The Competec Group, which sells more than 80,000 items from 1,000 manufacturers, installed one of the world’s largest AutoStore™ systems to consolidate their distribution process.
The Competec Group, which sells more than 80,000 items from 1,000 manufacturers, installed one of the world’s largest AutoStore systems to consolidate their distribution process.
The Competec Group imports and distributes an incredible variety of goods from its enormous warehouse in Willisau, near Lucerne, Switzerland. After upgrading their logistics systems with AutoStore, they’ve been able to scale their business significantly over the past few years.
The wholesale company supplies private and commercial customers with goods ranging from IT hardware, software, office equipment, electronics to house and garden equipment, family and leisure products, and much more.
Competec has just over 700 employees and, in 2018, generated sales of over $800 million.
The business traces its history back to 1994 when Roland Brack founded Brack Consulting, which sold personal computers for self-assembly in a town called Bözen. In 1996, he moved the company to Mägenwil and, in 1999, opened their first online shop. Today, he is still the Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Expansion rapidly followed in the 2000s, as did several acquisitions and mergers. Today, the organization, which is now named Competec Holding AG, comprises the trading companies BRACK.CH AG, Alltron AG, Jamei AG, Sport360 AG, and the service providers Competec Logistik AG and Competec Service AG, among others.
“The ability to expand the system was and still is important to us. Our product range, as well as the number of customer packages that have to be shipped, are growing continuously.”
Competec AG took over the former Lego plant in Willisau, and this has functioned as its primary distribution center since 2012. The center is massive, stretching over 55,000 square meters (almost 600,000 square feet) and handling over 80,000 items from over 1,000 manufacturers.
Before installing the AutoStore system, items were stored and picked by separate teams in four different locations. It was a cumbersome, lengthy process to get everything to the central warehouse. Over time, it became increasingly challenging to fulfill customers’ expectation of same-day shipping, and lots of small orders from individual clients contributed to a large operation that was difficult to manage.
“We came to the conclusion that centralizing and automating our logistics operations was the only way to go,” says René Fellmann, CEO of Competec Logistik AG.
The Competec Group did much research on available automation systems and finally settled on the AutoStore system, empowered by Swisslog. The system allowed for a high storage density, which was what the company desperately needed. Efficiency and maximum usage of space were also paramount.
“Efficiency in an e-commerce fulfillment center can be maximized by optimizing the use of space through reducing travel distances and increasing storage volume,” says Rolf Gutjahr, project manager at Swisslog.
AutoStore ticked all the right boxes, and, in 2012, the new system was installed.
Competec’s AutoStore system went into operation with 70 Robots and a 600m-long conveyor belt (almost 2,000 foot-long).
The company continued to grow, and by 2013 an additional 20 Robots were added, without any need for construction. By 2015, the company added a second AutoStore system and another 20 Robots. In 2016, a total of 165 Robots were in operation and, by 2017, the team installed an extra 400m-long conveyor (1,312 feet).
Currently, after two expansions, the grid consists of over 275,922 Bins, 52 CarouselPorts, and around 400 Robots, which can pick up goods weighing 30kg (66lbs).
The Robots move over the aluminum grid at a speed of about 3m per second (10 feet per second) and use long grippers to pull up the requested Bins from below. They place Bins containing goods not required for a particular order in any space available to them. Once a Robot has retrieved the right Bin, another moves the displaced Bins back into their original locations on the grid.
Efficiency is essential in a company where customers expect next-business-day delivery (and same-day shipping) for orders placed before 5pm and same-day delivery for orders placed before 9am.
“The ability to expand the system was and still is important to us,” notes Fellmann. “Our product range, as well as the number of customer packages that have to be shipped, are growing continuously. Our intralogistics system enables us to respond flexibly to this dynamic.”
One of the benefits of choosing AutoStore was that future additions could be completed in just a few weeks.
In 2019, a third automated warehouse system was installed. The new system runs with more Bins, but on more or less the same number of Robots and Ports. As a result, the company could add to their extensive delivery range by including pet supplies, sports nutrition products, and foodstuffs.
“It’s very likely that we’ll continue to expand in the future. If we’re to increase profits, we need a high sales volume to compensate for falling prices and rising shipping costs,” says Fellmann. “With AutoStore, we have a solution that works. It not only makes our customers happy but also ensures maximum profitability.”
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