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Warehouse automation maximises service level TVH Parts

Customer service is a must for TVH, the world’s largest independent distributor of forklift trucks and components. From its automated warehouse in South-West Belgium, TVH stocks 450,000 parts from which it meets more than 5,500 orders per day. Orders received before 18:00 hours, and last minute before 19:00 hours, are shipped the same day, reaching customers throughout Europe within 24 hours and the rest of the world within 48 hours. Vanderlande Industries supplied the majority of the goods handling systems for TVH’s highly automated logistics process.

Expansion in new warehouse

Continued strong growth forced TVH to leave its former facilities at several locations and move to a new central warehouse. The existing separate sites had led to increased complexity, leading to higher costs, a greater risk of errors and earlier cut-off times for outbound shipments. Since expansion was impossible at any of the existing sites, TVH decided to build a completely new warehouse. Ramp-up of the new warehouse took place during 2004.

Automated order processing

TVH had already taken the decision to replace its manual order fulfilment process with an automated system. As a first step Vanderlande built a pilot in one of the existing buildings in 2000 to start gaining experience for a smooth switch to full automation in the new warehouse. At the same time their own IT specialists were developing and installing their new WMS. After successful implementation, they gave Vanderlande the task to install the majority of the automated storage and order picking systems. Since then, TVH has continuously worked on further improving their warehouse logistics process. Because their business continued to grow steadily, TVH needed to expand their material handling system and selected Vanderlande again to implement it. The expansion was taken into operation in three phases, the final one in the summer of 2010. During installation and commissioning, the existing system remained fully operational, so customer service levels were not affected. System capacity was doubled, from 10,000 order lines per day to 20,000 order lines per day.

Consistently high service level

“Thanks to the high level of automation in order fulfilment, we can deliver a consistently high service level, with even later order cut-off times and faster shipment to customers,” says Erik Deceuninck, Project Manager at TVH. “Productivity is now much higher than before and we have been able to reduce picking errors to an absolute minimum.”

“This automated warehouse process further strengthens our ability to fulfil our mission of serving customers as a full-service, global, one-stop supplier of forklift trucks and all the necessary support components and accessories,” Mr. Deceuninck continues.

Goods receiving

Incoming shipments are unpacked and goods are taken to their assigned storage location by the internal transport system, which covers the entire building.

Storage based on size and sales velocity

A wide range of storage systems is used to ensure the fastest, most efficient parts storage and access. Goods are stored in different ‘zones’ in the warehouse, in a variety of storage systems depending on size and sales velocity. ‘Medium movers’ are placed in a 16-aisle miniload AS/RS with a capacity of 144,000 totes. Small fast movers are stored in a paternoster system. Larger items are statically stored in totes in flow racks. Slow movers are stored in a shelving system. There is a pallet store in another building for large and non-conveyable items.

Fast order fulfilment

To allow orders to be picked in the shortest possible time, each order is ‘split’ into separate order lines. All order lines are picked simultaneously from the various storage ‘zones’. Operators can be flexibly assigned wherever they are needed. Various picking concepts have been implemented, including goods-to-man based item picking. This way of parallel picking enables TVH to secure overnight delivery. Customers coming to the shop at the warehouse facility with a rush order receive their goods within 30 minutes.

Order consolidation

The next stage is order consolidation. Totes carrying the picked products arrive at a 9-aisle miniload AS/RS, which acts as consolidation buffer, with 1,100 order lanes for orders in progress. The system stores and retrieves the completed orders. When all the totes for a specific order have been picked and have arrived in the buffer, a display indicates that the order is ready for consolidation. At this stage the waiting orders in the buffer can be individually prioritized and randomly accessed, allowing them to be prepared for shipment at exactly the right time.

Automatic sorting for dispatch

Completed order cartons, after application of a shipping and barcode label, are placed on the transport belt to take them to dispatch. Here they are sorted to TVH’s different courier service partners. Non-conveyable goods follow a separate route to dispatch, and are loaded separately onto the dispatch vehicles. From here it is the task of the courier service to ensure that they reach the customer together with the rest of the order. Saving more time and allowing the latest possible order cut-off time, TVH itself delivers its shipments to the couriers’ hubs in Brussels, Paris and Rotterdam, and even to Germany and the UK.