Conveyor belts Villeroy & Boch
Behind the large plate glass facade at Villeroy & Boch is the central distribution warehouse from which the extensive range of products is shipped. © Edward Beierle

There are companies that have enjoyed global value for a long time. The Villeroy & Boch brand, rich in tradition, is certainly one of these, not only the high quality of their beautiful and delicate products, but also through the international distribution of their merchandise. This presents both manufacturing and logistic challenges.

Jean-François Boch and his three sons founded a company for the manufacturing of ceramics, mainly crockery, in the Lorraine region of Germany in 1748. The company grew quickly, in part due to its ability to innovate. For instance, the Brindille decor, still available today, was developed in 1770. Nicolas Villeroy began manufacturing stoneware in 1791. He was able to succeed with engraving using copperplate, which was a great advantage.

In 1843 the two businessmen joined forces and as a result, the range of products and production sites continued to expand. Tiles, bathroom fixtures and glassware were added. Today, the leading market position of Villeroy & Boch, or V&B for short, rests on its ability to be innovative, aware of life- styles and oriented to consumers, still among the most important characteristics today. With products in the bathroom, tableware and tiles divisions, it is represented in 125 countries and has numerous production sites in Europe, Mexico and Thailand, employing about 7,400 people worldwide. The headquarters of the corporation is still located in the former Benedictine monastery at Mettlach on the Saar River, purchased by Jean-François Boch in 1801. As demand for the products continues to grow, so does the challenge for logistics. For one thing, the merchandise is extraordinarily diverse, ranging from forks to bathtubs, and at the same time, delicate pieces require a large amount of care. Then there is the time factor, which plays a very important role today.

Enormous flow of goods demands flexibility

Near the corporate headquarters in Mettlach, there is a very large high-rise warehouse in Merzig where shipments from the center are made to places all around the world. This means an enormous flow of goods within a very short time. Reliable maintenance and flexibility in the flow of goods is therefore an indispensable condition.

V&B has been working with two different picking systems for almost seven years. During this period, they were able to test anew the design and planning of an installation each day and, at the same time, directly compared the two different systems. While the traditional order picker collected the merchandise from the shelves in the usual way, the new installation, comprising Interroll components, completed the task autonomously: The tower-high, intermediary storage was automatically filled with orders which were then executed by the order picker.

Simply put: In the old variation, the processor comes to the merchandise, and in the new system, the merchandise comes to the processor. This means less time collecting, shorter processing times, and a happy side effect: less use of space and energy. Less use of space and energy. The time factor, above all, was a serious criteria for choosing, explains Michael Dietzen, Head of Technology in the tableware distribution warehouse:

The prerequisite was that the merchandise gets to the customer quickly. In the already existing installation, everything tended to drag because of the whole concept; with the new installation, speed has increased by about a factor of 10 in the meantime.

Merchandise reaches the customer faster, and the entire motion sequence is improved.

Plates from Villeroy & Boch
Individual zones can be modified more easily and combined in new ways in order to improve throughput © Villeory & Boch

Vertical buffer area and efficient drive technology

This was largely made possible because of the use of Interroll rollers with 24-volt drive technology. For instance, they enabled automatic processing in the three buffer towers, a speciality at the V&B warehouse: These towers are a kind of vertical buffer area in which the containers with merchandise are stored until later, when they are needed to fulfil the individual order positions. Usually, these pathways to the order fulfilment spots are significantly longer, but, because of the situation in the hall, the buffer areas were "simply" extended upwards into a tower, which can then be processed.

The new technology offers other advantages as well, which become clear when directly compared to the installation that has been in existence there for a long time.The conveyors work with zero pressure accumulation operation, as well as a central drive motor that drives the continuous flat belt. The individual sections/accumulation spots are pneumatically controlled (i.e., the belt is swivelled away from the rollers and the rollers then operate without drive). This system has been around for about 30 years,and it works, but it has some serious disadvantages: The necessary pneumatic is expensive and loud, and the drive motor runs continuously, which is also loud and expensive.In contrast, the rollers of the Interroll equipment only operate when they have to turn, which is significantly quieter and, above all, more efficient.

At the same time, the 24V RollerDrive can be easily and quickly replaced if there is a change or some kind of breakdown in the installation. If two to three people are needed to change the 400V drive in its usual version, which means about two hours downtime, the balance here looks much better. "With Interroll, it is just one unit, plug and play — a half an hour downtime." Such a breakdown, however, has occurred only once during the past years. And that pays off too.

Innovative spirit and technical perfection for warehousing and distribution

Another interesting aspect is the integration of the new elements into an existing installation with fixed workflows, as at Villeroy & Boch. Here, the new segments with 24V RollerDrive for zero pressure accumulation conveying were partially integrated between the existing, older systems. Only the removed segment was replaced and the new one from Interroll installed, while the old components continued to work with their conventional drive before and after. Each segment can be controlled as an individual zone.

That has other advantages as well: Individual zones can be modified more easily and combined in new ways in order to improve the workflow and to adapt to changing needs. That means that the potentiality of such equipment extends over a much longer period of time. The ceramic giants have been characterized by a keen sense of innovation and technical perfection from the very beginning. This applies even to the warehousing and rapid distribution.

The new installation has been integrated very well and reliably into the complex logistic processes at Villeroy & Boch over the past seven years; in the meantime, an intensive partnership and close dialog with Interroll has also developed.

Advantages of the 24-volt drive technology

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Sarina Schneider


Wirklich ein spannender Konzern, danke für den interessanten Beitrag. So wie ich das beobachtet habe steht dem Markt aber eine größere Veränderung an. Bin gespannt, wie sich da etwas entwickelt.