With over 1400 active systems worldwide, the Knapp group ranks among the leading solution providers in logistics automation and warehouse software. Knapp designs, installs, maintains and upgrades systems that feature automated picking, conveying and storage technology. Paperless order fulfilment is a key strength and Knapp offers its own powerful Warehouse Management System, as well as integrating its equipment with WMS products from other suppliers. Headquartered in Hart bei Graz, Austria, Knapp has 18 subsidiaries and 14 representatives in its global sales and service network. With more than 1800 employees, the group’s annual sales in 2010/11 were over 272 million Euros. In the UK, Knapp has implemented a number of major projects for well-known brands including systems for John Lewis, British Gas, Boots, Clarks and The Co-operative Pharmacy, all five of which have contracted Knapp to supply resident customer support teams.
Warehouse & Logistics News – What does your job involve day to day? Has your role changed since last year?
I head up sales for the UK and also look after marketing, including business development activities for both ongoing business and potential new customers, and segmented targeting in certain sectors, particularly retail food and non-food and pharmaceutical.
W&LN – 2011: how was it for you and Knapp?
It has been a fantastic year, especially given the general economic situation. When our financial year 2010-2011 ended in March, as a group we had achieved the highest turnover in our history. Sales were over 272 million Euros, which is 30% higher than in the previous year. The order book for the Knapp group is still strong, so turnover for the current year is forecast to be 300 million Euros. In the UK, we also enjoyed a record-breaking year for 2010-2011, with sales of over 50 million Euros. In fact, our share of group turnover has risen from about 10% to almost double that over the last couple of years. In the UK during 2011, we have managed to secure a significant extension to accommodate burgeoning e-commerce growth at John Lewis’s distribution centre in Milton Keynes, as well as orders from AAH Pharmaceuticals, Alliance Boots, Cahill May Roberts, Centaur Services, Oakwood Distribution, Ocado and Phoenix Healthcare.
W&LN – What is your particular proposition for customers in the warehouse & logistics sector? Has that changed since last year?
We design, manufacture and deliver automated order picking and logistics solutions, with special expertise in order fulfilment and warehouse integration. We supply conveyors and storage solutions, in particular our OSR Shuttle™ storage system; A-frame automatic dispensers; and paperless picking systems – pick-to-light, RF, voice and vision-directed systems. We also supply everything from the low-level software upwards, including machine control up to warehouse management systems, control systems and host-level interfacing. Ongoing customer support is very important to us. We foster long-term relationships with our clients, with a partnership approach to meeting the needs of their changing business environments. In the UK, we now have five client sites with a resident Knapp customer support team.
In the recession, customers have naturally been looking to reduce their operational, transport and buildings costs. This focus has meant continued interest in our OSR Shuttle™ automated storage and picking system. The OSR Shuttle™ not only achieves up to six times the rate of totes in/out than a traditional automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), but it also has about 20% less footprint and uses only some 5% of the energy consumed by an equivalent ASRS.
The other point to note is that we’ve seen an increase this year in demand for multichannel distribution systems. Storing and picking a wide range of products for sale through various channels is where warehouse automation comes into its own, so this is a very exciting trend for us at Knapp.
W&LN – How has the warehouse automation sector been performing in 2011? What do you see as the most important recent developments in the sector?
Compared to 2010, we have seen an increase in the number of very large projects on the drawing board. Continued e-commerce growth is definitely a driver here, forcing many clients into the arena of multichannel retail. Multiple orders with a low number of items per order mean that these companies have to think much more carefully about their order picking methods to achieve maximum efficiency and minimum cost. And this is where automation really pays dividends. For example, an automated goods-to-person picking station allows an operator to pick a number of items from the source container and place them as directed in multiple target containers. This computer-controlled batching of orders allows the physical accessing of storage totes to be minimised and the number of picks per man/hour to be maximised.
Of course, another effect of the e-tail boom is the increase in returns, especially when it comes to sales of clothing. This is another factor driving interest in our OSR Shuttle™ system, because it can deal highly efficiently with the storage and picking of returns.
