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De Bondt offers an extensive range of around 60,000 products from 50 well-known brands and collections. These include own-label items, such as the world-renowned Scheepjes yarn. Delivering a high-quality service to its customers is essential to this “business with a family”, which was established 50 years ago by the current Managing Director’s parents. Fast delivery is a firm promise, as orders received before 6pm are guaranteed to be shipped on the same day.
The Vanderlande system was installed in De Bondt’s existing warehouse in Tynaarlo, near Groningen, The Netherlands, in September 2022. Before that, the warehouse operation was entirely manual, but the company was searching for the best automation solution to increase efficiency, reliability and capacity.
A buoyant order book
When COVID-19 struck, the need to invest became urgent as orders rose dramatically. “The amount we had to process compared to before the pandemic was up by around 150%,” explains Dora Kasper, De Bondt’s Logistical Manager. “At first we thought the situation would only last up to three months, but it kept going and we started to worry that we would not be able to keep up using our existing infrastructure.”
The buoyant order book and increase in revenue meant the time was right to take the first step in automation, and the company began its search for a partner. “We chose Vanderlande because they were remarkably quick to understand what we needed,” says De Bondt’s Managing Director, Job de Bondt. “I particularly liked the all-inclusive nature of their solution, which covered our entire process – they are a complete system integrator.”
A clear, professional approach
De Bondt was pleased with how Vanderlande managed the installation phase, which was marked by clear communication. “We had a shared schedule that was updated weekly, so we could see what to expect and they responded quickly to our questions,” says Dora. “It was a good experience working with Vanderlande, because all their people were really nice to deal with and had a professional approach.”
Central to Vanderlande’s solution is its shuttle-based automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS), ADAPTO. The shuttles move in and out of a 22-level facility consisting of racking with six double-deep aisles, which are serviced by two lifts. Order lines are supplied to two GtP workstations in compartmentalised totes by 22 shuttles with a high capacity and in a strict sequence. Operators pick orders straight into cartons in an error-free, single-touch process. They are guided by clear on-screen instructions and intuitive lights that indicate the exact compartment to pick from.
The system has a storage density of 21,000 locations, and provides capacity to pick about 1,200 items per hour during peak periods. A carton erector, carton closer and shipping sorter complete the automation.
The carton erector creates boxes automatically and an LPN (license plate number) barcode is applied to pre-printed labels. All boxes have the same base size and only differ in height. That uniform footprint helps ship orders efficiently to reduce transportation costs and CO2 emissions.
Making a real difference
On the warehouse floor, the solution is making a real difference to operations. De Bondt is taking in the same number of orders as it did before automation – around 100,000 per year – but requires fewer people to process them.
In terms of housekeeping, FASTPICK gives De Bondt tremendous flexibility, because totes can be split into a maximum of eight compartments. This means quantities of popular items can be spread over multiple totes, which helps to smooth the order flow. There’s no waiting for a busy tote to become free. In addition, the system gives the business clarity about how much stock it is holding and where it can be found.
“We can offer an even more professional service to our customers because of the new system,” says Dora. “We’re sending out orders in a more reliable way and making fewer picking mistakes.”
Job agrees, adding that the business has been provided with a high degree of functionality on a small footprint. “The system is hugely adaptable and can easily handle peak times during different parts of the day,” he says. “Some competitors may have a bigger range than us, but they don’t have our operational excellence.”
The benefits of automation go beyond delivering smooth, efficient storage and retrieval processes, and address the needs of people working in the warehouse. Heavy lifting is kept to an absolute minimum and the workstations have been ergonomically designed to improve performance. They are height adjustable and floors are covered with anti-exhaustion mats, allowing people to stand for longer in more comfort.
“My colleagues say they enjoy the physically lighter work and they have benefited from Vanderlande having a user experience professional and human movement scientist to ensure fewer repetitive injuries,” says Job. “This is good because labour is a scarce resource and employees are more likely to stay in a pleasant working environment.”
After several months of smooth operations, Job is able to reflect on the solid relationship that has been forged between the two companies. He believes they share a similar culture, not to mention the same language, which has certainly made life easier.
Job has ambitions to expand the operation and take further advantage of De Bondt’s position in the marketplace, which means that “future-proofing” is much more than a slogan.
“The investment in this system was a no-brainer, because it enables us to have full scalability,” he says. “The payoff may not be immediate, but we are looking further than tomorrow. I consider Vanderlande to be trustworthy – they have always kept their promises and my expectations are that they will be a partner for at least the next 25 years.”
Dora agrees with that confident assessment, adding: “I believe our partnership with Vanderlande is helping to future-proof our business, because we have taken our first step in automation and we are leaving the competition behind.”
In the video: De Bondt’s operator Dexter Seising talks about his experience with Vanderlande’s goods-to-person workstation.