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Atlas Copco distribution centre: When a giant moves like clockwork

The Distribution Center warehouse

A hundred tons of tools leave the Atlas Copco distribution centre
in Belgium every day. A modern warehouse of huge proportions supplies customer centres worldwide. Every day it processes
about 7 500 orders and invoices more than EUR 3 million.

To keep everything running smoothly requires perfect technical equipment, outstanding employees and efficient coordination
of all activities. The proof that Atlas Copco’s distribution
centre combines these factors successfully is the fact that it takes
them less than a day to prepare an order – from receipt
to dispatch.

Nutrunners and mining equipment in one place
Construction began on the Atlas Copco distribution centre in 1991 on half a hectare of land. Now its warehouse space is being expanded for the fifth time. Seven buildings now span three hectares. Besides industrial tools, it also contains compressors, mining technology and construction machines. Altogether, the warehouse contains more than a thousand items, valued at nearly EUR 88 million.

Pick-by-Voice

And all these units have to turnover as fast as possible. And as everywhere at Atlas Copco, quality is the main priority at the distribution centre. “Here we’ve got quality order processing on the brain. We have to pick the right goods, pack them and adhere the appropriate label. And in the shortest possible time,” says Stefaan Vertiest, General Manager.

The life of an order
Every day, the Atlas Copco distribution centre gets almost 7 500 orders. Where do they come from? “As soon as a customer sends an order to a customer centre in his country, it is immediately transmitted to the distribution centre. In just a few minutes, it gets to an administrative employee who processes it right away and forwards it to the warehouse. Warehouse employees pick all the items in the order, pack the whole batch, label it, and prepare it for dispatch. A courier service delivers the goods to the right customer centre, which notifies the customer. Every day, nearly 2 500 packages leave the distribution centre.

To keep the process as efficient as possible, for example, the system has to recognize which orders can be packed and sent together. This saves time and work.

An innovation that significantly speeds up the order preparation process is system for warehouse employees called Pick-by-Voice. Hands-free equipment gives them instructions, eliminating the paperwork previously associated with each item. Headsets, microphones and wireless label printers ensure top performance for warehouse staff. Employees sometimes used to scatter in search of information on paper documents, got the shelves confused and packed the wrong goods. “Right now we’re testing the new equipment on the first 24 employees. In three months, the precision of their work has increased 65 percent, which has considerably reduced the number of customer complaints. We don’t think that improvement has peaked yet, because we’re constantly improving the voice guidance application,” says Project Leader An Beullens.

The site wasn’t chosen at random
All modernization going on at the Atlas Copco distribution centre has the same goal – to increase customer satisfaction. “Of course, that’s nothing new. We were thinking of the customers when we built the whole distribution centre site,” says Stefaan Vertiest. Even the warehouse location was chosen to speed the product’s trip to the customer. “The Atlas Copco distribution centre is in Hoeselt, Belgium. When choosing the right site, we especially considered fast availability of goods. Atlas Copco has 93 percent of its suppliers in Europe, so we chose the continent right away,” Stefaan Vertiest recalls.

Belgium turned out to be the most strategic location. Its advantageous position in Europe makes dispatch as cheap and fast as possible. Access to markets outside of Europe was also important. Hoeselt is relatively close to major airports, in Germany, for example, and large ocean ports are also right at hand. In selected locations, quality river transport also makes things easier. In nearby cities, carriers like DHL, UPS and TNT also have their hubs.

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