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Service focus improves warehouse efficiency

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Service focus improves warehouse efficiency

Ehmann-Holz-Zentrum - Content ImageWhen the Neumarkt site for Ehmann Holz-Zentrumwas established as a competence centre in 2016, the limited space and out-dated logistics processes needed to be refined. The aim was to maximise the efficiency of the warehouse with a more specific product range for floor, wall, ceiling, doors and wood construction. By focusing on customer service, Yale® dealer M. + S. Bauer has contributed to the fact that logistics processes are now much more efficient, so that the Ehmann Holz-Zentrum can keep its just-in-time promise to its customers.

"The secret of our success is trustworthy cooperation over many years, not only with our global suppliers of wood and building materials, but also with our logistics suppliers," explains Herbert Ettl, operations manager at the Ehmann Holz-Zentrum in Neumarkt in the Oberpfalz. "This means that we offer our customers high quality products combined with high quality service." This starts with Ehmann's next-day delivery service for goods ordered by 11:30 the day before via an easy-to-use online shop and extends to supplying specialised products, for example delivering longer goods by tractor-trailer. "Our lorries are the craftsman’s stock-room," says Ettl, "he is relying on us to supply him with goods just-in-time."

The Gebhardt Group is fully committed to products and services related to wood. Carpenters, interior builders, publishers, contractors, interior decorators and industrial companies can rely on them for an extensive range of products –from raw material to exclusive designer wood. Not only is it a matter of high product quality, but also the service offer has to be right, starting with the consultation, fast order processing and then the timely delivery to the customer. With the help of highly efficient logistics, in which Yale lift trucks play an essential role, the wood wholesaler is securing the competitive edge.

It begins and ends with excellent service

In order to keep promises to customers, the in-house logistics at Ehmann must run like clockwork. The lead times from incoming orders to the dispatch of goods must work quickly and smoothly. Reducing the risk of damage or incorrect delivery is paramount. For this reason, the wood wholesaler expects a reliable and responsive service from its suppliers, such as the suppliers of materials handling vehicles.

"It is not all about the price," says Ettl. "For us, the service is an essential part of the decision as well as the partnership-based relationship in which challenges are addressed. This is why we selected Yale and M. + S. Bauer due to their same collaborative approach."

Process improvements with reduced product line

Ehmann Holz-Zentrum was acquired by the Gebhardt Group in 2008 and the wood specialist was selling the same product range as its sister company Gebhardt Holz-Zentrum in Cham. Therefore in 2016, the management made the decision that Ehmann would be established as a competence centre due to its smaller size. This decision was due not least to the fact that the Neumarkt location, with a total area of 23,000 m2 and 10,000 m2 of warehouse space, is significantly smaller than the Cham location, which has a total area of 70,000 m2 and a storage area of 30,000 m2. Since expansion in Neumarkt is not possible, Ehmann had to work with the available space which meant reducing the product range and putting the internal logistics under scrutiny to optimise processes.

"Our internal logistics processes were no longer up-to-date," explains Ettl. "Take, for example, the picking in the door product range. Doors are order-picked by Ehmann by apartment. An apartment has 10 to 12 doors depending on its size. Previously, the warehouse operator collected each part of an order individually, in other words moving each door to the order picking zone by means of a forklift truck from the relevant racking aisle and shelf area, until all items had been collected." In the order picking area the articles were combined into one order and prepared for shipping. "This was very time-consuming and inefficient as the vehicle was constantly moving between the individual aisles of the rack storage area and the picking area," continues Ettl. "The optimisation of our picking processes was at the top of our priority list so that we could meet the demands of the customer at the competence centre. At the same time, we wanted to make it easier and safer for our employees to work by improving the movement of materials."

As a first step, Ehmann built storage areas and grouped related product together, which means that all parts of a product are now housed in a warehouse and related items are stored in one aisle. The door product range including accessories is located in a 2,000 m2 hall with a narrow-aisle rack system with five lanes. The wood wholesaler also wanted a more efficient solution for the transport of materials. Since Ehmann has been cooperating with Yale since 2007 in Cham and is very satisfied with both lift trucks and the Yale dealer, they were asked to develop a solution.

