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Case Studies

GLS Germany - Greater Efficiency For Logistics Service Providers

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GLS GermanyThe European logistics market offers shipping and logistics companies enormous potential for growth. Yet the tough competition requires efficiency down to the very last detail. That’s why General Logistics Systems (GLS) uses printers from Intermec across Europe.

The village of Neuenstein in North Hessen, Germany, may appear very tranquil to visitors, but it has a trump card up its sleeve. Geographically speaking, the village near Kassel lies almost exactly in the centre of Germany and is also very central within Europe. The A7 autobahn provides Neuenstein with an ideal link to the trunk road network. The central location was an important factor for the logistics company General Logistics Systems Germany GmbH & Co. OHG in choosing to establish its company headquarters here.

GLS came into being with the merger of 26 medium-sized shipping companies in 1989. Today, the logistics service provider belongs to the British Royal Mail Group and is represented in 33 countries across Europe. In Germany alone, GLS transports around 500,000 packages every day. With 12,000 employees, over 4,500 delivery vehicles and 54 parcel depots throughout the country, the company has firmly established itself as the number three in the logistics market after DHL and UPS.

“Logistics means responsibility” says Johannes Ruttinger Chief Information Officer of GLS Group. Ruttinger and 120 colleagues at GLS IT Services GmbH in Neuenstein are responsible for ensuring that the IT and network technology at GLS runs smoothly around the clock. In the event of failure, the support department can respond immediately, even at night. Speed and quality have absolute priority at GLS, as today’s customers in the highly competitive logistics market expect not only low prices, but also parcel delivery within 24 hours – even to other countries.

“The European logistics market offers us enormous potential for growth. But we can only be successful if we work as efficiently as possible”, says Ruttinger. Every cent that GLS can save per parcel shipment improves the company’s competitiveness.

In order to further increase the logistics performance, GLS decided three and a half years ago to introduce standardised parcel labels across Europe with 2D barcodes. The 2D barcodes (data matrix code) on the GLS parcels contain more information per area (the symbol size at GLS is 36 x 36mm) at a significantly greater information density and can be read much more reliably due to the data redundancy that is typical of barcodes. For cross-border shipments it is no longer necessary to print out country-specific labels. This has two advantages: firstly it reduces sources of error and secondly, it saves money on labels.

What sounds like a small step was actually a mammoth task for GLS IT Services, as completely new hardware had to be purchased for the two-dimensional barcodes. “We’d also set ourselves the goal of standardising the hardware and software across Europe so that there weren’t too many different systems from different manufacturers being used”, explains Ruttinger. The core component of the conversion is the introduction of new scan terminals (Uni-Stations) in the GLS depots. At the stations, a parcel shipment is registered with a hand scanner and given a 2D parcel label. A barcode printer integrated in the Uni-Station prints out the required label immediately. During the rollout of the new Uni-Stations, which is scheduled to take place over eight to twelve months, everything needs to run smoothly. Each station prints up to 5,000 parcel labels per day, with each individual device running at around 80 to 85 percent capacity. “None of the systems must fail”, Ruttinger stresses.

Intermec EasyCoder PF4i

The central components of the five to 20 Uni-Stations required per parcel depot are PF4i Intermec printers. The PF4i industrial printer is a particularly robust, compact model designed for use in demanding industrial situations. The magnetic QuickMount™ printhead guarantees ease of replacement, meaning that customer service technicians only rarely get to see this model. The proximity between the printhead and dispenser edge not only means that the label is used to better effect, but it also enables a faster printing/feeding speed. Even if just a few millimetres or milliseconds are saved per label, this quickly adds up to a considerable amount when you realise that 500,000 parcels are processed every day. The EasyCoder PF4i can be integrated into wire or wireless EasyLAN networks. The device is a smart client, which means that it has the function of a PC. It enables access to information in the network and can be adapted for additional functionality as necessary.

The smaller EasyCoder C4 is also easy to configure and is particularly compact, robust and quiet. Thanks to dual print technology (thermal direct/thermal transfer) printing is possible on almost all label materials. The device is equipped as standard with USB, parallel and serial interfaces, as well as multi-language capability and Unicode for global font support. Johannes Ruttinger also points out the printers’ high computing speed: “This aspect also helps to save time, giving greater efficiency. With one million labels per day, it really adds up”. The reason why GLS decided on the high-performance Intermec printers is simple, claims Ruttinger: “Before the project was launched, we had already been working with Intermec for four years. Their co-operation always proved to be trustworthy and convincing.” However, GLS IT Services GmbH still carried out extensive hardware tests in its own IT test department beforehand, including products from other providers. In the end, it was the good price/performance ratio that won Intermec the contract for this project.

In addition to the sound printer technology, another deciding factor was that Intermec agreed to supply preconfigured systems with special firmware versions for GLS and the devices can work with the software already available on site without any problems. “What we got was, to all intents and purposes, a plug-and-play solution”, explains Ruttinger. And last but not least, co-operation between Intermec and GLS was long-established and proven to be top notch.

The rollout of the complete solution began in a pilot depot in May 2007, and within a few months, GLS will have a homogeneous device landscape across Europe. The Intermec print solutions will then prove over an anticipated usage period of three to four years that they really do offer the best value for money. In other words, the investment in the hardware will enable GLS to continue to expand rapidly across Europe. The technology GLS used previously would not have stood up to this successful logistics company’s ambitious plans.