Our material flow computer for Zalando

Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and lifestyle, is constantly expanding its own logistics structures and successfully completed another logistics project at the beginning of January 2019: In Gryfino, Poland, around 18 kilometers south of Szczecin, the project acceptance of a new fulfillment center took place. In the logistics center, orders from countries such as Poland, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia are processed with the help of state-of-the-art intralogistics. The material flow computer (TUP.MFC) used in Gryfino was again supplied by us and it, in addition to transport tasks, also controls and optimizes the material flow within the entire materials handling technology. As a so-called warehouse control system, our TUP.MFC also serves as a communication interface.

In August 2016, Zalando began building a new distribution location in Gryfino, Poland, to strengthen the mail order business throughout Europe. In a special economic zone near Szczecin, the company’s tenth warehouse and thus fourth greenfield project was created. The logistics center has been in operation since December 2018 and now that the stabilization phase has been completed, it is time for a project overview.

The 130,000 square meter site includes four logistics buildings in which state-of-the-art materials handling technology has been installed. At the Gryfino site, all goods flows are controlled by the TUP.MFC. The material flow computer is individually tailored to the needs of Zalando. And although the TUP.MFC is in operation at four locations, as already mentioned, there are always technical refinements in the software between the different warehouses – also because materials handling technology varies in terms of the degree of automation and the logistical orientation depending on the location. “In every project that we implement at TUP, we incorporate our experience from past projects. In this way, we ensure that the customer always receives the best results from our experience and new findings,” explains Stefan Fehrenbach, project manager at TUP and responsible for implementing the software at Zalando.

Zalando Gryfino required more than just a material flow computer

“Experience has shown that standardized material flow computers quickly reach their limits, especially when a high degree of automation is required and additional tasks have to be performed. This is one reason why TUP.MFC coordinates more processes than just the classic material flow,” Stefan Fehrenbach emphasizes the extended MFR functions. For example, the material flow system installed at Zalando also coordinates the sorter, the labeling connection, and the shuttle and batch management. In practice, the TUP.MFC not only controls the material flows within the materials handling technology. It also organizes the supply of empty trays to all points of demand, ensures the correct supply of stored trays in the shuttle to the packing stations and supports the labeling of shipping packages while simultaneously controlling the outgoing goods sorter. “TUP.MFC is therefore a central element to connect ZALOS – Zalando’s WMS – with the subordinate control systems,” adds Fehrenbach.

Our material flow computer: Optimus sorter, batch formation, high throughput

Before the goods can be picked and shipped to customers all over Europe, they must first reach the warehouse. This is done via five goods receipt lines. TUP.MFC controls and optimizes the routing to the corresponding storage locations. “When the goods are put into storage, the warehouse management system suggests a possible storage zone to the material flow computer. It automatically selects the most suitable putaway area and routes the trays provided directly to it,” says Stefan Fehrenbach. And whatever is moved into the warehouse via the five goods receipt lines must also leave the warehouse again at the end of the day. To do this, Zalando uses four sorting machines, so-called push sorters for items, from Optimus. It should be emphasized that the control of the ‘Optimus sorters’ is not an insignificant process. There are a total of four sorting lines, which can be individually and dynamically divided so that up to eight batches can be sorted and packed at the same time – including dynamic batch change and variable packing station assignment.

The four ‘Optimus sorters’ excel especially in batch formation, while at the same time taking into account the correct batch sequence. “To do this, the material flow computer must deliver the goods of each batch to the sorters in a coherent, timely and complete manner,” explains Fehrenbach. The special thing: The sorters themselves can be used either completely or only on one side. One-sided use in the so-called ‘split mode’ is ideal for small accessories, for example, especially to increase throughput. In ‘split mode’, as mentioned above, it can happen that the material flow computer processes up to eight batches simultaneously. “This enables us to achieve a high degree of parallelization of processes and messages, i.e. the material flow computer is able to make a number of decisions within milliseconds,” continues project manager Fehrenbach.

Similar to the German Zalando logistics center in Lahr, two of the four halls in Gryfino are also used for order picking. There, the TUP system controls the infeed and outfeed lines with distribution and technology loops. In a ‘technical level’, trays are moved via the distribution loop into the picking zones. Containers are transported to the five picking stations on each level and then the employees pick articles into the containers. The technology loops also serve two to three vertical conveyors. There are a total of five vertical conveyors which, controlled by the TUP.MFC, ensure that containers are distributed. These are parallel lifters with two load handling devices for two trays each. In this way, four-digit totes per hour can be distributed across the levels and made available to the employees for order picking. Two tray buffers consisting of two modules, each with 13 shuttles per module and the corresponding distribution and collection container conveyor systems separate the inbound and outbound areas. This prevents traffic jams in the intralogistic processes, avoids bottlenecks and idle time and collects goods for further distribution.

Multilingual Capabilities: the challenge of internationalization

The fulfillment center near Szczecin on the German-Polish border is Zalando’s largest logistics location in Poland and already employs 1,000 people. Because the workforce in the border region between Poland and Germany is international, all intralogistic processes have been implemented in several languages. The currently available languages are Polish, German and English. “Every employee can switch online between the languages available in the system,” explains Fehrenbach. This is also an advantage when maintaining the system. Fehrenbach continues: “The same dialog can be displayed next to each other in different languages. This allows our support staff to see a subject matter in German, for example, while the technician on-site is shown in his or her native language. This enables good and fast troubleshooting, even in remote mode”. The translations themselves are maintained at the Zalando site and, according to Fehrenbach, can describe countless other languages in addition to the three mentioned. This ensures that the Polish fulfillment center can fulfill the orders of online customers at all times in times of fast-moving and international e-commerce business. TUP.MFC contributes significantly to this.

For further information on the topic of material flow, please visit Logistik KNOWHOW.