To grow to a million orders or more, we needed a streamlined packaging process.
Wehkamp & Speedpack Hybrid
In the world’s largest automated distribution centre for online retail, we speak to Willie Derks, senior process engineer at Wehkamp. How does Wehkamp achieve fast, efficient and reliable delivery of its products from this distribution centre? We talk to Willie about their packaging lines and the role of the Audion Speedpack Hybrid.
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Wehkamp & Speedpack Hybrid
In the world’s largest automated distribution
centre for online retail, we speak to Willie Derks,
senior process engineer at Wehkamp since 2019.
The location covers an area of 110,000 m2 and at
the end of 2022, construction started on another
30,000 m2. How does Wehkamp achieve fast,
efficient and reliable delivery of its products from
this distribution centre? We talk to Willie about
their packaging lines and the role of the Audion
In his role as a process engineer, he focuses on improving
existing processes and developing and setting up new
processes. His main objective is to ship products to
customers more quickly, more reliably and more efficiently
from one of the 525,000 ‘pick locations’ where the various
items are stored. Next day delivery, and if you can’t wait...
same day delivery!
Wehkamp’s distribution centre in Zwolle has two basic
- Products up to 25 kg
- Products over 25 kg and large products
About 90% to 95% of the packages are under 25 kg, most
of which are clothing. This customer case focuses on this
channel. The other channel is mostly for large and heavier
products such as furniture and white goods. These have
often already been packed by the manufacturer
Packaging type was bottleneck in distribution
Packing has been a bottleneck in the distribution process for several years. Customers often order not just one, but several items at a time. With smaller items, it is better to pack them together in one package. That is why the appropriate type of packaging is already determined during order picking: a bag or box, and whether it will
be processed automatically, semi-automatically or fully manually. If slowdowns occur in one of the last links in the distribution process, packing for shipment, this affects the entire logistical process. The supply chain simply gets clogged.
Three types of packaging lines for optimal process design
Wehkamp has three types of packing lines:
• Fully-automatic or semi-automatic packing in bags
• Fully-automatic packing in boxes
• Manual packing in bags or boxes
“The first line is automated bagging and is by far the cheapest solution, so we try to use this line as much as possible. The second line is automatic packing in boxes. Orders are picked directly into cardboard boxes and the machine automatically places a cardboard lid when packing. The third line is manual packing. The transport container arrives at the packing table and the operator determines the best packaging to use. They can choose a box or a bag"
Semiautomatic packing in plastic film or bags runs in
parallel to the automatic film packing line. This line is
essential to take up the peaks when demand for automatic
packing exceeds capacity. “This is where we use the
Audion Speedpack, and - aside from taking up peaks - it
particularly comes into its own in our system with single
line orders, meaning one product per order."
Semi-automatic packing with the Audion Speedpack
Before the Audion Speedpack was introduced in mid-April 2022, the automatic lines switched to manual packing in boxes when there was a shortfall in capacity. This was a more expensive, less efficient and more labour-intensive solution for peak times. Semiautomatic packing with the Audion Speedpack is two to three times faster than manual packing in boxes. “Measurements have shown that we process seven packages per minute on the Audion Speedpack! This saves a lot of capacity, up to three people per shift.” Labelling plays an important role in this, thanks to the integrated label printer in the Audion Speedpack. For packing, one scan is enough to select the right bag length, open the packaging, seal the package and apply a shipping
“On a good day, we pack a total of 40,000 packages! About 5% of this runs through the Audion Speedpack. The Audion Speedpack does more than just handle peak demand. When one of the other lines is down for maintenance, the Audion Speedpack is also a necessary backup.” - Willie Derks (senior process engineer)
Variable bag length
For Wehkamp, the ability to pack with variable bag length is one of the most important advantages of the Audion Speedpack. “First of all, this helps us save on material costs and reduces our environmental impact. But the variable bag length oers another important advantage in our logistical process. If we could only choose one bag length, this would result in small items being packed in too large a package, which would cause problems in the sorting process. At Wehkamp, we pre-sort by postcode and have a high-speed sorting facility. In part because of
the speed during sorting, oversized packages get blown over, which makes it impossible to scan the address label. The right packaging is therefore crucial in the last phase of our distribution and logistic process.
The Future of E-commerce packaging
Wehkamp has a huge range of over 400,000 products (stock-keeping units).
“We’ve already gone extremely far with automation, from ordering to order picking, packing and shipping. With such a wide range of products and with uniform demand for each product, we’ve created an optimal layout. There is always something that could be improved, but these are relatively minor optimisations"
Even so, automation is still essential to handle future
growth and labour market shortages.
“About 1,000 people currently work in our warehouse on various shifts. At the moment we’re working hard to b ild a further expansion of our warehouse. This means we’ll need even more people, which is a major challenge in this labour market. With further automation and robotisation, we can keep growing with about the same number of people"
Data forms the basis
On the question of the role data plays: “Data forms the basis for the decisions we make. Every business case, including for the investment in the Audion Speedpack, is based on data. We always look at where we’re close to the limits of our processes and try to tackle these points before we actually get there. In the future, we’ll mine much
more data and use predictive analytics to make processes more predictable and to improve them. I expect that a supplier like Audion will respond to this development with machines that are connected (IoT) to the wider logistics chain (other processes and machines) for further optimisation. I know Audion is working on this and keeping a close eye on it,” Willie Derks said.
Let's have a chat
Would you like to know more about what is possible with (semi)automatic packaging? We’ll be happy to discuss the possibilities for your packaging process