ABB - Intrion

A new EDC for Van Marcke

From 0 to 70% automation

Van Marcke is a typical example of West Flemish entrepreneurship: with their feet on the ground and the ambition to grow steadily. Van Marcke is now pushing that growth to the next level. In 2018, they took on a stake in the Dutch e-commerce company SanitairWinkel. Since October of that year, they have also had their brand-new, 80,000 m2 European Distribution Centre running at full speed, with, among others, a fully automatic goods-to-man (GTM) installation.

Like the last one, the new European Distribution Centre is based in Kortrijk, but on a new industrial site. The reasons for choosing the new location may sound familiar: there had been complex, organic growth of infrastructure on the former site until there were no further possibilities for expansion. On top of this, the company wanted to automate. Until recently, their order-pickers spent up to 80% of their time moving from product to product. Which seemed excessive to Van Marcke. They asked if that could be done more efficiently. What if all these products could be brought to the order-pickers instead of the other way around? The idea of a GTM installation was born.



New logistics flow for more than 30,000 SKUs

intrion calculated how much space such an installation would require, motivating the decision for a new EDC. Automation on this scale demands a radical change to the logistics flow. Previously, everything was organised by product group. Now, the 30,000 or so SKUs are divided based on size.

Filip De Witte, general manager of the EDC: ‘It soon became clear that this wouldn’t be a traditional storage-bin system. Our product range was simply too diverse for that. Together with intrion, we chose a fully automated storage-bin warehousing approach for the small goods and a semi-automatic narrow-aisle warehouse for everything that goes on pallets.’

But even the storage-bin warehouse is far from being a standard solution. Originally, intrion expected to work with two different sized storage bins: 400×300 mm and 600×400 mm. But at Filip’s suggestion, a third format was added. ‘There are some products, like shower hoses, that we sell together with taps and other small parts. It made more sense to stock them together. So, we incorporated 1200×400 mm storage bins into the plans. And with complete flexibility, intrion adapted the plans.’


We are now achieving an overall pick performance of 99.6%


Active participation proved crucial during an intensive testing phase

The whole system has been operational since October 2018. 88 intrion shuttles zip back and forth in the metres-high storage-bin warehouse, pushing storage bins onto conveyor belts or returning them to their places. A little further up, six order-pickers take what they need for their orders out of the automatically delivered storage bins. Like the other operators, they have undergone thorough training with intrion and can even perform various minor interventions as required.

‘We are now achieving an overall pick performance of 99.6%,’ says Filip proudly. ‘And we are fine-tuning here and there to get it even higher.’

He knows what he’s talking about. Throughout the entire relocation and testing phase, he was in the thick of it with the engineers. ‘It was a very intensive collaboration. I wanted to solve problems at the machine, not during meetings. I like the hands-on approach. And it was very characteristic of intrion that they were onboard with my vision and that we had effective, active participation. Because you can make your analysis as thorough as could be, but you need to find a match between the study and an optimally functioning end result.’

On average, 200,000 to 240,000 products are shipped from the new EDC every day. But Van Marcke is ready to drive that number even higher.


About Van Marcke

Van Marcke was founded in Kortrijk in 1929 by Raymond Van Marcke and is currently managed by Caroline Van Marcke. The company has around 1,600 employees, active in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Malta and the USA. Van Marcke is the market leader in Belgium for the specialised distribution of sanitary and central-heating materials. Worldwide, the company is a powerful presence on the heating and water market.