Facility in Germany set for full automation this summer
Throw an engineering hurdle into Fred Fox’s lap, and you’ve found yourself a willing participant in overcoming any challenges. If there’s an element of warehousing involved in the problem, even better.
Take the expansion that’s underway at the Parts Europe distribution center in Konz, Germany, hard on the border of Luxembourg and very near the hometown of Fox’s grandparents. Continuing to grow with more than 350 brands on its lineup since its opening four years ago, Parts Europe’s newest structure plans were met with skepticism by local officials.
“You can’t use conveyors like we do in the U.S.,” Fox said during a tour of the company’s exhibit space at EICMA in Milan, Italy. “They require concrete firewalls every so many feet. So we had to prove to them that we had enough sprinkler capacity to put out anything that would burn. I convinced the guy that was issuing the permit that if we had a fire, it was more likely that people would drown than they would burn!”
And with that, the designs were off and running. Now, the warehouse, which sits at 172,000 square feet, is undergoing another technological expansion that will bring added efficiencies by the end of the summer.
“We built one of the largest and most modern buildings ever built over here,” said Fox, who founded parent company Parts Unlimited in 1967, and still oversees the operations of the flagship company, Parts Europe, Parts Canada and V-twin supplier Drag Specialties.
A fully automated parts handling system will allow for an additional 130,000 location possibilities for new part numbers, all while being controlled by two people. A partially automated system is being used until it goes live, but additional storage capacity was needed.
“We have four layers in our traditional pick module, which handles more medium- and larger-sized packaging cartons,” Fox said. “We removed all the small parts to make room for helmets and apparel, for example. We moved the smaller parts to a much more condensed storage area, which will be next to the existing pick module and connected to the existing conveyor line.”
When orders are placed, a box-making machine configures and makes the appropriate-sized box, based on the dimensions of the products going into the carton.
“The oldest warehouse we have in the U.S. is 20-plus years old and it’s obsolete compared to what we’re putting in here,” Fox said. “Everybody that visits our U.S. and Canadian warehouses say they’re the finest they’ve ever seen. Engineering is moving forward. All you have to do now is get your wallet out.”
It’s all an effort to build on Fox’s goal of providing immediate delivery.
“I wanted the building to be between Dusseldorf and Cologne so that we could get one-day service to France and Germany, the two biggest markets in Europe,” Fox said. “And Luxembourg has a great airport.”
Parts Europe continues to add sales reps and regional managers, and now boasts more than 60 to cover Europe in addition to the 125 employees in the office.
“We’re the only people here that really believe in reps,” Fox said. “We’re putting reps into every territory, just like we do in the U.S. Especially with hard parts, you have to train the dealer so that he knows the difference between your product and another line.”
Growth areas for Parts Europe include aftermarket products related to off-road bikes and ATVs. Drag Specialties also has provided a boost, as Parts Europe now ships to 51 countries from its location in Germany. Customer service and sales staff members combine to speak 15 different languages.