Focus on E-Commerce Quality
"As much automation as necessary, but as little automation as possible", this is one of the golden rules for warehousing. Taking individual processes and article range into account the individual components are specifically configured according to e.g. throughput requirements or efficient bridging of transport routes and short travel times. Especially for the delicate high-tech or designer articles which have completely automated processes which do not represent an optimal solution. For handling in the warehouse, for quality checking and picking or processing of returned goods man is the measure of all things - and offers, against all common assump-tions of the advantages of automation, a large saving potential. A good example is mythere-sa.com GmbH based in Aschheim near Munich.
The e-commerce company founded in 2006 is one of the world's leading online retailers for luxury fashion. In its online shop, mytheresa.com offers to date women's fashion of more than 200 international top designers. The article range includes fashion apparel, shoes, handbags, and accessories. "Quick delivery of orders, top-quality packaging and immediate processing of returned goods are important parts of the unique shopping experience at mytheresa.com", says Michael Kliger, president of mytheresa.com. He characterizes the success factors of the online-retailer - but highlights as well the other side of the coin: "The extraordinary growth of our company made it a logical consequence to erect a larger, highly modern logistics center to be able to fulfill and even exceed our high service standards in the future".
For the new logistics center, the e-commerce company developed a site at Kirchheim-Heimstetten close to its headquarters near Munich. With a total area of 16,000 square meters, the new logistics center could be enlarged by 60 percent compared to the former location. From this technically highly developed warehouse mytheresa.com is able to deliver the articles to customers throughout the world within 72 hours latest. Aberle GmbH, Leingarten was awarded the contract for equipping the infrastructure of the logistics center as a general con-tractor. Systemintegrator Aberle is a company of the Logistics Systems Business Area in the Körber international technology group. Under the umbrella brand Logistics Systems, the business area companies supply digitalized solutions for Smart Factory (manufacturing logistics), warehousing, for distribution centers, E-Commerce, and management of the entire supply chain.
This is also the case for the mytheresa.com GmbH logistics center but there is one specialty for the logistics center processes. The online-luxury-retailer mainly opted for manual handling and lean IT-Infrastructure. "Considering the high-quality requirements of mytheresa.com an overall automation of warehousing-processes is virtually possible", Aberle project manager Christian Wolbring explains.
Nonetheless, mytheresa.com did not entirely refrain from using automation in the logistics cen-ter. "Our main objective was to relieve the employees from high workload and spare them long travel ways", Wolbring states. Some background information: The central element of warehous-ing processes are approx. 32,000 square meters of storing space for totes in the warehouse racks, spanning four levels. Aberle has equipped this storing block with a large working yard for processing returned goods. From an area ahead with 20 workstations the quality-checked and prepared articles are re-introduced into the storing and picking processes.
In the actual four-level storing block a tote conveyor system with more than one kilometer of conveyor lines takes over transportation. The levels are linked with belt conveyors.
Approximately 150 employees work in operations departments of the logistics center. Processes and equipment - from conveyors up to the load units used - have been exactly customized to fit the luxury article range by mytheresa.com. The article totes, for instance, are particularly deep and evenly constructed, without sharp edges. Wolbring illustrates the advantages by say-ing, "This gives us the possibility for quick picking access without risking the goods getting caught or damaged by pulled threads or scratches".
Already when checking the goods delivered, special focus is laid on fulfilling the quality standards of mytheresa.com. The checking stations are equipped with 1,000-Lux lights, so materials, colors, and finish can be thoroughly inspected and no divergences from the set quality reference remain unnoticed. For storing the conveyor system it transports the system totes as redundantly as possible and considering the optimal capacity and resource load, it distributes them to the receiving stations on all four levels. There, the employees take off the totes and store them at will in vacant storing positions. "The choice of storing positions in the rack system is not predetermined by an IT-system", Wolbring explains. "The final storing positions are cho-sen by the employees. They can select at a glance the obvious optimal position in accordance with the articles respective tote size. This offers high flexibility which is a large advantage considering the fastchanging article assortment in the fashion segment while saving a lot of effort."
The positions of the totes are captured per scan. So the storing position and the article are saved in the goods allocation management of the logistics center, which is located in the ERP system, for upcoming picking processes. For storing and picking the online-luxury-retailer opt-ed for an in-house developed application. It optimizes the travel ways and displays digital pick-ing lists. Tablets offer access to the ERP-application and the picking stations are equipped with touch-screens. Only when the picking of the complete order has been confirmed via the App, the picking process can be terminated and the products can be packed into the exclusive mytheresa.com boxes.
Aberle realized the system within three months; from the start of installation until acceptance of the system by the customer. "In terms of order processing mytheresa.com mainly focuses on quality, not so much on quantity", Wolbring sums it all up. "The optimal system layout, efficiently using the space available, with an innovative conveyor system linking the incoming goods section, the four-level storing block with the rack system and the shipping area, is the backbone for efficient article-friendly processes and for the necessary flexibility to provide the online-orders ready for shipment as quickly as possible, even in the future. The employees' expertise is the basis for the highest level of quality and makes it possible to do without complex software systems".