Between 2017 and 2019, Blokker’s logistics underwent a massive overhaul. Its distribution centre in Geldermalsen no longer met the requirements of a modern retailer, having been built at a time when few people had heard of e-commerce. “In 2017, management decided to close our existing distribution centres in Mijdrecht and Gouda and merge these operations in Geldermalsen, where practically the entire distribution centre was refurbished in a short space of time. We stripped and remodelled the distribution centre hall by hall while operations continued,” says John Schollink, Logistics Director at Blokker.
Blokker undergoes a logistical metamorphosis
Blokker has set up a new omnichannel operation in its distribution centre in Geldermalsen. But even in the short time since then, there have been developments in logistics in the household goods retail chain. One thing remains unchanged: the use of Locus WMS. John Schollink at Blokker: “We’ve never lost a day of operations due to a software problem.”
“We deliberately chose Locus to handle the intelligence. That controls the overall operation.”
Riskier than open-heart surgery
There was one crucial mainstay while the distribution centre was being transformed: Locus WMS. Blokker’s logistics operations have been running on this warehouse management system (WMS) since time immemorial. Replacing it wasn’t considered even for a moment. “Once it’s up and running, it’s a stable system that we can rely on to drive our operations, with no surprises. Replacing this would be no less risky than performing open-heart surgery,” says Schollink, who is supported by IT Director John de Keuning. “We know plenty of retailers whose logistics were brought to a halt after replacing the WMS. We can’t afford to lose even one day.”
But Blokker has considered implementing a new version of Locus WMS. The retailer had two different versions with different features: one version for retail distribution and another for e-fulfilment. “Ideally, we would have replaced it with a single new version without all the customisation, but that wasn’t feasible in terms of planning. That’s why we’ve transferred the e-fulfilment function from one version to another, to continue supporting our online business.”
Separate order flows
Moreover, the necessary adjustments have been made in Locus WMS, particularly to order picking and dispatching, ensuring both channels operate efficiently. “Online customers tend to only order one or two units, while stores receive a whole box full. Both order flows are in fact part of the same order picking process, but have a different final destination; the stores orders go directly to the trucks, the online orders head to the packing line,” explains Schollink.
Locus keeps both order flows separate. When the new ERP system reads the store orders in the morning, Locus calculates how many roll containers and boxes every store gets. This calculation is sent to SNEL Shared Logistics – our logistics service provider – to determine which roll containers and which boxes need be ready for dispatch when. Locus then ensures that the right store orders are picked on time. Schollink continues, “The WMS divides the stores orders between different waves. We then start with order picking, wave by wave, taking into account the departure time of the trucks. Online orders also come into Locus throughout the course of the day. If we get enough of them, these orders will also be combined into a wave and released for picking.”
During the metamorphosis, many of the old mechanisation was replaced with new, especially in the hall where the smaller items are picked. “These are the items that fit in a standard plastic picking bin. Order pickers walk around here with picking carts that can take up to eight bins, each linked to a single store order or a group of online orders. Put-to-light screens show how many units of each item need to be put in which bin,” says Schollink.
When a bin is full, the order picker places it on a roller conveyor, which takes the bins to an automatic buffer system, where they are temporarily stored. Shuttles take care of the input and output, without human intervention. “An hour before the truck leaves, we pick up the bins containing store orders from the buffer system. The bins are automatically stacked on dollies for each store, and then loaded onto the trucks. The bins with online orders remain in the buffer system until the orders are complete and we’re ready to pack and ship them.”
Intelligence in Locus
The new mechanisation was supplied by Inther, which also provided the software to control the hardware, but that’s where the systems integrator’s role ends. “We deliberately chose Locus to handle the intelligence and control. Locus is still what controls the overall operation,” explains De Keuning. Schollink adds, “Take the buffer system as an example. Inther’s software knows which bin is in which location, but Locus tells us which bins should be taken out at what time.”
The fact that the intelligence has been entrusted to Locus alone keeps the operation flexible and agile. Schollink mentions the deployment of a new packing machine and sorting system by way of example. All online orders that consist of only one product go to the packing machine, which folds a box to fit perfectly around the product. The sorting system will soon offer more capacity and higher productivity when processing online orders. “When rolling out this new automated solution, we only needed to make adjustments to Locus WMS.”
Beacon of stability and reliability
Even since the distribution centre was restructured, a new ERP system was integrated and the new automated machines were installed, logistics processes are still in a constant state of flux, which means the WMS needs to continually adapt too. “The last change concerns relocating stock from sister company Big Bazar to our distribution centre in Geldermalsen. That means we get a second stock owner in the WMS,” explains Schollink. “Throughout the whole metamorphosis and all the changes that followed, Locus proved to be a beacon of stability and reliability. We’ve never lost a day of operations due to a software problem.” The power of Locus lies not only in the software, but also in the people behind it. De Keuning wraps up, “Centric has people who understand what is really needed in retail logistics. They understand how our processes run, what developments are happening in the market and what opportunities are out there to respond to them. That will be even more crucial in the future.”