W&LN – Have you moved into any new business areas during 2011?
Knapp had already supplied a number of automated systems for handling flat-packed garments but the acquisition of Dürkopp Fördertechnik, the German overhead conveyor systems specialist, in June last year has strengthened our position in the fashion sector, allowing us to provide integrated solutions for handling both flat-packed and hanging garments. As a result, we have experienced an increase in interest in our solutions for fashion retail this year, with some very interesting projects on the table now.
W&LN – Has your company grown in the last 12 months?
Our UK headquarters is at Long Crendon, near Aylesbury, although many of our employees work as part of our resident maintenance teams at the sites of our customers John Lewis, Clarks, British Gas, The Co-operative Pharmacy and Boots. This time last year, we had just over 80 staff in the UK and now that figure has risen to 102. We are particularly proud to have just taken on two more apprentices – Amy Coltman, 18, and Sam Haynes, 19 – at the British Gas site in Leicester.
W&LN – How are your existing products and services doing?
Our key product is the OSR Shuttle™ system. This is the bedrock of Knapp’s ‘low-complexity warehouse’ concept, which aims to reduce the number of different technologies within distribution facilities in order to minimise costs. In launching the OSR Shuttle™ back in 2002, Knapp pioneered the shuttle storage concept and we have been developing it continuously since then, expanding the range and functionality of the OSR Shuttle™ solution. As a result, Knapp has sold over 7000 shuttles for 120 sites worldwide.
W&LN – Have you launched any new products or services in 2011? What are they, and how are they performing?
This year has been something of a bumper crop in terms of new Knapp products. Hanover’s CeMAT exhibition in May saw the launch of our brand-new Pick-it-Easy range of workstations. Designed around the order picking needs of specific applications, the range includes Pick-it-Easy Shop for e-commerce, Pick-it-Easy Tray for groceries, Pick-it-Easy Fashion for flat-packed garments and Pick-it-Easy Pack for the packing of both hanging garments and flat-packed goods. The workstations feature pick-to-light and put-to-light technology, with a touch screen at the centre allowing the operator to keep his or her head straight and avoid neck strain. We’ve also recently signed the contract for a system for a customer in Europe that will feature Pick-it-Easy Move – a solution for the grocery sector that enables ergonomic and efficient picking of goods from pallets into roll cages. This involves the operator working on a moving shuttle vehicle and both the source pallets and target roll cages being automatically adjusted to the most ergonomic height. As with Pick-it-Easy Tray, Pick-it-Easy Move will indicate exactly where in the roll cage each picked item should be placed for optimum space utilisation.
Also launched at this year’s CeMAT was Knapp’s Open Shuttles™ concept. Designed specifically for handling cartons and containers, the laser-guided Open Shuttles™ are considerably smaller and neater than typical AGVs, making them ideal for all kinds of lower-throughput transport tasks or to combine transport and picking tasks. They excel in applications with repetitive movements of materials especially when on-time delivery is critical, such as in automotive production, or in processes where tracking of material is important, such as in the pharma industry.
Another new product for 2011 is Fastbox. This solution features the super-fast lift from the OSR Shuttle™ system to provide a buffer for fast-movers – such as goods featured in current promotional campaigns – immediately adjacent to the picking stations in a distribution centre. Combined with the random storage of the OSR Shuttle™, the use of Fastbox towers for frequently required totes allows the OSR Shuttle™ solution to meet the needs of a wider range of applications.
Finally, 2011 has seen the first operation of our KiSoft Vision order picking system at the distribution centre of Magnum Medical in Tallinn, Estonia. This vision-directed solution uses augmented reality technology to visualise information through a head-mounted display at the exact time and location it is required by the picker, while also calculating his optimal route through the warehouse. This revolutionary system allows 100% error-free picking to be achieved.
W&LN – Do you operate in any other countries besides the UK? How are you getting on there? Have you gone into any new countries in 2011?
