In the interview series, we talk to employees of the GRASS Group about the cooperation in the project Central Warehouse Hohenems. The second part of the four-part series focuses on the conversation with Jürgen Moritsch, the expert for strategic logistics of the GRASS Group.

What is your position and your role at GRASS?
I have been working in logistics at GRASS since 2007 and am currently responsible for strategic logistics in the GRASS Group.

How did it come to the launch of the project?
I was assigned as project manager to initiate a tender for the GRASS central distribution center in Hohenems. For this purpose, we prepared two tenders, one for logistics and one for the software. In order to find the right idea, we initiated an idea pitch and wrote to several suppliers. Together with them, we developed and surveyed many concepts in order to decide on a project in the end.

This project was then the central distribution center?
We have then selected the best of these many ideas for us by taking everything from our existing experience and the things that were particularly important to us in the implementation of the project. The result is the variant as we have it now in operation. Which was also the right decision.

What would be an example of these special features, which should be considered in any case?.
For us, it was important that we automate the transports among the sites more. Throughout the facility, it was important for us to move from a lot of manual activities towards automation. Everything should be paperless. The employees were to be supported by the software in picking and packing, especially in which activities are to be carried out next. All the internal processes should also be linked, so that we can use the operational staff everywhere. That was very important to us.

How did the planning unfold from your perspective and at what point did TUP join in?
We put the software out to tender, as already mentioned. There were very many providers, in the end we have selected the current provider TUP through a selection process to join forces with them. We had a very good feeling due to the numerous meetings that the software manufactory is the right partner for our future.

Were there arguments or situations that tipped the scales for you?
It was not my decision, it was one of the team. But we understood very well during these talks that what we had tendered was also so consistent from the supply side and that it could be implemented smoothly. The references were also such that it was a good fit.

How was the cooperation with TUP?
I actually always felt good about the collaboration. We exchanged ideas with each other when we encountered different points of view. The solution approaches developed were always those where we could be very sure that they were the right way. The operational cooperation with our colleagues on site was always very pleasant for us. There was never any major friction.

Was there a particular situation where a good solution was approached through discussion?
We use trays on the pallets. There was the approach in the project that we have to equip each pallet with a tray and “marry” each pallet to this carrier pallet. That was not sustainable for me. The discussions with Mr. Pirulli were very interesting, but he was then convinced that the variant was not so feasible because he could test it himself. After that, we solved the problem together.

How did you feel about the ramp-up?
We were in a difficult situation due to Corona. Certain test phases ran only through Webex and video calls. Here one could see that the collaboration worked well. We were able to implement everything and everything was comprehensible. The ramp-up itself was very good. We tested through in phases: First the goods receipt, then the next processes were carried out and tested. New topics were only added once we had seen that everything that had been implemented so far was working. It was very important to us that the ramp-up and the cooperation with implementers and hardware suppliers worked as smoothly as possible. Which was the situation was for implementation.

What was the solution for the creation of empty pallets in the system?.
We had to find a solution on how to marry the inventory on the pallet. The tray had the basic barcode, through which we connected it to the loading equipment. This way, everything that happened to that tray could be tracked all the way. The challenge was that empty pallets then had to be fed in to this system. This was done via stacks of ten. The idea was that we would form an empty stack for each pallet that had to be “married” to a carrier pallet, because we would have needed this later in order picking. But that was not feasible, after scanning three times the fourth pallet was incorrect. So we had to find a solution to tell the system “I am now forming a stack of ten, but I only have the carrier pallet as an identifier for the system”. This was not immediately clear to TUP in the implementation, but we were able to solve it quickly because we were able to test it on site. In the end, the solution was that only the carrier pallet is scanned and the information is stored accordingly, whether it is now an empties stack or not.

What was your expectation towards TUP at the beginning of the project and during the implementation?
We had designed the tender very extensively and subsequently received a very good offer from TUP. Accordingly, our expectation was that TUP would know what they were doing. Software is often a no man’s land for a logistician, so it requires experts. Therefore, we placed a lot of emphasis on getting the right support from the software supplier.

Pallets on materials handling technology in the GRASS central distribution center in Hohenems
Pallets in the GRASS central distribution center in Hohenems

Was part of the expectation that the approach was explained in detail?.
Yes, regarding that, I want to know how the system works. I don’t need to fully understand it from the technical side, but I need to know what’s happening and why it’s happening. That was always explained for us as well, and we always got the right answer to our questions. If something was explained and we didn’t understand something, we could easily ask and then would get the information. This was an important factor, because it allowed us to continue to expand the processes with confidence. We received a professional answer to everything and were never fobbed off with the statement “We’ll do it for you and you take this.”

How was the reaction to changed requirements by the project participants?
We discussed changed requirements openly. If it was feasible, we integrated it into the project. If it was no longer feasible, if the intervention would have gone too deep and would have jeopardized the progress of the project, then we put it in the background. Which doesn’t mean we disregarded it. Everything was documented in Jira cases so that we could re-evaluate the requirements after implementation and integrate them as needed. That was a good thing, too, because it never compromised the implementation and we were still able to integrate some improvements during the project. We never had the feeling that things were wiped off the table. The agreements that certain things wereto solved later were always amicable.

What are the next steps for the project?
We have already made a lot of improvements during the ramp-up phase. In the future we want to spread the TUP software to more sites within the GRASS Group. At the moment we are testing the hardware and then we will again start a software project with the necessary requirements from our production processes to implement this.

Are there any particular strategic focus points that are emerging? More automation or self-driving systems?
Here in the central distribution center, we have taken many preparatory steps to address the expansion of the site, such as a forklift guidance system. Here, everything was tested through, which we can also then implement in other locations. The aim is to automate more and work without paper-based documentation. To do this, we need the right conditions to implement it. The goal is for communication to flow from the central distribution center to the production sites, which determines how the inventory gets to us. In other words, it is no longer the just the customers’ orders which drive the processes from production to shipping.

Where will your further journey take you?
For me, I was the one who got to implement the central warehouse project. I was the one who worked out the green field and brought it to implementation. It was always clear that I would go back to my strategic logistics role after this project. In the future, I will concentrate again on the production sites in order to implement the automation and improvements that I mentioned. To that end, I have now been given the role as a logistics expert.

That sounds like an exciting challenge!
Absolutely! From master data to container management, there’s a lot to do there.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Click here for the other interviews.