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: 400x300 mm and 600x400 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 1200x400 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.
Let’s meat again
Complexity and volume no longer a challenge for Debaenst
Growth often means added complexity. Especially if you want to distinguish yourself with better or faster customer service. Meat processing company Debaenst located in Mouscron decided to automate its production process and is now fully prepared for the future.
Until a couple of years ago, Debaenst was able to perform all its storage and processing activities by hand. But as the proportion of supermarkets in its customer base grew, this resulted in a dramatic increase in complexity for its meat pre-packaging processes. The volumes it had to produce increased steadily, too.
Kurt Debaenst, Business Manager: ‘We started thinking about automation when we noticed our expansion and the added complexity this brought with it were starting to affect our efficiency levels. Initially we just wanted an automatic system for storing our cuts of meat that needed to go to the portioning room, and intrion proved to be the perfect partner to develop this for us.’
Sophisticated control for maximum performance
The principle behind the iCollector, which is what the system is called, is quite simple. The solution consists of a racking system with movable arms for storing and delivering boxes. It can accommodate seven boxes in a row behind each other, which results in lots of storage capacity in a very limited area: 1,500 crates in 290m³. That was a very important requirement for this concept. Wim Vermeir, Sales Engineer at intrion, explains: ‘When a box is slid into the system on one side, another box automatically comes out the other. And the great thing is that you can put boxes in and take them out o both sides. Good control is of course essential to getting the maximum performance out of a system like this, so we designed and set it up within intrion.’
When the cuts of fresh, vacuum-packed meat are needed in the portioning room, the iCollector automatically retrieves the right boxes according to the production order. Dozens of butchers then cut the meat in the portioning room before it is packaged in sealed trays. The experiences with the initial automation were so positive that the idea of automatically buffering the trays soon followed.
Small runs, customized labels, different prices per branch – we like these little “specialities”, especially now that our system can manage them all.
(Kurt Debaenst, Business Manager)
1,800 trays per hour, with personalised labelling
This was right up intrion’s street, too. Once the meat has been vacuum-packed and sealed in its trays, a robot automatically places those on a larger tray, product by product. They’re then taken to a second iCollector on a conveyor belt, where they’re placed in one of the system’s locations. The intrion software looks up if larger trays are needed to supply the required number of trays per order and automatically retrieves them in the right order from the iCollector. Two robots then pick the exact number from the larger trays at a top speed of 1,800 trays per hour. Half-empty picked larger trays are returned back to the iCollector, and the smaller trays are placed on a conveyor belt the right way round to go to the labelling machine. intrion uses this machine to stick the labels on each individual tray, with the customer name and all the necessary details taken from the ERP system. The price, which can differ per customer branch, can also be printed if required.
Benefits on various fronts
This second iCollector separates the production process from the shipping process. ‘This buffer allows us to start portioning based on the predicted amounts required. ‘At the moment when the customer effectively places the order, we only need to make whatever there is a shortage of and integrate it in the order process,’ explains CEO Alain Monteyne. ‘This means we can ultimately deliver faster and more flexibly than before, because we used to start portioning earlier in the process. And if the retailers want, we even sort the products per branch so they can easily cross-dock the goods in their central depot.’
More profiling as service provider
‘Three years ago we had maybe 60 SKUs; now there are around 500,’ adds Kurt Debaenst. ‘In recent years, for example, we’ve included a lot more breeds of cattle in our range of products. This gives our customer more choice, and we can process all their requests very efficiently. The automation also allows us to profile ourselves more as a service provider. Small runs, customized labels, different prices per branch – we like these little “specialities”, especially now that our system can manage them all.’
These days we’re delivering around 80,000 to 100,000 trays every week. And if Debaenst wants, there’s enough room to add another identical iCollector next to the existing one in the future. Welcome growth, welcome complexity.
Since Debaenst was founded 68 years ago, it has grown over three generations from being a small butcher’s into a fully-fledged meat processing company. In 2000, the company started selling cuts of meat as well as whole carcasses. Two years later, it also started providing pre-packaged meat products with customised labels for customers. This trend has only increased. Lots of fresh preparations based on raw meat, such as gyros, roulades and brochettes, have been added more recently. Debaenst now has around 45 employees.