Customer service is a must for forklift truck specialist TVH. From its automated warehouse in Waregem in South-West Belgium, TVH stocks 450,000 parts from which it meets more than 5,500 orders per day. Orders received before 18:00 hours, and last minute before 19:00 hours are shipped the same day, reaching customers throughout Europe within 24 hours and the rest of the world within 48 hours. Vanderlande Industries supplied the majority of the goods handling systems for TVH's highly automated logistics process.
With a staff of 2,000 and more than 20,000 customers all over the world, TVH is the world's largest independent distributor of forklift trucks and components. As well as distributing new forklift trucks - TVH is the exclusive Doosan distributor for Belgium and Luxembourg the company also supplies a wide range of used forklift trucks and parts. Its sales division is responsible for parts delivery to customers in around 162 countries. It buys parts and accessories of all brands worldwide and distributes them to local wholesalers and dealers. In addition to forklift trucks and components, the company also handles repairs and rentals in Belgium and manufactures parts, which would otherwise not be available, in its own workshop.
Expansion in new warehouse
Continued strong growth forced TVH to leave its former facilities at several locations in Gullegem, near Courtrai, and move to a new central warehouse in Waregem. The existing separate sites had led to increased complexity, leading to higher costs, a greater risk of errors and earlier cut-off times for outbound shipments. Since expansion was impossible at any of the existing sites, TVH decided to build a completely new three-storey warehouse, which also enabled it to select a location with excellent road links to the hubs of its logistics partners. Ramp-up of the Waregem warehouse took place during 2004.
Automated order processing
TVH had already taken the decision to replace its manual order fulfilment process with an automated system. As a first step Vanderlande built a pilot in one of the existing buildings in 2000 to start gaining experience for a smooth switch to full automation in the new warehouse. At the same time their own IT specialists were developing and installing their new Warehouse Management System. After successful implementation, they gave Vanderlande the task to install the majority of the automated storage and order picking systems. Since then, TVH has continuously worked on further improving their warehouse logistics process. Because their business continued to grow steadily, TVH needed to expand their material handling system and selected Vanderlande again to implement it. The expansion was taken into operation in three phases, the final one in the summer of 2010. During installation and commissioning, the existing system remained fully operational, so customer service levels were not affected. System capacity was doubled, from 10,000 order lines per day to 20,000 order lines per day.
Consistently high service level
"Thanks to the high level of automation in order fulfilment, we can deliver a consistently high service level, with even later order cut-off times and faster shipment to customers," says Erik Deceuninck, Project Manager at TVH. "Productivity is now much higher than before and we have been able to reduce picking errors to an absolute minimum."
"This automated warehouse process further strengthens our ability to fulfil our mission of serving customers as a full-service, global, one-stop supplier of forklift trucks and all the necessary support components and accessories," Mr. Deceuninck continues.
At goods receiving, incoming shipments are transported via a lift to the top floor in the warehouse, where they are unpacked and taken to their assigned storage location by the internal transport system, which covers the entire building.
Storage based on size and sales velocity
A wide range of storage systems is used to ensure the fastest and most efficient possible parts storage and access. Goods are stored in different 'zones' in the warehouse, in a variety of storage systems depending on size and sales velocity. 'Medium movers' are placed in a high-bay miniload AS/RS system with a capacity of 144,000 totes and 16 cranes, each capable of carrying out 120 dual movements per hour. Small fast movers are stored in a paternoster system. Larger items are statically stored in totes in flow tracks. Slow movers are stored in a shelving system with 5 levels. Finally there is a pallet store in another building for large and non-conveyable items. These goods are not consolidated, because the freight forwarder handles this task.
Fast order fulfilment
To allow orders to be picked in the shortest possible time, each order is 'split' into separate order lines. All order lines are picked simultaneously from the various storage 'zones'. Operators can be flexibly assigned wherever they are needed in the warehouse. Operators take an empty tote from the empty tote system, which runs throughout the building above the picking zones, and places the items required in the tote. Various picking concepts have been implemented, including goods-to-man based item picking. This way of parallel picking enables TVH to secure overnight delivery. Customers coming to the shop at the Waregem facility with a rush order receive their goods within 30 minutes.
Order consolidation with 1,100 order lanes
After order picking, the next stage is order consolidation. Totes carrying the picked products arrive at a 9-aisle miniload AS/RS, which acts as consolidation buffer, with 1,100 order lanes for orders in progress. The miniload AS/RS stores and retrieves the completed orders. When all the totes for a specific order have been picked and have arrived in the miniload AS/RS, a display indicates that the order is ready for consolidation. At this stage the waiting orders in the consolidation buffer can be individually prioritized and randomly accessed, allowing them to be prepared for shipment at exactly the right time.
Automatic order sorting for dispatch
Completed order cartons, after application of a shipping and barcode label, are placed on the transport belt to take them to dispatch. Here they are sorted to TVH's different courier service partners. Non-conveyable goods follow a separate route to dispatch, and are loaded separately onto the dispatch vehicles. From here it is the task of the courier service to ensure that they reach the customer together with the rest of the order. Saving more time and allowing the latest possible order cut-off time, TVH itself delivers its shipments to the couriers' hubs in Brussels, Paris and Rotterdam, and even to Germany and the UK.
TVH: strong growth over 40 years of success
TVH was founded in 1969, and started by purchasing, reconditioning and selling old military lift trucks. It initially looked to Belgium and Germany for purchases of used lift trucks, but later shifted its attention to Japan because of limited availability on the European market. This step was the foundation for major expansion, as the company purchased thousands of used lift trucks in Japan for repair, overhaul and sale on the European market. Today TVH has a stock of approximately 1,600 forklift trucks and 300 aerial platforms, and sells over 5,000 new and used forklift trucks each year. The repair of thousands of forklift trucks of all makes and the resulting need for parts and accessories led to what is now the group's main activity: the distribution of forklift truck spare parts. This activity expanded rapidly during the 1990s, due to the company's tremendous know-how, which it has built up over the years. Every day 20,000 active customers in no fewer than 162 countries make use of the stock of 450,000 different parts from a database of over 14 million known parts references. During this strong growth TVH remained a family business. The founders Paul Thermote and Paul Vanhalst formed the first generation and the TVH group is now managed by the second generation.