Standardization plays an important role in Arvato Supply Chain Solutions' automation strategy. Not only are processes to be standardized to make them more resilient and easier to scale - the technical equipment and physical structure of distribution centers is also to undergo standardization. Bernhard Lembeck, Head of Future Warehouse at Arvato Supply Chain Solutions, explains the strategy behind this plan.
"Basically, we look at two main aspects when it comes to standardization," explains Bernhard Lembeck.
"One is the standardization of processes and technology. We work for our customers worldwide, often at different locations for the same customers.
A uniform set-up as far as processes within the distribution centers are concerned facilitates adjustments in the technical area, in IT or in the personnel area, for example when colleagues move from one location to another.
If they find the same technology and the same structures there, it makes familiarization much easier and reduces learning times to a minimum, which in turn has a positive effect on productivity."
In addition, a uniform set-up also makes it easier to minimize errors. If an error occurs in one of the warehouses, it can be avoided in all the others with much greater certainty because the cause is already known and the potential source of the error can be eliminated before the problem even occurs.
The best example of a standardized setup is three distribution centers that Arvato set up in an extremely short time for a customer in the tech industry. Two of them are located in the USA, the third in the Netherlands. Divergent framework conditions such as different suppliers and availability of materials as well as different experiences of the responsible personnel can quickly lead to a preference for the simplest and fastest way, which is then often a non-standardized workaround, especially when time is tight. If there are fixed standards that define the direction and scope of action, this ensures that the implemented warehouse technologies and processes are essentially the same and only differ marginally from one another. If changes have to be reacted to at short notice, this is not a problem across borders and does not lead to time-consuming adjustment procedures.
Standardized IT integration of automation solutions often enables greater speed and quality, for example in the implementation, testing, operation and optimization of processes. The more standards take effect here, the easier it is to create modular automation solutions that are scalable at any time and always get the best for the respective customer, regardless of the industry of the customer. The focus here is on the needs of the respective customer. Whether in-house transport, automated storage, pallet handling or data acquisition - standardization simplifies the implementation and execution of corresponding processes many times over.
If we think across projects and can, for example, purchase industrial trucks for several projects at different locations at the same time, this saves costs - for us and our customers, because we may also have lower set-up costs.”
An important prerequisite for the implementation and compliance with global standards is forward-looking, cross-border planning and action, for which the entire Logistics Engineering division with its three subdivisions is responsible. Which projects are where, which technology will be needed in the near future that can be purchased in bundled form, where does it make sense to postpone an investment perhaps for a few more weeks? A close exchange between the experts and purchasing, a networked approach with project managers around the world, and a clear strategy that stands above everything else are the keys to success.
"We used to think project-by-project and often only weighed up the costs and benefits within individual projects before investing. Today, we are much further ahead and also have a different mindset. For example, we independently developed a technology such as the AutoStore system and then decided to purchase three more of these systems to expand our sites. It is through projects like this that we are perceived as a global company. In recent years, we have created around 470,000 m² of new warehouse space and are quite prepared to invest tens of millions of euros. This is being registered on the market and is creating completely new opportunities for us."
New opportunities that also have great significance for the second main aspect of standardization at Arvato Supply Chain Solutions: The forging of strategic partnerships.
Partnerships with other companies, regardless of whether they are customers or service providers, are becoming increasingly important. Cooperations can save resources and make it possible to combine knowledge.”
Bernhard Lembeck is already looking ahead: "But what is just as important for us in the context of the innovative automation of our sites is the opportunity to work with partners who also want to try something out, who are willing to use new technologies and learn from them, whether they are successful or not. What's important is the exchange of ideas and the willingness to give an innovative idea a chance - and we want to do more of that."