"The Yale vehicles are high quality and reliable. In addition, the excellent service and good cooperation with the Yale dealer, M. + S. Bauer, are at least equally important for us. With Martin Gärth, our sales consultant, wehave already completed the project in Cham. We trust him and his know-how in the field of material handling."

Customised picking solution increases picking performance

"M. + S. Bauer has developed a very clever solution for us that fulfills our requirements to the highest degree and has significantly increased the efficiency of our logistics processes," commented Ettl. For picking doors and frames, Ehmann has now purchased two Yale MO10S high level order pickers in addition to a Yale MR16 reach truck. The highlight is a clever attachment to one of the high level order pickers in the form of a platform on which the operator can pick orders.

"It was useful to integrate the loading platform onto the vehicle," says Martin Gärth, sales consultant at M. + S. Bauer. "This is why we have taken this into account in our vehicle solution."

In Cham, the company had a four-way side loader with platform in operation, which meant that an order could be completed in one cycle. However, as the truck was 8.60 m long, it took up a lot of space and together with limited manoeuvrability, meant frequent aisle changes during order picking were very time-intensive.

Manoeuvrability is especially important in the Ehmann warehouse as the aisle is only 3.60 m wide.

"The vehicle shouldnot only be able to cope with loads of a tonne, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of the loaded platform, but the challenge was that bulky doors and frames should be transported in a material-friendly manner. The removal of the items should not require great effort from the employee, and every product should be inspected during picking so that errors could be avoided and damage to the cardboard or the goods could be noticed directly,” says Gärth. Taking into account these requirements, the Yale dealer presented the customer with a tailor-made vehicle solution.

The size of the picking platform is optimally matched to the dimensions of the doors and frames with a width of 3.10 m and a depth of 2.10 m and offers the operator enough space to move the goods. The platform is screwed to the vehicle so that it can be adapted as required. For safety reasons it is equipped with a completely lockable handrail and consists of a steel-tube scaffold made of lasered and chamfered parts in the modular design. If Ehmann wishes to use a different picking height in the future, the railing can be adjusted. At present it is installed at a height of up to 5.60 m. The operator can open the platform with one handgrip. Sensors monitor whether the doors are locked, otherwise the vehicle does not drive. A sprung wooden floor ensures that the operator walks on a pleasant surface. In order for the operator to be able to inspect the goods when they are removed from the shelf, headlights are installed on the vehicle to illuminate the shelf.

Step-by-step optimisation

With the manoeuvrable Yale order picker, an order can be completely processed: the vehicle drives into the corresponding aisle in the rack and successively goes from shelf to shelf to pick the goods. The vehicle is wire-guided. At the shelf, the operator moves the doors from the shelf onto the picking area by means of a rolling device on the platform railing. If an order has been processed, he places the goods on the outgoing zone at the goods exit, where they are prepared for shipping. The vehicle is only released outside the rack. The warehousing of goods is carried out with the aid of the MR16 reach truck, which loads the platform.

"The advantage of the new solution lies above all in the time and material cost-savings. The picking distances as well as the time for the individual picks have become much shorter," explains Ettl. "Thanks to the faster lead times, the product is now at the customer's shop earlier."

But it is not only the internal material flow which has been made more efficient. By eliminating the pre-zones, Ehmann also saves valuable storage space. Ehmann is also expecting further optimisation through the introduction of a warehouse management system, which is being implemented. By moving from document-based to paperless order picking, efficiency should be further increased. In the future, all material movements from goods-in to goods-out are to be handled using scanners and data terminals. When the complete order process runs via warehouse management system, the picking process could be further optimised so that today's handling capacity can be increased from 50 orders per day to 80 or 90 orders per day.

"We have laid the foundations for further growth," says Ettl. "We want to grow organically. One thing is definitely certain, if we need more trucks, Yale is again our first choice."

For further information on the range of materials handling equipment from Yale visit