Consumers don’t just buy books or shoes online anymore; they also buy large products such as refrigerators, TVs and furniture. These products are too large for PostNL’s fine meshed, strong package network and furthermore often requires a service that goes beyond dropping a package off at home or at the neighbour’s. Therefore, in 2010, PostNL launched PostNL Extra@Home, a distribution network in the Benelux for large products such as brown goods and white goods, consumer electronics, furniture and bicycles. “We don’t just deliver the products to the front door, but can also put them in the right place, unpack them and install them. If required, we adjust the door hinges of a refrigerator and take the old products and packaging materials back with us. We set a delivery day and time window with the consumers ourselves, which the receiver can still change later on if they wish,” says Marc Kooistra.
Because the service was growing fast, the next step was taken in the autumn of 2013 with the development of its own logistics centre. "Carriers usually prepare a shipment today in order to be able to deliver tomorrow. However, we also have shipments that should be delivered 10 days later, for example. We need to be able to store such shipments someplace. We also needed our own location for cross-docking of shipments to carriers and a location where we could store our clients’ stocks," says Kooistra.
Searched for a large, mature supplier
In December 2013, PostNL found a suitable building in Amersfoort that could serve as a logistics centre for PostNL Extra@Home: a completely empty hall of 7,700 square meters without any facilities. It also lacked a WMS. Consafe Logistics was able to implement Astro WMS here in just three months’ time. On 1 March 2014 we wanted to set the warehouse into operation. This owing to the start of the garden furniture season, a very important product category for us."
At the time that PostNL decided to hire the warehouse in Amersfoort, the company was already in an advanced stage of selecting a new WMS for its fulfilment centres. Of all the WMS vendors who were still in the competition, Consafe Logistics was the only one, able to deliver the required functionality and scalability, and get the warehouse up and running fast enough. "On 10 February, the WMS was already mostly set up, so we had plenty of time to test it. Hence commissioning went smoothly. Of course there are always minor problems, such as a Wi-Fi network not providing enough coverage at one particular spot. But these are the kind of problems we had expected and they were not actually directly related to Consafe Logistics," said Kooistra.
The choice for Consafe Logistics was not only motivated by the PostNL’s rush. "On the contrary. We were looking for a large, mature WMS supplier with a good presence in the Netherlands. Consafe is such a supplier. We operate in a very dynamic market and when we need a new functionality, we have to be able to develop it quickly."
Storage or cross-docking
The logistics centre consists partly of ground locations where the large products are stored in block stacking. In addition, a number of warehouse racks are set up for storage of smaller products such as garden cushions. "It’s convenient to have it in stock here, when consumers buy garden cushions with their furniture, we don’t have to wait until they arrive from our client’s distribution centre," says Kooistra.
For the operations, reach trucks are mainly used, all of which are equipped with a truck terminal and a barcode scanner. When an order is released by the WMS, a driver receives the order to go to a specific location, where the product’s barcode is scanned and the location identified. A mobile printer then prints the shipping label, which is immediately fixed on the product.
When storing, a similar process is followed, says Kooistra. All shipments to our warehouse are registered in advance, so we already know in advance what’s in the lorry. If we then scan the barcode on goods receipt, we immediately see if the product should be placed in stock or be cross docked."
Unhindered by customisation
The operation in Amersfoort started on 1 March 2013 with a number of clients who have garden furniture in their assortment. Then the other clients were also linked to the new WMS. "We are constantly scaling up. Directly opposite is a hall of 7,300 square meters, which was put into operations in April," says Kooistra.
Over time, the WMS will also be used in the PostNL fulfilment centres. These operations are more complex than those in Amersfoort. "This operations serves as a proof of concept."Consafe has demonstrated its great experience with these types of projects. Additionally, Astro WMS is rich in functionality with a "smart" architecture. We don’t want to be hindered by customisation when upgrades the system, and that will not be the case with this WMS."