Behind the scenes

6 min read

WNT is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. High quality tooling, direct sales to SMEs supported by technical staff, and first class customer service backed by next-day delivery are its hallmarks. Andrew Allcock discovers what it takes to deliver this combination

The operator is at his/her station. The boxes arrive via conveyor; stop; tilt; and lights illuminate which package/location in the box items should be taken from. The number of items to be taken is identified by a nearby small numeric indicator; the location where the picked tools should be placed is also identified/illuminated by lights – either a conveyor belt-located box for larger or incomplete orders, or a nearby system of square pigeon holes, open at either end, for complete orders that weigh 2 kg or less. Simultaneously, labels are printed, so that the picked tools and packages can be identified. Image: Operators put lightweight finished orders in pigeon holes ready for packaging At the other side of the pigeon holes, bulbs light up when the location's contents are complete and ready to be packed by another individual, with the address labels printed and placed on the package. The larger boxes travel on their way via conveyor, awaiting completion at other stations or the packaging of their weightier contents. The cycle continues, but only for a maximum of three hours per person. Image: WNT's logistics centre at Kempten - a major investment has boosted efficiency IT TAKES JUST SECONDS The action is taking place at WNT's logistics centre in Kempten, Bavaria, Germany – from where all WNT tools for Europe are shipped – where a large investment has been made in a modern, automated Knapp order fulfilment system. This system is integrated with the existing SAP enterprise software system that links to all WNT's offices and its website. "An order could be placed in Italy and 90 seconds later somebody here could be picking tools for it," explains Sepp Rantscher, manager of the Kempten logistics centre. And if that order has come in by 18:30 UK time (19:30 German time), it will be delivered next day, before noon. A fleet of DHL/UPS vans arrives at Kempten at 20:00 each workday evening to ferry the tools to a central airport distribution point. Even the locations in the vans for the various orders are predefined – a place for everything and everything in its place. Kempten's new cutting tool fulfilment system is the first of its kind in this industry sector, the technology having transferred across from the pharmaceutical industry – the Kempten facility itself is 10 years old. The Knapp system (see box item, page 6) runs parallel to the previous arrangement, which sees individuals guided by portable computer displayed pick-lists. They walk to static stock locations to collect items, covering anything up to 10 km per day – 300 km for the 30 people involved. But the Knapp system, with four workstations, is now responsible for some 70% of picks. The pick rate for the system is 300/hour per station; for the existing system, it is 50/hour. A typical day will see 10,000 picks, although there is now capacity for 20,000, with the same number of people (105 work at Kempten). The logistics centre has a target of 99.95% for order fulfilment, with 99.93% achieved last year. Image: Fetching and carrying, 63 shuttles collect/return boxes from/to locations within the system's aisles Investment of €2 million in the Knapp system has been made for one main reason – flexibility to cope with changing demand, without the need to either reduce or increase headcount in a directly proportionate fashion. This was underscored most recently by the latest, severe downturn, during which no redundancies were made, it is highlighted. WNT's turnover for 2009/10 fell almost 36% – it's now above the 2008/9 level by almost 20%, reaching a record circa €160 million. But the investment in flexibility is also forward looking, as there are plans to boost WNT tooling sales globally – a fact reflected by further investment in Reutte, Austria, and Mamer, Luxembourg, where cutting tool inserts are manufactured (see later). The Kempten set-up services WNT's 23,000 European customers, receiving 2,500 to 3,000 orders each working day (40% after 16:00), with the four Knapp pick stations tackling 1,000 to 1,200 orders per day. The average order value is €250, taking in four line items, with an average order weight 3.8 kg. The WNT catalogue contains some 45,000 items and there is 99% availability from Kempten. The investment in stock here is €50 million. So, between your phone call to WNT's Sheffield office – 650 on a busy day – and receipt of your tooling order the next day, as early as 08:30 am, you have, without knowing, benefited from the company's state-of-the-art logistics centre – a huge but invisible part of the WNT