and equipment in almost 30-years of the company’s history.

The 320,000 sq ft facility can be expanded by an additional 215,000 sq ft and has been designed to allow the company to grow at this site for more than ten years so that the whole of Europe can be supplied from this point.

The new centre enabled Jack Wolfskin to use warehouse automation technology, but also led to extensive changes in the organisation and meant the old IT system had to be replaced.

The main warehouse now serves about 3,000 points of sale across Europe, including specialised athletic stores and clothing shops, 270 franchises and via its catalogue, which is distributed in shops or sent out by post.

Each season, about 8,000 different articles are available, including all sizes and colour variants. With an overlapping of both seasons, some 16,000 SKUs are permanently available in the main warehouse.

At the beginning of the season Jack Wolfskin can plan more easily as it can add volume to the plan up to four weeks in advance. However, the greater challenge is delivery from stock, which makes up about 70 per cent of all sales orders.

“In this case, the shop spontaneously orders what it needs and we deliver these articles up to 30 per cent on the same day and the rest usually on the next day,” says Brandt.

Order sizes vary from one-piece orders to the initial stocking of a shop with more than 3,000 different articles, or the order of more than 1,000 pieces of a jacket by a large customer.

All of these requirements could no longer effectively be met by the old, manual logistics system with sequential two-stage order picking.

Brandt says, “We performed a lot of calculations, made plans, and discovered that this concept is simply no longer scalable. It was clear to us that we had to find a radically different solution.”

From an early planning stage the company decided it wanted to work without trays or additional load carriers as it would not be a complete solution, but more of an aid for the AS/RS technology.

After talking to a number of companies Jack Wolfskin selected TGW to carry out the project.

TGW was able to complete the project together with Jack Wolfskin without any interruptions to operations, and the automatic carton warehouse is now the core of the logistics centre.

Brandt says: “We exchanged the IT systems and technology and radically changed the organisation and process, all while moving to a new distribution centre. None of our customers noticed. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting that.”

On arrival in Germany goods are transported in containers by ship to the logistics centre in Neu Wulmstorf.

Cartons are then transferred directly from the container to the automatic conveyor system, automatically identified, measured, weighed, provided with an internal label, and then transported to the carton warehouse.

In the old system, up to a day was needed to unload a container, including the manual inspection, sorting, and item-based palletisation of the cartons, labelling, and provision and storage of the pallets. Now this same process takes only 45 minutes.

Jack Wolfskin’s logistics manager Uta Mohr says: “Our unloading logistics are completely lean now. We are also able to process the planned peak of 30 containers a day.”

The automatic carton warehouse stores the delivered cartons directly and without additional load carriers in the triple-depth storage structure using Twister technology.

“For us, it was decisive that, using a triple-deep solution, TGW managed to create an optimum ratio between storage capacity and storage density with sufficient dynamics at an acceptable relation to the investment volume. No other company offered such a solution,” Brandt says.

In the first step, a 12-aisle warehouse with 210,000 storage locations for cartons was established. The warehouse can also be expanded to a total of 19 aisles and almost 310,000 storage locations.

The entire order picking process is supplied with goods from the carton warehouse. The goods are conveyed to the order picking zones defined by the system and provided in shelving racks.

Order picking itself remains manual, but the entire process is controlled by the new system.

“We have made quantum leaps in development,” says Mohr. “We used to use sheets of paper on which I checked off the goods with a ball point pen. Now, everything is under control via RF data transmission.”

Another benefit of the automated system is that articles do not have to stay in a fixed place in the order picking warehouse.

The TGW system-controlled system allows for items to be moved and stored in multiple locations to speed up order fulfilment.

“The distances have become considerably shorter and we can settle an unbelievable number of sales orders at the same time through the pick stations,” Brandt says.

Jack Wolfskin is also now able to offer a better value-added service whereby the articles are labelled, repacked, specially documented, and possibly ironed or otherwise prepared according to customer requirements.

Coming directly from the order picking process, the system routes items requiring such post-processing to 16 ergonomically-designed workstations in the value-added services area.

The employees at these workstations scan the incoming cartons, and work instructions for that order are displayed.

All cartons eventually reach the goods-out area, where they are covered with a lid, strapped, and labelled for shipping.

While the labelling and strapping takes place fully automatically, the lids are placed manually. In other areas, such as the carton setup department or order picking warehouse, the company continues to rely on its human workers.

“We have not switched to full automation, but we have consciously decided on this solution,” Brandt says. “We did not want to solve everything at once and overtax ourselves. Our goal was to implement and concentrate on the important things. We still have manual areas and can control the use of employees and various strategies ourselves in a very flexible manner.”


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