In this interview series, we talk to employees of the GRASS Group about the cooperation in the Hohenems central distribution center project. In the fourth and thus last part of the four-part series, Manuel Bonner describes his career transition from a logistics employee to a member of the ERP team.

What is your position and your task at GRASS?
My name is Manuel Bonner, I am responsible for logistics projects at GRASS and oversee the central distribution center regarding new software. As a result, I have also become part of the ERP team and support our purchasing department there as well as the ERP side of logistics.

When and how did you join the project?
I joined the project at the beginning when the team was still being put together. At first, I was responsible for the internal warehouse processes. In the further course of the project, I took over the responsibility for the entire coordination with TUP and accordingly also for the implementation of the software packages.

What would be an example from your day-to-day business?
Generally all the technical coordination between GRASS and TUP, as soon as processes or workflows are discussed. The clarification of functionalities along the questions “What is needed?”, “How should it be integrated?” has largely been handled by me.

How was the collaboration with TUP on the personal and professional level?
Both personally and professionally, I was very satisfied with the cooperation. On the personal level it has worked very well, the whole team has meshed nicely. This also allowed us to quickly overcome several obstacles and quickly get the horsepower on the road. On a technical level, I was impressed by what the TUP project managers and developers brought to the project. This also sparked my interest in the field of IT, which is why I moved internally to the IT department. There, I manage the software for the central distribution center and now have the great advantage of having been part of the project team from the very beginning.

Was there a situation that led you to this direction??
That point for me was the implementation. TUP was on site and the developers, while skimming the scripts on the screens, spotted problems and fixed them right away. That was a wow moment for me!

How was the collaboration during the project in terms of availability, speed of response and the quality of collaboration?.
Since we coordinated daily during the peak of the project, the availability was very good. If something was needed, it was handled quickly. We have also sought these direct communication channels from the beginning, so that we could work through everything quickly, amicably and collegially. Of course, we also had discussions when it came to tricks or process flows in order to achieve the best possible result. The bottom line is that there is nothing to criticize from my point of view.

Was there a particularly exciting problem that you solved together?
Picking in particular was one of the sticking points and the heart of the facility we installed. The workshops on this were very interesting and gave me a lot of experience, as TUP contributed a lot of knowledge from other projects. Also, all the analyses and processes that we carried out as part of the project were very informative and it was fun to work them out together. The result at the end of the day is definitely something to be proud of.

Manuel Bonner in front of hybrid picking station at the central distribution center in Hohenems
Manuel Bonner explained the functionality of the Hybrid Picking Station during a facility tour with GRASS and TUP epmployees.

How were you introduced to the topic of IT through the collaboration?
Specifically, I was surprised and amazed at what all is controlled by IT and how complex it all is now. Before, I had never been part of a project of this magnitude and had little contact with these topics, such as material flow calculation or the control of high-bay warehouses. It also opened my eyes to how profound even the smallest changes can be, which sparked my interest in the world of IT.

Where are you currently headed?
By working with TUP in detail and also in the background on the project for the longest time, it is now my job to look after and further develop the central distribution center as well as the software. In the project we have learned how best to describe requirements so that they can be quickly understood and implemented by both sides. As a result of the long collaboration, we now have a high level of efficiency in discussing topics as well as specifying requirements.

Did you guys use any particular collaboration tools for this purpose?
We work via Jira, where tasks are managed. In a so-called Epic, we can check all our CRs (Change Requests) for progress at any time. This allows us to work very efficiently with TUP. We are completely and most importantly transparently involved in the project management process on TUP side.

What are the special features of the facility that were jointly designed and built?
One special feature is the fully automated goods receiving system. The process actually already starts in the factories. The colleagues there have the task to combine the inventory based on the warehouse management keys, which leads to checks upon receipt in the Hohenems warehouse and accordingly to “in order” or “not in order” messages and thus the putaway is driven forward. The second point and also the heart of the facility is the picking area with a screen-based picking system and the option that individual employees can control the entire facility via MDE devices, report or acknowledge errors and make decisions themselves to a certain extent. This speeds up the picking process enormously.

How often is the system updated or adapted?
Since going live, we have already made major adjustments directly. On one occasion, we adjusted the logic of a process that previously ran on the manual floor and moved it to a position with more automation and better lifting aids to keep performance high and save staff time. We didn’t let a long time drag on, we went right ahead after we saw how the processes really behaved in operations.

What was the target state you expected and what was the actual state?
We achieved the target state in the ramp-up phase. Especially through the adjustments as well as employee training, we have also had days and weeks in which we have even cracked the planned peak part!

How was the cooperation during Corona, also with the special situation of the border entry?.
There, we had the misfortune that the implementation fell exactly in the second lockdown. However, we have also managed this situation in the usual manner goal- and solution-oriented: For example, a laptop with Webex was placed at the facility and the implementation continued in exactly the same way as it would have if we had been on site. During this time, we also had a laptop with webcam traveling through the facility on a pallet.

Where do you and the project go from here?
The project phase is completed, but we are always in further development to get the last percentages out of the facility and generally tune where we can. For new projects, we will bring what we have learned to the table in any case and of course involve our colleagues from TUP.

Thank you very much for the interview!
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