service offering. FUTURE PROOF "The future proofing of our logistics system has guaranteed that we can meet the expectations of our customers for many years to come,and puts WNT a step ahead in logistic matters within the cutting tool industry," underlines Tony Pennington, managing director, WNT (UK). The visible part of the WNT offering is its technical sales engineers, their knowledge and availability, and the cutting tools themselves, of course. As Mr Pennington underlines, all salesmen come from a technical, machine shop background. Indeed, he stresses that they are only drawn from such environments; never from existing tooling sales roles. In the UK, there are 21 technical sales engineers on the road, with these backed by a further four technical staff in the office. The latter are at the end of a phone, which is answered within three rings – a call centre management system is employed to manage this aspect of service in all WNT sales organisations. WNT does not sell via distributors, incidentally, only direct. Image: The new Knapp system has future-proofed WNT's logistics operations, says UK managing director Tony Pennington This availability of technical expertise is a key element and fits with WNT's original rationale to be the technical tooling expert to SME engineering companies; companies without buying departments and where the machine setter/operator, often the owner, is ordering tools, says Claude Sun, business unit manager, WNT Europe. And these same SMEs do not hold stock, hence their need to be able to order tools for next-day delivery. That said, for companies ordering above a certain value, free-issue tool vending machines offer a local consignment stock capability: there are 250 tool vending machines in the UK; 600 across Europe. As for the cutting tool inserts themselves, these are manufactured by Ceratizit, in Reutte, Austria and Mamer, Luxembourg. Ceratizit is WNT's major shareholder, a circa €700 million turnover concern. DOUBLING UP Investment in insert production is being made at both Reutte and Mamer, with the intention of doubling production capacity at both sites. Feeding the cutting tool development process, WNT's international managers meet twice a year to offer market direction. The company's large sales force, with daily direct customer contact, is a major strength here. Product development time can be anywhere from a minimum of one year – with, perhaps, a further six months to refine and test – to up to five years – WNT's MasterMill 2011 system took five years to perfect, for example. Overall, there are some 2,000 new product introductions each year across, say, 10 different product groups. And each year, WNT technical sales engineers spend three days at the Tooling Academy in Reutte, learning about the new tools. The academy boasts a number of machines, used to prove technical cutting data prior to new tools' release onto the market – a tool's performance must be gauged, and application cutting data confirmed, through practical application here, although there will have been design parameters, of course. And the goal in all tooling developments is that Ceratizit tools should display double the tool life of the best in the market, while cutting data should be 20% better, it is underlined. WNT's motto is 'total tooling = quality x service2'. Such statements can sound glib, without the benefit of some background knowledge or demonstration of compliance. WNT's actions and its performance over 25 years are testament to its reality, with the company's very latest logistics centre investment a key, if invisible, element in upholding the company maxim. Box item Knapp system details The Knapp contract was signed on 9 February 2011 and the system commenced operation in September that year, although it took two months to fill the system. The installation is what Knapp describes as a 'Goods-to-Person' system, incorporating 'Pick-to-Light/Put-to-Light' technology. It comprises three aisles, each 54 m long. There are 21 levels to the aisles, with these served by a total of 63 shuttles that collect/return boxes from/to locations within the aisles – they are stored 'chaotically' in any one of 65,000 storage spaces, meaning there isn't a specific location for any box. There are two lifts at the end of each aisle to place/collect boxes on/from the conveyor system. Currently, there are 15,000 boxes in the system, each with a maximum of eight compartments; there are 45,000 compartments operating, as the maximum number is not always employed. Of the 62,000 lines held at Kempten, 12,000 are held in the Knapp system, from which 70% of the daily picks are made. The entire pick and pack process is overseen by just six WNT employees, three for picking orders and three for packaging them, ready for overnight shipping to customers. First published in Machinery, July 2012