Zalando Sweden

Vanderlande’s AIRPICK supports Zalando’s productivity in Sweden

Founded in 2008, Zalando SE has become Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and lifestyle products. With its headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Zalando serves over 32 million active customers in 17 markets and its range of goods encompasses more than 500,000 products, from clothing to footwear, cosmetics, and accessories. The company features products from more than 2,500 world-famous fashion names, as well as local brands and private labels.

Creating a positive shopping experience is increasingly important for Zalando,
especially in the B2C sector. The Nordic countries are among the company’s fastest-growing markets and further expansion in the region, both in regards to turnover and active shoppers, is a primary goal. To achieve this, Zalando needs to be closer to its customers, offer faster delivery times and provide a product assortment aligned with local tastes.

“Scandinavia is one of our fastest-growing markets,” confirms Zalando’s Director of Logistics Development, Carl-Friedrich zu Knyphausen. “There is tremendous growth potential there, so we have a desire to maintain a strong regional presence and be as close as possible to our fashion-savvy customers. By setting up a local fulfilment centre in Brunna, Sweden, our aim was to cut lead times in half and improve delivery speeds.”

Keeping customers happy

Since the construction of its Erfurt logistics centre (Germany) in 2012, Zalando has consistently pursued a strategy of supporting its employees through automation. This minimises throughput times and frees operators from doing monotonous and physically demanding tasks. At the same time, automation makes it possible to respond more flexibly to labour availability.

These principles are also being followed in Brunna, where the commissioning of the new fulfilment centre has raised the number of central Zalando logistics centres in Europe to 12. The facility, conveniently situated for transport links, covers an area of around 30,000m².

Its proximity to transport is also important because Zalando’s product assortments grows quickly and changes frequently, meaning that goods must be able to move efficiently. Of course, rapid and faultless order management and delivery to customers are also essential. With this in mind, any system has to handle a throughput of around 8,000 items per hour, deliver the highest possible availability, and require minimal maintenance.

“Most important to us is the ability to provide fast and reliable deliveries, as well as a positive customer experience,” adds Carl-Friedrich. “After all, a happy customer will not only come back and buy from us again, but also recommend Zalando to their friends and family. Speed and reliability are critical to that, so all of our efforts and activities within our fulfilment centres are focused on providing the best possible customer experience.

“Zalando has ambitious growth targets, so we need state-of-the-art systems that allow us to process items in the most efficient way possible. The ergonomics of these systems are also important to promote health and comfort for the people who operate them.”

The site in Brunna, including its systems, is operated by Zalando’s partner, Ingram Micro Commerce & Lifecycle Services. Ingram Micro Automation and Facilities Manager, James Carruthers, has a clear perspective on the requirements for any new automated system: “Zalando selects the equipment that it believes to be beneficial for its business and we look after that for them – it’s a critical role.

“Put simply, we look at operational stability and reliability. This goes hand in hand with customer satisfaction and the overall quality of service. The smooth running of the system in Brunna is essential.”

The ideal testing ground

To ensure that it could overcome its challenges, Zalando selected Vanderlande’s AIRPICK solution with AIRTRAX Pocket at the heart of the new facility. Containing 6,500 pockets, it has been implemented as a pilot project. The AIRTRAX Pocket’s compact design takes up an area of only 2,100m², of which about one third is spread across two floors.

At the Brunna fulfilment centre the process begins with the receipt of both new and returned products, which are delivered by several trucks each day. Operatives unpack inbound goods at the manual workstations near the unloading docks. They are placed individually on trollies depending on the item’s SKU (or other characteristics), which determines its storage location in the facility.

Returns are handled separately in a self-contained area. There, Ingram Micro associates perform quality checks and repackage items ready for redistribution through Zalando’s network.

Trollies filled with goods are transferred via elevator to the multi-floor storage zone, which is divided into sub-sections such as hanging garments and footwear. After an order is placed, it will get picked, combined with other orders (batched), and moved to the AIRTRAX Pocket sorter. In this way, groups of orders picked from the storage zone can be sorted in sequence and conveyed as single orders to the packing stations.