The Knapp group has 18 subsidiaries and 14 representatives worldwide, with major markets being in Europe, North America and Latin America. There are more than 1400 active Knapp systems in over 50 countries worldwide. Some European countries have undoubtedly had a very tough year – especially Spain and Italy – but, equally, we’ve taken some very large orders around the world.
W&LN – Have you won any awards in 2011, or been accredited to any new industry standards during this time?
There have been three important awards for Knapp this year. Firstly, we won the MM Logistik Award at CeMAT in the software category for our innovative warehouse software module, KiSoft Mobile Warehousing. Secondly, Eduard Wünscher, Knapp’s CEO, won the prestigious Ernst & Young ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award for Austria in the industry and high-tech category. Thirdly our client, John Lewis, won the CILT’s Annual Award for Excellence in the ‘Materials Handling Equipment and Technology’ category for the logistics systems at its national distribution centre in Milton Keynes. The award recognises John Lewis’ overhaul of its distribution, undertaken not only to maintain its competitive edge in traditional retailing but also to create a platform on which to grow its e-commerce business.
W&LN – Which industry sectors are your customers in? What applications do people use your products/services for?
Our clients are predominantly in pharmaceutical and veterinary wholesale, food and non-food retail, fashion, e-commerce fulfilment, cosmetics, tobacco and spare parts supply. What several of these sectors have in common is the need to handle high volumes of small, uniformly shaped products. Many of these items are picked fully automatically by an A-frame autopicker, a device invented by Knapp’s founder, Günter Knapp, back in the 1960s. This high-speed machine ejects goods onto a central belt to combine them into an order and is perfect for picking items such as drug packets, DVDs, lipsticks and cigarettes. Alongside this, the OSR Shuttle™ system is ideal for storing and picking many goods that are not suitable for fully automatic picking by an autopicker and has been particularly interesting for clients wanting to handle returned goods efficiently. In fact, Knapp has just delivered the largest OSR Shuttle™ system to date – at the site of Hermes Fulfilment in Haldensleben, Germany – for exactly this purpose.
W&LN – Do you sell your products direct or through distributors? Has that strategy changed in the last year?
Following the acquisition of the Swedish logistics firm Moving AB, the company was rebranded as Knapp Moving and through this portal we have the ability to supply pallet and carton/tote conveyors to distributors and suppliers in the UK who wish to integrate the equipment as part of their own scope of supply.
W&LN – Can you name any of your major projects in the last 12 months, and talk about what you have done for them?
During 2011 we handed over some modifications to John Lewis’ flagship distribution centre in Milton Keynes that have helped the company to manage the continuing growth in its online sales. John Lewis is a highly successful, multichannel retailer and its figures for the year to the end of January 2011 show sales revenue for its johnlewis.com direct sales increased by almost 38% to just over £538 million. The most recent modifications we’ve implemented for the automated material handling system that we supplied in 2009 have helped the company to deal with this e-commerce growth and – with John Lewis forecasting £1 billion of direct-to-customer sales for the year 2013-14 – we expect warehouse automation to feature strongly in the company’s future distribution strategy.
W&LN – How does your forward order book compare with a year ago? What about the waiting list for your (products) compare with a year ago?
The Knapp order book at present is very healthy and shows a further increase compared to last year, even though last year proved to be the largest order intake in the history of Knapp.
W&LN – As a company, what are your new year’s resolutions for 2012?
To exceed our planned order intake expectations and to increase our market share further, as a leading solution provider for warehouse automation.
W&LN – What are your plans for 2012?
We have some more product developments in the pipeline, both in our OSR Shuttle™ range and in the Pick-it-Easy order fulfilment range, and we hope to win some very large orders!
W&LN – Where do you see your company in three years’ time?
I think Knapp both at group level and here in the UK will have grown yet again. Knapp currently employs some 1800 people around the world. In the UK, much of our growth – both in revenue and in staff – will undoubtedly come from our customer support activities, which seem to be going from strength to strength.
KNAPP UK Ltd
Tel: 01844 202149