Reporting 2020

Made to measure

Highly complex and fully automated: The new logistics hub BLG LOGISTICS now operates in Schlüchtern for Engelbert Strauss meets the high demands of the work clothing specialist. High tech is one aspect, but equally important is a motivated and focused team that steps up to the challenge of raising logistics to a new level.

Logistics made to measure

It all starts with a click by customers of Engelbert Strauss.

Companies order work clothing for their staff or families kit themselves out with rugged outdoor wear. As soon as the orders are received, the wheels start turning in Schlüchtern. Moments later, the orders pop up in the system. If that happens any time up to early afternoon, the products are generally dispatched the same day. This is only possible if the logistics runs smoothly from the very first to the last step. Lothar Glöckner has no worries about this: “Making it happen is our job.”

Schlüchtern instead of Mumbai

The 64-year-old is one of two facility managers – and an experienced logistics specialist. Glöckner used to work in London in air freight logistics and has spent time in disaster zones setting up reliable supply chains under difficult conditions. At BLG LOGISTICS he worked in a leadership role in Wackersdorf. That was supposed to be his last career move. “I was thinking of retiring in 2020 and going to India to do charity work.” But when the offer came from BLG to help establish the new site in Schlüchtern, he didn’t hesitate for long. “I haven’t regretted it for a minute. What our team here is creating is groundbreaking.”

Award-winning partnership

BLG and Engelbert Strauss have been cooperating since 2012. As a team, they won the Deutscher Logistik Preis in 2015, proving just how well their partnership works. Engelbert Strauss plans to continue its steady development in the future and recognizes the increasingly high requirements of logistics in online retailing. That’s why the company decided to invest in the new hub. It’s tailor-made for the needs of the producer of work clothing that is increasingly popular also for outdoor pursuits. Schlüchtern is the ideal location: right on the A66 freeway, between Fulda and Frankfurt, in the direct vicinity of the headquarters in Biebergemünd. In January 2020, the building was complete and the technical systems installed. The first packages left the site at the beginning of May. What happened in between? “It’s hard to image how complex it is to prepare this kind of operation,” says Lothar Glöckner. He illustrates this with a few figures. The vast building contains 35,000 articles from the Engelbert Strauss range in one million storage spaces. And the numbers are set to rise. 400 autonomously driven shuttles pick the goods. The conveyor tracks have a total length of 13 kilometers. If they were laid out from the logistics hub along the A66, they would stretch into the suburbs of Fulda. The system not only runs efficiently, it is also sustainable. Wherever possible, plastic packaging is avoided. Any plastic film used is collected and recycled. Electricity and heat comes from efficient cogeneration units and photovoltaic systems. The power they generate largely covers the facility’s consumption levels.

The packages are transported to the employees. Up to 30,000 packages are dispatched per day.

One package every second

Currently, 3,000 packages come off the conveyor belt per hour. As from fall 2021, the number will be 4,000. That’s more than one package per second. Even though every order is different. For each one, the system has to check what was ordered, what boxes are required, what special aspects need to be considered. “The first stages are fully automated,” explains Lothar Glöckner. Aided by artificial intelligence, the shuttles take care of transport in the picking area and the conveyor tracks move the articles between levels. Then the employees get involved: They assemble the packages at currently 21 goods-to-person workplaces. As the location manager points out, “High concentration is necessary. It’s a demanding job.” Any errors would immediately trigger a reaction from the purchaser. “We’re proud to say that so far we’ve only had very few complaints of this kind,” he adds.

But of course, even when everything is dispatched correctly, returns still have to be handled. 200 employees take care of the packages customers send back. Because the trousers are too tight or the color too bright. Or sometimes because people order jackets in two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit. “It’s not possible to fully automate the returns process,” says Lothar Glöckner. “Every package has to be examined separately before you can decide on the next step.” This makes it clear that even high-tech logistics can’t function without people who do their job with great motivation and concentration.

One team, two dozen nations

Diversity plays a major role at BLG. The staff is made up of 24 nationalities. The cooperation with the Kommunales Center für Arbeit (job center) in the district of Main-Kinzig helped find 17 long-term unemployed people to work in Schlüchtern. Now they are fully integrated in the team. “As an employer, we profit from our good reputation and excellent working conditions,” explains Lothar Glöckner. He points out that he’s seen lots of workplaces, but this one is special: “There’s a great atmosphere. We’ve got our own bakery and an excellent canteen that’s even won an award as the best works canteen.” The diverse workforce with people from so many different cultures has come together to form a genuine team, he says.

In January 2020, Firoz Mohammadi was one of the first people to start work in the facility. The 29-year-old helped handle the very first lots of incoming goods. He and a colleague were ready at the conveyor when the system assembled the first test packages. “We couldn’t wait to see whether everything would really work,” he says. In 2015, Firoz Mohammadi fled from Afghanistan to Germany. He has long felt part of the BLG team. He works in the incoming goods area where the deliveries from Engelbert Strauss are re-packed and distributed over the six levels of the logistics hub. “It’s very varied work,” he emphasizes. “The facility is still very new for all of us, so obviously we help each other out.” After work, Firoz Mohammadi spends time with his family. He especially looks forward to calls with his family in Afghanistan. “It’s not easy to explain to them what kind of place I work in,” he says. But they got a better idea when he gave them a quick look round the logistics hub during a video call. “I was really proud,” he adds. “And I think my parents were as well.”

FIROZ MOHAMMADI (29) fled from the war in Afghanistan in 2015. Together with his wife and one-year-old daughter, he traveled for two months before reaching Germany via Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece. He attended German classes and after nine months as a temporary worker, he received a regular employment contract from BLG.