Items are scanned at the pocket-loading stations and placed in one of the available pockets. They then move through pre-sortation, at which point they are consolidated into batches that are sorted according to the order sequence by the three-stage sequencer. Completed orders arrive at one of the 36 packing stations and are prepared for dispatch. Pockets not in circulation are held in a storage area and can immediately be made available as necessary.

“We set up the pilot in Brunna with Vanderlande because we had confidence in the infrastructure of the AIRTRAX Pocket,” explains Carl-Friedrich. “It is innovative technology and new territory for both parties, but we know that Vanderlande had the ability to get it up and running successfully. It is strong when it comes to project management, as well as being proactive and open regarding progress during an installation.

“Overall, I have been impressed by Vanderlande’s attention to detail on the AIRTRAX Pocket sorter. It has combined the best elements from different types of technology into the solution. Not long after the installation, we could see that it was fast and easy to maintain. For us, it is important to increase productivity and have minimal downtime.”

Ergonomic and extendable

Vanderlande had already proven itself to be an efficient and professional partner at Zalando’s Erfurt and Mönchengladbach facilities, and the success of the Brunna site further expands the productive partnership between the two organisations.

Zalando can store items in a space-saving manner, as well as sort a large number of different items quickly and with the greatest possible accuracy. Due to its scalability, AIRTRAX Pocket is extremely flexible in handling rapidly growing and changing product portfolios. In addition, the limited space required by the solution gives Zalando the ideal platform to carry out future extensions at any time.

“Vanderlande clearly listens to the needs of its customers in respect to how the system will be used, and the ergonomics of the workstations have been well thought through,” says Carl-Friedrich.

“We look to technologies that can help us drive down throughput times and increase productivity. Vanderlande’s AIRPICK was the ideal technology for our operations in Brunna. The timing was perfect as we were setting up this project and Vanderlande was promoting the latest solution in its portfolio. I guess you could say that we had a shared vision, and looking back, we’ve created a ‘winwin’ situation.”

According to James, the easy maintenance and modularity of the AIRTRAX Pocket are its two unique advantages: “The system is designed in such way that if we need to carry out maintenance, we can do so step by step. There are eight in-feed stations, and we can turn off two at a time to maintain or service them. It’s the same for sequencing in that we can close any lane while the system carries on functioning as normal.

“The standardisation of the components makes the AIRTRAX Pocket straightforward to service. For example, one motor fits all motors, one chain fits all chains – we use one set of tools to cover the entire system. It is also easy to extend if required, because the AIRTRAX Pocket’s ‘plug-and-play’ approach makes it modular.”

Reliability is key

Although there was intense pressure on making the AIRTRAX Pocket work and testing it to the limit during the installation, James was delighted with the overall support from Vanderlande: “The way in which the system was installed was highly professional and the on-site engineers were consistently transparent. This set a strong foundation for our progress, because Vanderlande had the right people in place and they knew the system inside-and-out.

“In the end, reliability is key. We’re located quite a distance from the manufacturer of the product, so it has to be reliable and easy to service. With Vanderlande, we can pick up the telephone if necessary and talk to somebody who will always come up with a suggestion. The knowledge of its people is paramount and we always feel well supported, which is especially important as we’re working with new technology. It’s Vanderlande’s combination of specialist equipment and expert know-how that makes it stand out.”

The AIRPICK solution also matches Zalando’s position on innovation as Carl-Friedrich adds: “It is important for us to stay ahead of the game and remain at the forefront of new technologies in fashion logistics. We go back a long way with Vanderlande and know from experience that it has an innovative team and is able to deliver large-scale projects. They did a great job in terms of proactive project management and handing over the system to our team.

“My colleagues and I develop Zalando’s logistics infrastructure and it is an honour to be working at a company that is growing so rapidly. Our customers love the service and products we provide, and that has to be supported by an effective network strategy and the decisions we make regarding automation. For this to happen successfully, we rely on the trust, solutions and cooperation from partners such as Vanderlande.”

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