The small black box is no bigger than a mobile phone. But it contains everything. Heavy aluminium profiles, purlins, ground spikes, anchor plates, right down to the smallest screw needed for Herchenbach's next building construction. Each individual part is digitally recorded in the mobile data capture device (MDC) and assigned to a storage location. The reverse is true as well: anything that does not appear in the black box does not officially exist, even if it is an aluminium support over seven metres long that can clearly be seen in the yard. It can only be used in the construction once it has been digitally recorded.
The EDP support means Herchenbach's warehouse staff can not only pick the ever-increasing number of orders faster, they do it better as well. The department's error rate is well below five per cent, zero in some months, with up to 1000 entries a day at peak times. Very different to how things were when Markus Dietzler, the head of warehouse logistics, started at Herchenbach. "People were still working with pieces of paper back then, everything was mixed up", he remembers. The anchor plates needed for a current project could easily have been packed for a construction that was not due until later in the week. The error rate was also significantly higher. "If a part goes missing from the construction site, it’s a waste of time and money," says Dietzler. He reviewed the work processes step by step, reorganised them, and switched to EDP. His dedicated team implemented the changes in the best possible way. And it is paying off. "We are on a completely different tack now," says Dietzler.
80% of the material Herchenbach uses comes via Hennef in North Rhine-Westphalia, where it is picked at the company’s headquarters. Tarpaulins, large bars or pillars are brought directly to the construction site. For anything else, the first thing it has to do at the site entrance is: stop. Then all parts relevant to the structure are subjected to an in-house quality check. This is important because Herchenbach has certification according to EN 1090. This allows the company to prove the qualification of its employees, document its factory inspection and prove that the CE-marked components made of aluminium and steel meet all product safety requirements. Thanks to the European standard certification, Herchenbach can install its products with quality and legal certainty for customers across the entire European Union. But the head of warehouse logistics also takes a personal interest. "We install heavy aluminium parts that have to safely withstand certain wind and snow loads," he stresses. The knowledge that the parts are closely scrutinised by the company's in-house certifier before they enter the warehouse lets him sleep soundly at night.
Once the parts have passed the safety check, they are entered onto the system and assigned to a storage location. At Herchenbach, the process is based on the principle of "chaotic storage" – which means the exact opposite of what you might assume from its name. Chaotic storage requires detailed planning and precise preparation and only works with EDP support. Each storage location is encoded with a QR code and each part is marked with a QR code. "This way, every employee can always see exactly which part is where," explains Marcel Köppe, the team leader for warehouse logistics. The advantage is that each new delivery can be placed wherever there is currently free storage space. Nothing has to be rearranged if, for example, the space where the anchor plates were is now empty and there’s a new delivery of ground spikes. An employee records the ground spikes in the free storage location, so they can be found immediately with the mobile data capture device. But other departments also benefit: for example, Purchasing always has an exact overview of what exactly is in the warehouse. And the inventory puts Markus Dietzler's team in a good position too.
A 5000 m² hangar project, as was recently completed, requires 100 tonnes of material loaded on 5 trucks. 104 bars, 1000 ground spikes, 450 purlins and 7500 screws were delivered. However, the average hangar size for which the warehouse logistics team picks is between 500 and 600 m². The parts fit on one truck. Loading takes about 45 minutes. Before that process even begins, however, three groups are busy gathering the individual parts. Picking work is done in parallel. One person picks the small parts such as screws and sheet metal. In the second team, two people pack the steel parts. The large aluminium profiles and purlins are put together by three warehouse employees in the third team. Special emphasis is placed on the protection of employees. Frequently used parts are placed within easy reach so that employees do not have to bend down so often. Lift trucks can be used to move entire pallets to working height.
The packing lists are digital; each part is recorded and marked according to an internal traffic light system. In addition, the team relies on photo documentation to be able to prove later that all parts definitely left the warehouse correctly. "We have already had a case where screws were allegedly missing on a construction site," Dietzler recalls. "But we were able to prove from the pictures that we had packed them." This prompted the assembly team on site to look again more closely. Result: The screws were found on the construction site. Customers benefit from this thorough care and attention, as construction delays due to incorrectly packed parts are unlikely.
The entered components are neatly lined up for each individual project. "We assemble material for up to 20 trucks per week," says Marcel Köppe. "On Thursdays the trucks come for projects all over Europe, those for projects in Germany come on Fridays. That way, the material is on the construction site on Mondays, right on time for the assembly team to start work." Once the trucks are loaded in Hennef, the warehouse team likes to fire up the barbecue – now that the pandemic allows it again. Then the free space in front of the storage facilities becomes a popular meeting place for Herchenbach employees. And for the warehouse team one thing is clear: The barbecue accessories are one of the few things here that don’t require EDP support to find them.