Stabilus is a manufacturer of gas springs headquartered in Koblenz, Germany. As a supplier to major automotive manufacturers, Stabilus must adhere to strict shipping standards. This and its own high quality standards are the motivation behind its zero error strategy in shipping. The ASSIST4 global trade and logistics suite has enabled the nearly 80-year-old enterprise to streamline its shipping processes and steadily increase quality.
Whether lifting the trunk door of your car, opening the overhead compartment in an airplane, or adjusting the height of your office chair: gas-filled springs are what makes opening, closing, and lifting so easy. Gas springs are built into doors for use in machinery, automobiles, medical devices, and furniture.
Stabilus is the leading global manufacturer of gas springs. The Koblenz-based company is also the only supplier in Europe that manufactures gas springs for chairs. Stabilus produces 300,000 gas springs each day around the world, generating annual revenues of €300 million. The lion’s share of the springs – 200,000 to 250,000 a day – is manufactured in Koblenz. The springs are shipped in disposable packaging or recyclable containers, depending on the recipient. Recyclable containers account for about 70 percent of overseas shipments, while the remaining 30 percent are shipped in disposable packaging.
Most shipments are destined for clients in the automotive industry, which accounts for about 60 percent of the Stabilus customer base. These clients also have the strictest shipping guidelines when it comes to the right packaging, labeling, and choice of load device.
Zero error strategy at packing station enhances shipping quality
One of the challenges lies in the different guidelines issued by the various automotive manufacturers. Failure to adhere to these guidelines risks a negative rating, often with far-reaching consequences: a supplier that is downgraded from A to B is no longer eligible to bid on future contracts.
That’s one big reason why Berthold Wichterich, shipping manager at Stabilus, always strives to maintain or improve the high quality of shipping. "We decided to introduce double-scanning at our packing stations in 2006," Wichterich relates. This means that the packer runs one scan before the ASSIST4 software prints the label and delivery note, then confirms this after the label has been affixed to the package by rescanning the barcode of the newly affixed label and comparing it to a scan of the bin location label.
This change in processes led to a higher level of quality. Achim Nolden, IT administrator for ASSIST4, confirms this: "We’ve had only a single error since we introduced double-scanning, and that occurred because a packer set aside the label rather than affixing it right away. Implementing this zero error strategy costs a bit more time, but it has had a profound effect on the quality of our shipping processes." Berthold Wichterich agrees: "A customer recently remarked that he had never seen such a water-tight system. We feel that this increased quality pays for itself over the long term. We have worked with AEB over the years to customize ASSIST4 so precisely to our needs that we’ve been able to optimize the quality of our packing and shipping processes."
Photos in packing station application supports packers
One of the key customizations has been adding photos to the packing station application. "Before, you had to know whether the label was affixed to the long side or short side of the transport container. But the automotive manufacturers keep changing their specifications, which also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Now ASSIST4 provides a photo and an exact description of where the label is affixed," explains shipping manager Wichterich. The picture shows the exact position of the label on the load device, whether a cover is required, and whether the selected load device itself is correct.
Paying attention to all these details is extremely important, because automotive industry specifications are getting more and more complex. Even the very same manufacturer may have different requirements based on the receiving location. "It was impossible to remember all of that," remarks Wichterich. "The descriptions of where the label belongs – in the upper left corner of the long side or the bottom right of the short side – or which type of custom packaging was required were getting longer and longer. At some point we came up with the idea of creating a visual guide. Now the packers no longer have to read long texts to know immediately what needs to be done."
Stabilus customizations were implemented not only in the IT-supported shipping processes but also in load device management.
Complete transparency for customer-specific packaging
The strict rules imposed by the automobile manufacturers also pertain to the load devices used to ship the parts. And these requirements are complex: Stabilus uses 400 different kinds of containers. Some 40 percent of the load devices used for transport by Stabilus belong to the customers, while another 40 percent are leased from external service providers, and 20 percent actually belong to Stabilus. The proper load device is specified in individual agreements with each customer. Transport tests are also used to find out which load device works best for a particular customer. A packer using the wrong box, a missing cover, the wrong label on customer-specific packaging: all of this can have a negative effect on a supplier evaluation.
Why was it important to Stabilus to have customized load device management in ASSIST4?
Shipping manager Berthold Wichterich explains: "In the past, it was hard to keep track of which load devices belonged to whom, where they were located, and whether they were full or empty. We didn’t notice right away if a customer failed to return a container. The problem came to a head only when we started running out of load devices and were unable to supply other customers. There was also the fact that customers only let us keep the load devices for a certain period without paying a fee. So it was in our interest to know exactly how many containers were available or in use."
Today, Stabilus has separate load device accounts showing the current statuses of each customer. The load devices also have to be matched to the customer, since automaker T uses different steel crates than automaker D, while automaker A uses only gray boxes and automaker O only blue boxes, etc.
When the load devices belonging to a particular customer arrive, ASSIST4 registers their receipt. When a production order is pending, the head of production requests the appropriate container. Marion Karscht, who works in the shipping department and is responsible for organizing load devices at Stabilus, reserves the number of pallets or boxes that she needs. The forklift operator then receives the order to set aside a certain number of containers for customer XY.
After the production order has been packed, it is posted in ASSIST4 during the final check in shipping. A plausibility check ensures that the container is actually the right one for the customer. "If the system reports that no load device account is defined for this customer, the transaction is stopped," Wichterich explains. If the goods are in the right container, the goods issue is posted and the load device account of the customer is debited at the same time.
"Planning and managing customer-specific packaging has gotten much simpler thanks to the load device management of ASSIST4," Wichterich confirms. He emphasizes how close the partnership with AEB has been and still is: "Over the years, we’ve developed new functionalities together and steadily improved load device management. Today we have a sophisticated tool at our disposal that lets us know how many containers are available and how many are in use by which customers. With misallocations consigned to the past, we were able to focus on improving overall shipping performance."
AT A GLANCE
. Name: Stabilus
. Industry: Manufacturer of gas struts, dampers and electromechanical drives (supplier for the automotive and furniture industry and medical engineering)
. Employees: 3300
. Strict regulations by the automotive manufacturers in regards to load devices, packaging and labeling
. Risk of being downgraded in the supplier rating
. 400 different kinds of containers
. No overview which load devices are occupied and which are available
. Introduction of ASSIST4 Customs Management and Transport & Freight Management
. Introduction of double-scanning at the packing stations
. Introduction of load device management
. Increased shipping quality
. Higher delivery quality and services
. Implementation of zero error strategy
. Complete transparency for customer-specific packaging
. Easy administration of load devices thanks to the load device management of ASSIST4