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Parts apart

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24 hours is all it usually takes for a Porsche component to reach the customer. 90 minutes is the maximum time allotted to send out the shipment following receipt of the order.

Customer service and intelligent processes set the pace for the worldwide delivery of replacement parts. We visit the Porsche Logistics Center in Sachsenheim.

A fast-mover: What might that be? No, in this case it’s not a six-cylinder boxer engine or its maximum rpm level. The object on the pallet just about to be lifted by a yellow forklift truck is a Cayenne fender—a front model with a primer coat. It is a classic example of a replacement part. And it is a “fast mover” in the parlance of logistics, which means a component that is frequently requested by customers. After all, fender benders do tend to happen. So components such as these do not sit around for long at the warehouse.

We are paying a visit to the Porsche Logistics Center in Sachsenheim. Here, a good 20 kilometers northwest of Stuttgart at a site that used to be a military base, is where the company has its central depot for replacement parts. Although its name may sound sober or even uninviting, the place itself exhibits a surprising appeal. Expansive windows ensure lots of light, which translates into a friendly atmosphere. Large posters of Porsche racing cars and other models line the walls at regular intervals. And there is no shortage of lively activity.

The logistics center sends parts to more than 800 destinations around the world. Depending on the distance, the parts can arrive within less than 24 hours, or within 48 hours at most. “Our maxim is to supply our customers on time,” says Marc Lösken, the managing director in charge of operations at Porsche Logistik GmbH. The center shipped around 10,000 Cayenne fenders last year alone. It has to process as many as 22,000 orders a day, comprising all manner of parts from screws to engine hoods. This feat is possible thanks to a sophisticated system and a highly motivated team.

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800 locations around the world receive Porsche shipments from Sachsenheim. The logistics center measures 32 hectares and employs 500 people.

The logistics center, which has undergone continuous expansion since opening in 2008, now has more than five hundred employees. In November of last year, Porsche staff members moved into the buildings that were completed in the third stage of expansion. This stage increased total warehouse space by 50 percent, to 170,000 square meters. Thus far, some 185 million euros have been invested in the site to ensure that it will remain viable in the future. Measuring 32 hectares, which is about the size of 44 football fields, the site has considerable space for further expansion.

Given these dimensions, it does not come as a surprise that the components cover substantial distances by train within the warehouse complex. “We operate eleven electric tow trains that travel a good 420 kilometers a day,” says Lösken. Thanks to the innovative layout of the lines, one train can do the work of five forklift trucks, which only run the short distances between the shelves and the “stations.” To help with orientation, the stations—where the parts are transferred to the trains—were given the names of German cities and reflect their positions on the map.

The Cayenne fender has now been placed onto one of five roller tracks at the “Lübeck station.” Shortly thereafter a tow train arrives, nearly noiselessly—all the vehicles at the logistics center run on electric power and some can even be driven remotely. Thanks to the rollers, the driver needs only a simple hand movement to transfer the pallet with the fender onto the train. Using remote controls he moves the train forward, carriage by carriage, until it is fully loaded. A magnetic rail on the floor keeps the train in the right position.

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High speed at the high-bay warehouse: Electrically powered forklift trucks receive their fetch commands via Wi-Fi, and the components take the shortest distance to their transfer points.

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The 170,000-square-meter center receives 200 trucks, and its tow trains travel 420 kilometers a day. Its inventory lists 125,000 material numbers.

This fascinating technology accelerates delivery processes, enables ergonomic work procedures, and is environmentally friendly. The electric power for the vehicles comes in large part from a photovoltaic system of 40,000 square meters on the roof of the center. It generates nearly two million kilowatt-hours of power a year, which would be enough to meet the average electricity needs of 500 four-person households in Europe. Additional sustainability features include the center’s own combined heat and power unit, plus a comprehensive approach to avoiding unnecessary packaging material. Over the past three years, the center has succeeded in reducing its use of cardboard packaging by twenty percent. And Styrofoam, for example, is no longer used at all to cushion the contents of the cartons. Instead, Porsche uses environmentally friendly paper, processed especially for this purpose.

Unlike many small components stored in Sachsenheim, our fender does not require any further packaging. It had arrived from the supplier in a very well-fitting contour pack, and was sent within the logistics center from the “Regensburg station” northwest to “Lübeck.” It is now on its way to “Karlsruhe,” the departure point for outgoing goods in the south. Along the way the train passes the high-bay warehouse for medium-sized parts. This facility accommodates its contents in a structure that is 16 meters high. Yellow forklift trucks bustle along its corridors, their forks moving continuously up and down. The storage principle is based on size, as well as on fast movers and slow movers, which include prototype components for development and pilot production projects, historical parts for Porsche Classic, and a comprehensive collection of Exclusive and Tequipment items.

The overall inventory presently encompasses more than 125,000 material numbers. Each of its divisions has a deliberately “chaotic” organizational scheme: crankshaft gears are next to cylinder heads, and door seals are next to driveshafts—only the computer knows what is located where, and it calculates the best possible location in the warehouse for each part. The aim is to keep both distance and time to a minimum when the part is ordered. For medium-sized and large shipments—such as the Cayenne fender—the computer at the order placement center sends a fetch command via Wi-Fi to a terminal on the forklift truck. The driver then prints a bar-code sticker with all of the information, such as component type, storage location, and destination.

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Beyond human capacities: The automated small-parts warehouse sends the component containers fully automatically to the transfer points.

On the right we pass the automated small-parts warehouse, which forms the heart of Sachsenheim. It manages as many as 295,000 container locations fully automatically and handles up to 1,650 orders an hour. Carrying control units, navigation CDs, or brake linings, the containers move on conveyor belts from the shelves to the sixteen transfer sites. Express shipments are sent out from Sachsenheim to customers on sixty trucks a day, or to airports in Stuttgart, Munich, or Frankfurt for longer distances.

Porsche handles its air shipments at a separate, closed-off area which can be entered only with special authorization. This arrangement allows packages to be shipped under “known sender” conditions and transported directly to the planes. That in turn eliminates the need for time-consuming security checks at the airports, and allows the shipments to reach their destinations faster. Porsche sends large-volume, non-urgent orders to regional warehouses by ship. These intermediary depots are now located in ten countries, including large markets such as the United States and China. They then distribute the replacement parts directly within their respective regions, and replenish their stocks with more shipments from Sachsenheim.

The Cayenne fender rolls toward the truck loading area, which is marked as an outgoing goods point by a sign hanging from the ceiling. This particular fender is destined for a Porsche Center in southern France. Managing director Lösken glances at his watch. “Less than an hour and a half,” he notes. “We allow a maximum of 90 minutes from receipt of the order to shipment. That’s our idea of ‘intelligent performance’ when it comes to Porsche logistics.”

By Thorsten Schönfeld
Photos by Bernd Kammerer